In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Real Jews
Nothing in Vaysechvoos goes wrong just a little. If it’s worth a kvetch, it’s worth a moan. If it starts out as a bit of tsuris, it’ll become a disaster.
The town meeting was to discuss preparations for the annual visit of the learned scholar, Ezra ben Nahum. The townspeople were all excited that this man of such wisdom and piety would bless them with his presence, and they were eager that he should be pleased with them as well.
So they prepared: Nahum the Bookbinder agreed to make some much needed on the siddurim. Berish the Tailor would repair the cushions on the benches in the meeting room. As the people were discussing other possible improvements, Shlomo the Carpenter said, You know, it is a shanda for such an important and pious man to come and speak to such a small gathering of Jews.”
That’s how it all started. Everyone, agreed that it would be a fine thing for Ezra ben Nahum to come and find that the congregation of Vaysechvoos had grown. “Every Jew in Vaysechvoos must be required to come,” said the Sage. However, this would only add two or three, since Vaysechvoos looked forward to the Shabbos services.
But then, the Sage reasoned, “There is Lodz. Of course we don’t want to meddle, but the Jews of Lodz have some who are so lacking in a knowledge of the holy books that they might as well be goyim. We could be doing them a favor if we could persuade those goyishe Jews to come and hear Ezra ben Nahum. We can put them up in our homes, and they can go home after Sabbath. They will return to Lodz the better for it.”
The people of Vaysechvoos were very enthusiastic about this plan. They began to think of other villages that probably also had goyishe Jews whom they could invite. “It’s a good thing it is summer and so warm out side,” said Malke, wife of Shlomo, “because we’re going to have so many people, we couldn’t possibly find room for all of them. We’ll have to make some temporary dwellings as though it were Sukkos.”
“Yes, as though it were Sukkos!” Shlomo exclaimed. “Only instead of celebrating a harvest of crops, we’ll have a harvest of people!”
The idea of a people harvest seemed to enthuse the imagination of everyone in Vaysechvoos. In all the excitement, Eleazer the Butcher burst out, “Why stop with the goyishe Jews? Why not bring in the goyim themselves?”
For a few seconds, everyone was stunned into silence. “Are you crazy?” his wife, Zlata, exclaimed as she broke the silence.
Then Shlomo interrupted. “Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea. Why shouldn’t some of the goyim learn what it is to be a Jew? How could it hurt?”
“Yes,” added Chaya, the Egg Lady. “We could teach them so many things. . . like how to be really poor.”
“How to cook a potato fifty different ways.”
“We could show them what to do in case a pogrom befalls them.”
“They could learn how persecution builds character.”
“And how to avert the evil eye.”
“But,” cautioned Shlomo, “we must be careful which goyim we invite. We don’t want to bring down the wrath of their galachim.”
“He’s right,” agreed Eleazer. “Any goy who speaks of his god or his religion must not be invited to join us–only those who have rejected the gentile religion or have no interest. Their galachim will never miss them.”
Thus it was agreed that the “floating goyim” as they decided to call them (because they were not firmly rooted in any religion) should be welcome to celebrate Shabbos in Vaysechvoos and team what it means to be a Jew. A delegation of the five most persuasive Jews of Vaysechvoos was sent out to gather in the floating goyim and the goyishe Jews while the rest of Vaysechvoos set about building shelters in which the guests might sleep.
And so it was that when Ezra ben Nahum arrived in Vaysechvoos three weeks later, he was astonished to see what looked like preparations for an out of season Sukkos celebration. Most of the villagers had some kind of booth or lean-to set up outside their modest dwellings.
But on Shabbos eve, five bedraggled men came trudging down the road toward Vaysechvoos. No goyishe Jews accompanied them, nor were there any floating goyim to be seen.
Dismayed, the townspeople listened as each gave an account of those who had refused the invitation. A few cuts and bruises were all they had to show for their persuasive invitations.
The people were moaning and groaning and shaking their hands upward toward the Creator. They filed into the shul, devoid of the joy the Shabbos should bring to the heart of a Jew. When Rabbi Ezra ben Nahum stood up to deliver his drasha the people hung their heads in shame for providing him with such a small congregation.
“Since when has being a Jew meant being part of a people strong in number?” he thundered. “Oh foolish people, did you really think I would be pleased by crowds? You thought you had much to offer the goyishe Jews and the floating goyim. Would I have ever come to this tiny village if my only interest were to teach crowds? You might have spent your efforts adding to your knowledge of the Holy One. It is he, not you, who has something to offer to the lost souls of this world.”
They hung their heads even lower, knowing that they had failed to know for themselves what it means to be real Jews. At the sight of so many contrite congregants, Ezra ben Nahum smiled. “Now this is a group any rabbi would be honored to address,” he said in a gentle voice, “because you are small and weak and can admit that you are not sufficient in yourselves. Receive with joy the blessing of the One whose presence is big enough to fill the entire universe as well as filling the smallest human heart that truly seeks him.”
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.