Thursday, May 15, 2008

Unanswered Prayers and a Plane Crash

A footnote to the story of the Titanic is the story of Jack Johnson. In the early part of the century, Jack Johnson was a professional boxer. He became one of the best paid African American entertainers in the country. He enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. It was well within his means to book passage on the Titanic, a luxury ship deemed unsinkable. He purchased a ticket to travel in style on its maiden voyage. At the dock, he was barred from the ship. In the days of Jim Crow, 47 years after the abolition of slavery, even money could not talk for a Black man. The slight to Jack Johnson saved his life. Had he been allowed on board, he might well have been numbered among the fatalities.
While waiting in an office for an appointment, I once heard a similar story . The difference was that the "victim" who I spoke to was Jewish. Years after she told me her story, I read a story in Reader's Digest that corroborated crucial details of her story.
Rachel had just graduated from high school. She and her family needed the money that a job could bring. Summer was half over. She was spending money she could not afford to part with on subway fares. Day after day she kept coming home with no job.
One day, she read about a secretarial job that paid thirty five dollars a week. In 1945 that was a generous starting wage. The position was well within Rachel's capabilities. It was for a nationally known religious organisation. Rachel packed a lunch and set out yet again for Manhattan. The interview went very well. Rachel handled an interview, a typing test and questions about the switchboard with grace and competence. She was hired on the spot, given paperwork to complete for the payroll department and informed of her benefits as an employee. It almost seemed like an afterthought when the personnel manager asked Rachel, "By the way, what should we put down for your religion?" Rachel felt herself blush as she paused for a second. Her light skin and blonde hair made a lot of people think she was German or Scandinavian. She was accustomed to hearing jokes and cutting remarks about Jews that made her angry. Despite feeling uneasy about the question, Rachel answered calmly, "I'm Jewish".
The woman's face fell and she shook her head."I'm so sorry." she said, We do not hire anyone of the Jewish faith in this office. Catholic or Protestant , is no problem But we don't hire Jews.
Rachel started to cry. She begged and pleaded.She asked to speak to a manager, and explained how badly she needed the job. All was to no avail. She left the office in tears, and buried her face in a newspaper on the subway so other passengers would not see her crying.
The job she ended up getting was factory work in a dreary building with windows opaque from years of accumulated dirt. It was harder work for more hours and less money than the Manhattan secretarial job that she had been denied. When she arrived home in the evening from her shift the smell of solder in her clothing seemed like a tangible reminder of what could have been.
One Saturday late in July, she was coming home from synagogue after mid day. Neighbours were talking in hushed tones about some terrible news. Rachel stopped to ask what had happened . With World War Two still raging in the Pacific , she was anxious when people gathered in the street to discuss news.
"Can you believe that?" an old man said "Straight into the Empire State Building!"
That morning, July 28, a B25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building It was lost in fog . Fourteen people were killed. The office she had left in tears a few weeks before had sustained a direct hit and the brunt of the casualties. In stunned silence and speechless gratitude, Rachel walked home from synagogue, thinking of what could have been.
Copyright 2008 by Rudi Stettner of and Sphere: Related Content


DFL said...

it gave me goosebumps.

Findalis said...

G-d does work in mysterious ways. Imagine if they had given her the job.