In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The People of Nishtfetroggen
There was a little town just a half day’s journey from Vaysechvoos that was called Nishtfetroggen. One would think that the people of Vaysechvoos would have a lot in common with another village of Jews that was so close by, yet for as long as anyone could remember no one from Nishtfetroggen had ever spoken to a person in Vaysechvoos. Likewise, no inhabitant of Vaysechvoos had uttered a word to the people of Nishtfetroggen. And still to this day, no business transpired between the two villages. Nothing.
You may ask how this situation came to be. Don’t ask. No one really knows. It happened so long ago. The only thing that everyone was sure of was that the incident was so terrible that the passing of time could not erase the injustice. Of course, different ones speculated over what had caused the rift between the two villages.
Feivel the Carpenter was sure that his zayde, Reb Nahum, blessed be his memory, related to him the authentic story. Feivel recounted a tale of great famine in Vaysechvoos and how, just a short distance away, Nishtfetroggen had its barns filled with grain. As the story goes, Nishtfetroggen would not share its food with the people of Vaysechvoos and some starved to death.
Yossel the Butcher gave no credibility to Feivel’s story. Instead he reasoned, The feud between our two towns was the result of a bad marriage. A beautiful meydl from Vaysechvoos was betrothed to the son of the Nishtfetrogen shammes. On the day of the wedding, the rascal ran off taking the dowry, some say to Kiev, and leaving the poor bride-to-be in shame and disgrace.”
“Neh,” Golda the Matchmaker shrugged upon hearing Yossel’s account. “Don’t you think, being that I come from a long line of matchmakers, that I would know of such a thing? We don’t talk to the people of Nishtfetroggen and they don’t talk to us, because of a thing so terrible no one could bring himself to talk about it.” And she had nothing more to say on the matter.
Well, it seemed that no one would know the true reason behind the hostility and to tell you the truth, it was not exactly the most sought after piece of information in Vaysechvoos. More pressing, there was the matter of which was more important, the sun or the moon. But that’s another story.
One day Zeidel the Tanner, on his way to the city to purchase some supplies he needed for his tanning business, saw a man lying on the road. Of course, he rushed to him to see if he could help in any way. The stranger was badly beaten. It was apparent that he had been the victim of a robber, for the man had no items of value left on his person. Even his pockets were turned inside out. He had wounds about his face and arms and he lay unmoving, but he was still breathing. Zeidel covered him with a blanket carried him to his wagon and headed home to Vaysechvoos. All the way back, Zeidel thought about the stranger in his wagon. You see, Zeidel was trying to figure out who it was that he had in his wagon. He reasoned thusly:
“This road is traveled on by people from Vaysechvoos and people from Nishtfetroggen and people from other places coming to Vaysechvoos or Nishtfetroggen. The man is dressed just like the rest of the common folk of Vaysechvoos or Nishtfetroggen. if he were from the city, his clothing would be different. It isn’t, therefore he isn’t from the city. Why would someone from another small village be traveling to Vaysechvoos or Nishtfetroggen? They wouldn’t. We don’t have anything to offer them. So it must be someone from my village or from Nishtfetroggen. Since I don’t recognize him as being from Vaysechvoos and since there is not a soul in Vaysechvoos that I don’t know, at least by sight, then he must not be from Vaysechvoos. Since I don’t know anyone at all from Nishtfetroggen and I don’t know this man, then he must be from Nishtfetroggen.”
After making this brilliant deduction, a sense of duty gripped Zeidel, “The man can barely draw a breath to live. Even if he is from Nishtfetroggen, I must help him to the utmost.” And so he did.
Zeidel took the victim into his home. He put him in his own bed and stayed at his side, davening, reciting prayers, as if the very words uttered could put breath into the man’s chest and bring color to his cheeks. Zeidel slept on the floor beside the victim and he worried. First he worried that if the man died, could he possibly be buried in the cemetery in Vaysechvoos? And if not, how could he, Zeidel, a faithful son of Vaysechvoos, go to Nishtfetroggen and ask them to pick up the corpse? Worse still, would they think that he murdered the man? Oy, such problems.
