In the Little Shtetl of Vaysechvoos: How Gittel Saved the Shtetl
Gittel, everyone in Vaysechvoos agreed, was a true beauty. Besides this she was bright, vivacious and as innocent as freshly fallen snow. Why, one glance from her deep, smiling brown eyes was enough to melt the heart of any yeshiva bocher. But that was not to be.
One day Gittel disappeared. Her mother, Frumah-Ruchel, had sent her to Shimmon the butcher for a Shabbos chicken, and she had never returned. Reb Peretz was frantic with worry. What if his daughter had been killed, or even worse, kidnapped by a Cossack? After a thorough search, the grieving parents learned the shameful truth: Gittel had run off and married a goy—a gentile. And not just a gentile, but Gregori (Grisha) Ivanovich Petrushin.
Dark rumors surrounded the name Petrushin. First of all, Grisha was a man of great wealth, and such wealth, no doubt, came from doing no good. He was a bald, stout, middle-aged widower whose first wife had met an untimely demise. As the story went, during one of Grisha’s not-so-infrequent drinking bouts, he had threatened to do his wife harm. She died that night of a stroke—a young girl of nineteen! Perhaps the rumors were unfounded. But who knows?
Gittel’s parents wept at the news of their daughter’s betrothal. Master of the Universe,” cried Reb Peretz, “has such a thing ever happened in Israel that my daughter should run off with a goy, a stranger of the likes of Grisha Petrushin?” So grieved were Reb Peretz and Frumah-Ruchel that they sat shiva, not for one, but two weeks!
Now one would certainly think that with such bad news, a little pleasantness could come to Vaysechvoos to balance things out, right? Wrong. With bad news comes more bad news. Rumors were spreading that a demonstration was to come to the shtetl like the one that had come to Kishinev. This made the townspeople shudder, for the brutal massacre at Kishinev was all too well known.
A town meeting was called by the sage of Vaysechvoos that evening. Everyone was there and all were asking, “What are we to do and where are we to run?”
The sage stroked his beard and with calm assurance in his voice addressed the agitated flock: “I, too, was troubled, but I have found a solution. I have come to the conclusion that we must employ the influence of a high-ranking official to intercede for us. But you will say, ‘We are Jews. What high-ranking officials would hear our case?’ And then I will say, ‘Count Petrushin can put a stop to the demonstration!'”
The sage’s eyes lit up as he unfolded his plan. The fact that Grisha Petrushin was not only of noble birth but a blood relative of the Czar himself was a well-kept secret in the district. However, the sage knew all such secrets. With the town’s blessing, he left the next morning for the Petrushin estate. It was only a half day’s journey from Vaysechvoos, and when the sage arrived, Gittel was alone, for it was Friday. You see on Fridays, she would send the servants away and prepare a dinner for Grisha herself. The sage was gratified to see that Gittel was looking well. She told him that Grisha was a devoted husband and that apart from missing her family, she was very happy. The sage could see from her smiling eyes that what she had said was so. But his thoughts then shifted to the reason for his visit.
The sage told Gittel of the planned demonstration and the danger for all the Jews in Vaysechvoos, for all the Jews in the district! “Now Gitteleh,” he whispered, “your husband can put a stop to this madness. You’ll persuade him to stop it?”
That night Gittel prepared a lavish dinner. She roasted a goose and made a noodle kugel with raisins and almonds and a feather-light sponge cake for dessert. Grisha enjoyed the feast set before him, but he could sense that his bride was troubled. He begged her to tell him what was bothering her so.
Gittel took a deep breath and began. She told her husband what had happened at Kishinev and of the plans for a similar demonstration in her home village of Vaysechvoos. Grisha listened and became enraged. All his life he had lived in ignorance of the plight of the Jews. Now he had a Jewish wife and seeing through her eyes he felt compassion for her people. The count secured an edict the next day saying that none of the Jews in the district were to be harmed.
It wasn’t until after Shabbos that the news reached Vaysechvoos. All were safe. It was a miracle! Even Reb Peretz and Fruma-Rachel rejoiced, knowing that, in a way, their Gitteleh had a part in bringing safety to the little shtetl.
- yeshiva bochur:young man who studies at a Talmudic academy
- Shabbos: Sabbath
- shiva: seven days of mourning
- Megillah: scroll of the Book of Esther
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.