Father's Day Series: David Joe, the Local Hero of Novoselitsa

My name is Jaclyn Wallach.


A name that means “foreigner from a Romance country” (although my grandfather used to think it meant “wood”).

David Joseph Wallach in Monticello, NY 1925.

David Joseph Wallach in Monticello, NY 1925.

A family name that has followed my paternal line for at least 4 generations.

I got this name for sure from my great-grandfather, David Joseph (or Dovid Gedalija as he was known in Bessarabia). Truth be told, besides stories, everything past him is still, well, a bit lost in history.

And, it’s actually the part of my family tree that has stumped me the most, and one that I’m most interested in the most. It’s my own brick wall.

In doing so, I want to honor David Joe with one of his stories as he was known during this Father’s Day Series.

David & the horse of Novoselitsa

He was known as somewhat of a local hero in his town of Novoselitsa, Bessarabia (today in the Ukraine) by 1907. Novoselitsa at the time was literally on the border between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Russia. The town was split in two by the Prut River and even today is surrounded by low hills and the small river that cuts through it.

Extremely violent wave of Pogroms, which were were extremely violent riots towards Jews that swept across Eastern Europe & Russia in the 1800s & first half of the 1900s, were sweeping across Europe and particularly in the area where David lived. Lies of Jews trying to control the government, of the Jewish libels (killing Christian children and using their blood to bake matzah) and the Jews’ responsibility for the death of Jesus were rampant. People were being murdered in their sleep, homes were being burnt down and women raped, and babies were literally torn apart by the bloodthirsty mob.

And by 1907, David was wanted by the Cossacks, the Russian military police.

David was the second-born to his mother, Freyda (Fanny) Krupnik and the first to his father, Herschel Tzvi Wallach. His father, so we’ve been told, died when David was very young, possibly about 3 years old. His older brother, Charles Kushner from his mother’s first marriage, was out of the house by the early 1900s, and Freyda was working to support her and her son as a domestic worker. She raised David Joseph Wallach as Gedaljia Kushner, taking on the name of her late first husband.

David Joseph, NYC, 1911

David Joseph, NYC, 1911

Her son David Joseph, as a young boy eventually needed to help his mother, and was brought to a farm nearby in search for work. The farmer, who was not Jewish, opened his heart and let David work on his farm. It was not common for the Jews of the area to be hired by non-Jews in the area because most people didn’t want to work with the Jews. Jews weren’t even allowed to own property, let alone allowed to own a horse. But because of this, he learned how to ride and work with horses.

Fast forward several years, and the Pogroms of Kishnev & Bessarabia were more rampant than ever by 1905 through 1907 as one of the Russian Revolutions was underway. A wave of courage somewhere deep in his being must have sprung up.

Cossacks had heard of a 17 year old smuggling Jews over the Russian border hills with the use of some horses. He had summoned up the inner strength to save several families by smuggling them over the border to be safe from the Russian authorities and their Russian neighbors. He snuck through the forests and the hills with his horse and the families quietly holding on tightly to the back of the horse. Every crunch of a twig sent everyone’s hearts racing. A Cossack, a prejudice neighbor.

Without him even knowing at the time, one of the families would later become his in-laws to his daughter in the United States (but that’s for another time).

One night as he was returning from his mission, he was almost caught. The Cossacks screamed and chased after him, “Filthy Jew! Show yourself!” He lost his horse that night, but won his life.

Not long after this pivotal moment, even as a Jew, he would have to be drafted into the Russian Army when he turned 18. His mother worried. Not because he would be going into the army, but because the local Cossacks and other locals who knew his face would surely recognize him and want to kill him, even if he was in the army with them.

And, so, he made arrangements to come to the United States. He had to leave his mother behind (two reasons I have heard was because she was either sick with pneumonia or because she was too old to travel). He set foot in New York on the 6 June 1910.

He wouldn’t return to the name Wallach until 1921.

Thank you, David. Happy Father’s Day!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this story. What stories do you have about fathers in your family? Comment & share below.