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The Purim of the Bomb

Lawrence Bush
April 25, 2017

Jews of Fossano, Italy, a town that was being besieged by Napoleon’s army, were saved on this date in 1796 (some sources say April 27th, others April 25th) from being massacred inside their synagogue by their fellow townspeople when a bomb exploded in the synagogue’s vestibule and frightened away the mob. Jewish celebrations of the Passover had been seen by anxious gentile neighbors as signs that the Jews were in league with Napoleon. “On the fourth night of Passover,” according to a Chabad website, “the enemy opened his usual bombard- ment . . . Somehow, hardly any bombs fell in the Jewish ghetto,” which was “a long narrow street close to the city wall, and the bombs seemed to fly over it and fall into the rest of the city.” This led to the mob ransacking the Jewish quarter, then falling upon the synagogue, where the Jews had gathered to defend themselves. After the bomb landed in shul and dispelled the mob, “the elders of the Jewish community decreed that the fourth day of Passover should be observed every year by the Jews of Fossano as a day of celebration,” and that “the gaping hole which the shell had made as it crashed through the wall should not be closed up. Instead, it was made a window, around which a golden inscription in Hebrew proclaimed it as evidence of the ‘Miracle of the Bomb.’” (The image at the top of this Jewdayo is a fragment of the 18th century megillah about this incident.) Miracle-stories like this one are celebrated as special “Purims” by Jewish communities around the world.

“The King Dom Sebastiano of Portugal invaded Morocco in 1578. Two marranos . . . informed the Jewish community that if the invasion succeeded, all the Jews of Morocco would be forcibly converted. At the battle of Alcazarquebir, the Portuguese were defeated and Dom Sebastiano was killed in battle. That day was set aside by the Jews of Morocco as a Purim. . . . Governor Suleiman Pasha of Damascus laid siege to [Tiberius] in 1743. For the duration of the siege, 83 days, the Jews of Tiberius helped stand in its defense. On August 27, the Pasha raised the siege, but his plans to attack Tiberius were not over. While preparing his next attack, however, he suddenly died and the Jews of Tiberius were saved from certain disaster. The Jews of Tiberius declared both the day of the lifting of the siege -- the seventh day of Elul -- and the day of the Pasha’s death -- the fourth day of Kislev -- local Purims.” --Larry Domnitch, The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.