He neglected his tannery because he was afraid that if he did his work, the fumes would be so strong that the victim would begin coughing and expire. And because Zeidel didn’t do his work, he didn’t collect any wages. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the kind of person to have much money set aside for just such an emergency. Zeidel prayed fervently for the man to recover from his injuries.
It took several days, but the victim did stir and open his eyes. Zeidel was standing over him as his lips started moving:
“Where am I? Who are you? What is going on?” queried the bewildered victim in a voice that was barely audible.
“You’re with me, Zeidel the Tanner, and I’m going to see to it that you regain your strength. So be quiet and I’ll make you something to eat.”
Then Zeidel prepared some hearty broth and spoon-fed the stranger, like a mother would her young child. And in the days that followed, the man’s appetite increased, so much so that it seemed as if he were eating to make up for fifty years of famine. Zeidel learned that his name was Shmuel and, as Zeidel had suspected, that he was from Nishtfetroggen.
Since Zeidel had put a temporary halt to his tanning business, he needed funds in order to properly care for Shmuel. (There was the man’s inexhaustible appetite and the necessary ointments and clean cloths to dress the wounds, which were healing well.) So the tanner sold some of his prized possessions, including the beautifully bound set of the Talmud given him by his mother, who had received them from her father, who was a rabbi. He also sent all of his chickens, even the laying hens, to the shochet so that Shmuel would receive all the nourishment he needed. And Shmuel’s strength did return.
Zeidel and Shmuel conversed at length about each of their villages and were surprised to find much that was similar. Both men were without families and, coincidence of coincidences, Shmuel was also a tanner by trade. In gratitude for all that Zeidel had done in helping to restore his health, he took to making Zeidel’s tannery well again too. Shmuel helped by scraping the hides with energetic application. He had a good mind for accounts and astounded Zeidel by showing him how he could turn a profit.
In a couple of weeks the hens were replaced and the Talmud was redeemed. And the two men studied together. (The Talmud, not the hens.) They were fast becoming good friends. Not wanting to cause any suspicion in the hearts of the people of Vaysechvoos, Zeidel allowed them to think that Shmuel was his cousin from a faraway place and that he would only be visiting for a little while.
Meanwhile, the two tanners began to seriously consider a business partnership. Zeidel speculated, “You’ll just continue here in Vaysechvoos. People will know you are my cousin and I’ll tell them about how you are a widower and have no family but me. Our business partnership will make sense to them.”
“No, my friend,” said Shmuel, “We must go back to Nishtfetroggen and set up our partnership there. I will just tell the townspeople that you are my long lost cousin whom I met in the city on my way to get supplies and how you are an orphan and have no family. Our business partnership will make perfect sense to them.”
It became apparent that neither was willing to leave his village. Shmuel looked at Zeidel and with sorrow in his voice, he whispered, “We can’t put aside the problems between Nishtfetroggen and Vaysechvoos can we? You took me into your home and nursed me back to health. I owe you much. Can we at least be friends, if not partners?”
Zeidel was silent for some time and responded, “I helped you because it was the right thing to do. But as far as our future friendship–impossible! We each have a tradition to uphold which means we must not associate with people from the other’s village. If we don’t uphold our traditions, what will we have left?”
The “stranger” listened, nodding his head in agreement: “You’re right. Our traditions are too important to endanger with such an alliance. We must maintain our hostility. So goodbye, and may you be as a chandelier and hang by day and burn by night!!!”
“And to you,” shouted Zeidel, “may you own a hundred houses and in every house a hundred rooms and in every room a hundred beds, and may you toss from bed to bed with the plague!!!”
So with a halfhearted curse for one another–just enough to do their duty–they parted.
And to this day not a word is spoken between the people of Vaysechvoos and the people of Nishtfetroggen.
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.