In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: The Pogrom that Wasn’t
For those who lived in the little shtetl of Vaysechvoos, no event of the year brought as much joyous anticipation as the first seder night. Each house was made spotless and bright. For the days leading up to the holiday, all chometz was removed and all the special Pesach dishes and utensils were brought out. The families eagerly awaited the gathering ’round the table and the lengthy and elaborate telling of the Pesach story. The youngest sons spent hours in practice, chanting the mah nishtana with feeling and expertise. The girls helped their mothers with preparations for the delicious Pesach meal. And so it was in each home in Vaysechvoos as Pesach approached.
However, this year the sweetness of the holiday was mixed with some concern as rumors began spreading that a pogrom could be imminent; an announcement had gone out throughout the region warning Russian parents to beware of the Jewish practice of using children’s blood to prepare Pesach matzah. Keep watch,” the announcement said, “these disgusting people kidnap small children and remove some of their blood and use it to prepare their holy food. Then they dump the bodies of the children in the fields.”
The townspeople shuddered at the thought of the Cossacks rampaging through their little town: “What can we do?” asked Shimon the butcher. “How can we prepare for this?” Feivel the Tanner wanted to know. This was a matter for the Sage to weigh in on, and so a meeting was called.
Meanwhile, Perchik, the son of the Tanner, who was already working as an apprentice in that craft, was giving the matter serious thought himself. It’s not that he believed he had a fraction of the wisdom of the Sage, “But…” Perchik reasoned, “I need to do my part to come up with some suggestions to avert this catastrophe.” Perchik thought long and hard and then it came to him, perhaps a vision from Ha Shem Himself!
As the people of Vaysechvoos filed into their synagogue, which also served as a meeting hall, the Sage addressed them,
“My dear neighbors. This is indeed a sad time for us. While we should be looking with joy to eat our Pesach seder meal in less than a week’s time, instead it seems that we must plan for a pogrom. It is not safe for the women and children to remain in Vaysechvoos if the Cossacks come. They need to be taken to a safe place. I can’t think of any other course to take but to get them out of the village in the next few days.”
The men were shaking their heads in agreement, when young Perchik spoke up.
“I, um, wonder if I could say something. It may not be important, but can I please speak?”
The older men were somewhat annoyed at this presumptuous youngster. However, before they could put him in his place, the Sage, who is very wise, turned to Perchik and said, “Son, please go ahead. There is no age requirement on coming up with good solutions.”
Perchik was nervous, but took strength from the kind words of the Sage.
“I know I’m just a boy…” he began. “…But if I could ask a question, isn’t it possible that Eliahu the prophet might come to Vaysechvoos this Pesach to announce the coming of the Messiah?”
The Sage said, “All things are possible.”
“Well, what if we prayed that Eliahu would come here? Could we do that?”
The Rabbi, who was also present at the meeting, stood up, smiled and spoke directly to the young man. “Young Perchik, I would like nothing better than to have my congregation pray. Prayer is a very good thing to do.”
And so they did. They prayed for there to be no pogrom, for a Pesach without worry, and yes, for Eliahu to make an appearance in Vaysechvoos. There was so much fervor in the prayers that went forth over the days leading up to Pesach; many really believed that Ha Shem would intervene. And rather than the women and children leaving the village, they all stayed.
And Ha Shem indeed heard their prayers. There was no pogrom in Vaysechvoos, though word came of one in nearby Kiev. The boys got to chant the ma nishtana and the girls enjoyed cooking the holiday delicacies. The families sang and drank the Pesach wine and at the close of the seder, they waited for the arrival of the prophet.
While Eliahu did not make an appearance in Vaysechvoos that year, more than ever they strengthened their hope that Messiah would come and that Pesach and all the holidays could be celebrated without fear in the days to come
- Ma nishtana : The Four Questions
- Chometz: leaven
- Pesach: Passover
- Matzah: unleavened bread
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.