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Purim Fossano

by Talks and Tales


Library » Holidays » Purim » The Story | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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 Matzahs. 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. . . .


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A Biblically mandated early-spring festival celebrating the Jewish exodus from Egypt in the year 1312 BCE.
Festive meal eaten on the first two nights of the holiday of Passover (In Israel, the Seder is observed only the first night of the holiday). Seder highlights include: reading the story of the Exodus, eating Matzah and bitter herbs, and drinking four cups of wine.