Purim Fossano

Purim Fossano

Fossano, in Northern Italy, lies at the foothills of the Alps, near the pass that crosses through the high mountains between France and Italy.

The spring of the year 5556 (1796) was a time of unrest and war. France was in the throes of its revolution, and Italy was the scene of battle between French and Austrian armies.

At that time a young 27-year-old French general, named Napoleon Bonaparte, was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the French armies in Italy. The French advance had been stalled, and it was hoped that the young, fiery general would breathe some life into the French military campaign. Indeed, this was the case, and under Napoleon's leadership the French armies began to score one victory after another.

Just before Passover the French laid siege to the town of Fossano, and began a bombardment of the little city. The bombardment came almost daily and did considerable damage to property, inflicting also a number of casualties. Yet the city did not surrender, though the situation appeared gloomy.

In the midst of the siege, Passover came. Despite all, the Jews of Fossano were resolved to celebrate their "Festival of Liberation" with joy.

Passover was a time of anxiety and danger for the Jews even in "normal" times. The hatred of their Christian neighbors often was roused to a pitch during the Easter season. Passover time was a favorite season for all sorts of wild accusations against the Jews, including the terrible "blood-libel" with its fantastic charge that Jews use Christian blood in their Matzos. Any excuse, however ridiculous, was sufficient to start a mob attack against the defenseless Jews. Small wonder, therefore, that the Jews of Fossano were filled with anxiety. Yet, when Passover came, the Jews celebrated the two Seder-nights and the first days of the festival with their usual joy. This made many of the townspeople very angry.

What could be better "evidence" that the Jews were happy about the enemy's successes? Rumors began to spread among the Christian population that the Jews were in sympathy with the besiegers . . . that they were perhaps even signaling to the enemy!

Sensing the dangerous situation, the leaders of the Jewish community appealed to the City Elders for protection. But these were occupied with the defense of the city and could spare no soldiers to protect the ghetto.

On the fourth night of Passover, the enemy opened his usual bombardment, but with more deadly accuracy. Somehow, hardly any bombs fell in the Jewish ghetto. The ghetto 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. Now the rabble-rousers found it easy to incite the mob against the "treacherous" Jews. After all, if a victory over the French seemed out of the question, a victory over the defenseless Jews was easy. . . .

Armed with all sorts of weapons, the mob rushed to the Jewish quarter. There was no opposition, for the Jews had left their homes and had taken refuge in the synagogue, where, though greatly outnumbered, they were resolved to defend themselves. Knowing however that they had no chance, they could only pray for a miracle to save them from massacre.

In the meantime, the mob was hacking its way through the ghetto, breaking into homes and stores and pillaging what they could. But this did not satisfy them completely; they thirsted for Jewish blood, and they advanced ever closer to the synagogue, at the far end of the street.

The synagogue was situated on an upper floor. A narrow staircase led to a small vestibule, which led into the synagogue, where the members of the small Jewish community were huddled together awaiting the inevitable attack.

The mob, mad with rage, now reached the synagogue and began to climb the steps. Some of them already broke into the vestibule. . . .

Suddenly there was a deafening crash. A shell fired at random from a French cannon burst through the wall of the synagogue and landed in the vestibule, right in front of the terror-stricken attackers. The mob took to their heels and beat a hasty retreat. Many of them threw away their spoil as they ran for their lives crazed with fear.

It was a wonderful miracle for the Jews of Fossano, for they were saved just at the moment when their fate seemed to have been sealed.

As it happened, the bomb that fell in the vestibule did not do much damage, as if its only purpose was to frighten away the attackers and save the Jews. Soon afterwards, the French captured the city, and the Jews now felt themselves out of danger.

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 to the Almighty for the miraculous salvation. Furthermore, it was decided 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."

Originally published in Talks and Tales, Published and Copyright byKehot Publication Society, Brooklyn NY 11213
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
4 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Moshe Teaneck, NJ March 6, 2012

Synagogue Fossano is in the province of Cuneo. Reply

Alexandra New York, NY April 21, 2011

I am afraid the synagogue does not exist anymore. Google does not find any synagogue in Fossano, Italy Reply

YLee ny April 2, 2010

cool proud to be a Jew! Reply

Gina February 9, 2007

Hmm.. I have relatives in Fossano. I don't remember a synagogue there. I will have them check it out. Reply