(JTA) — Starting tonight, many Jews around the world will celebrate Purim in the same ways: by reading the story of the heroic Queen Esther, dressing in festive costumes and drinking alcohol.
For many of the 900 or so Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it will be the first of two annual Purim celebrations.
Since 1820, locals have also observed the Purim de Saray (Saray being a root of the word Sarajevo) early in the Hebrew calendar month of Cheshvan, which usually falls in October or November of the Gregorian calendar.
In that year, the story goes, a local dervish was murdered, prompting the corrupt Ottoman pasha of Sarajevo, a high-ranking official, to kidnap 11 prominent Jews, including the community’s chief rabbi, a kabbalist named Moshe Danon. The pasha accused them of the murder of the dervish — who had converted from Judaism to Islam — and held them for ransom, demanding 50,000 groschen of silver from the Jewish community.
But the pasha, who was a transplant from elsewhere in the Ottoman empire, deeply offended the multiethnic populace of Sarajevo, who considered the Jewish community — then around one-fifth of the city’s entire population — an essential part of their home. So local Jews, Muslims and Christians rebelled together, storming the pasha’s palace and freeing the imprisoned community leaders.
Ever since, Bosnian Jews have celebrated that story by visiting the grave of the Sarajevan Jewish historian Zeki Effendi, who was the first to document it. Dozens also take part in a pilgrimage every summer to the grave of Rabbi Danon, who is buried in the south of Bosnia, not far from the Croatian border, where he died on his way to what was then Ottoman-controlled Palestine.
For centuries, several other Jewish communities around the world observed their own versions of Purim based on stories of local resistance to antisemitism, inspired by Esther and her uncle Mordecai, who in the original holiday story save all of Persia’s Jews from execution in the 5th century BCE.
Here are the stories behind some of those traditions.
Jews settled in and around Ancona on Italy’s Adriatic coast in the 10th century, and by the 13th century they had established a flourishing community, which included figures such as the Jewish traveler Jacob of Ancona — who may have beaten Marco Polo to China — and famed poet Immanuel the Roman, who despite his title was born in a town just south of Ancona.
Though the city’s Jewish community was largely spared by the Holocaust, it has slowly declined over the years and is believed to have fewer than 100 members today. What it is not short on, however, are local Purim stories — the city is known for multiple celebrations that were established over the centuries.
The first, marked on the 21st of the Hebrew month of Tevet (usually in January) was established at the end of the 17th century and marks an earthquake that nearly destroyed the city.
“On the 21st of Teveth, Friday evening, of the year 5451 (1690), at 8 and a quarter, there was a powerful earthquake. The doors of the temple were immediately opened and in a few moments it was filled with men, women and children, still half-naked and barefoot, who came to pray to the Eternal in front of the Holy Ark. A true miracle then took place in the Temple: there was only one light, which remained lit until it was possible to provide for it,” wrote Venetian Rabbi Yosef Fiammetta in 1741, in his text “Or Boqer,” meaning “the light of the morning.”
Other Ancona Purims were established a half and three-quarters of a century later, respectively. The story for the first commemorates fires that nearly destroyed the local synagogue but miraculously did not, and the next tells of a pogrom that nearly destroyed the community as Napoleon marched through Italy during the French Revolutionary Wars.
Today, these stories have largely faded into memory. But a few centuries ago, Italy had a high concentration of communities that celebrated local Purims — including in Casale Monferrato, Ferrara, Florence, Livorno, Padua, Senigallia, Trieste, Urbino, Verona and Turin — some into the 20th century.
“It would be hoped that the local Purims are not forgotten or that they are restored in the communities that have not completely died out,” the late Italian Rabbi Yehuda Nello Pavoncello once wrote, according to the Turin Jewish Community, “so that the memory of the events reconnects us to the infinite links of the chain of the generations that have preceded us, who have suffered.”
The extra Purim phenomenon was not confined to Europe.
In Tripoli, Libya, local Jews established the so-called Purim Barghul after the deposition of a local tyrant in the late 18th century. Ali Burghul, an Ottoman officer who was installed after the downfall of the Qaramanli dynasty, ruled the region brutally for two years, treating minorities particularly harshly. After factions of the Qaramanlis were reconciled, Burghul was driven out. Jews would go on to celebrate that day, the 29th of Tevet (usually in January).
(Centuries later, in 1970, dictator Muammar Gaddafi established his own holiday, the Day of Revenge, which celebrated the expulsion of Italian officials from Libya; some say it also celebrated the exodus of Jews since the formation of the state of Israel. Within a few years after Gaddafi’s decree, Libya’s Jewish community had dwindled to less than two dozen, effectively ending the nearly 3,000-year history of Jews there.)
In northern Morocco, Jews commemorated the defeat of a Portuguese king, Don Sebastian, who attempted to take over parts of the country but was defeated in a battle in August 1578. Jews had believed that Sebastian would have tried to convert them to Christianity if he had prevailed.
Today only around 2,000 Jews remain in Morocco, but some Moroccan communities marked the day into the 21st century.
Scholars still debate which city was the origin of the Purim of Saragossa story — it could have been Zaragoza in Spain or Syracuse in southern Sicily, which was often referred to in the medieval era as Siragusa. Both cities were part of the Spanish empire in 1492 and were depopulated of Jews following the Inquisition.
Either way, Sephardic descendants in places around the world, including Israel and the Turkish city of Izmir, observed their own Purim story by fasting on the 16th of the Hebrew month of Shevat — generally in February — and feasting on the 17th.
The story tells of an apostate named Marcus who slandered the Jewish community to a non-Jewish king, putting their status in jeopardy. But at the last minute, Marcus’ deception is revealed, and he is executed while the community is saved.
The story could have been entirely fabricated. According to Jewish historian Elliot Horowitz, the establishment of this second Purim story may have been a way for the descendants of Saragossan Jews, whether they are originally Spanish or Sicilian, to maintain a unique identity in the larger Sephardic diaspora.
“The Jewish communities of the eastern Mediterranean in the early modern period were often composed of émigré subcommunities, each of which was distinguished by the customs and liturgy of its place of origin,” he wrote in his 2006 book “Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence.” “The ‘Purim of Saragossa,’ the earliest manuscript evidence for which dates only from the mid-eighteenth century, may well have been ‘invented’ by former ‘Saragossans’ eager to maintain their distinct identity in the multicultural Sephardi Diaspora of the eastern Mediterranean.”
Regardless of its origins, the Megillah of Saragossa text continued to be published through at least the end of the 19th century. It was well known enough that an American Reform rabbi from New York would publish a stage play based off of it in the 1940s.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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