Remembering the “Moed di Piombo” AKA a Roman-Jewish Purim.
As centuries passed the Moed di Piombo was forgotten by most. However, over the past five years, congregations across the city have brought this holiday back in remembrance of the miraculous events that saved thousands of Jewish lives.
The Moed di Piombo (which in Italian means the Moed of Lead – in reference to the dark grey color of the clouds) marks a holiday little known, yet very important in the history of the oldest community of the Jewish diaspora. It is remarkable not only in the miracle that occurred, but also in the detailed documentation that accompanied the events of the time.
On January 14 1793, 2 Shevet 5553, an angry mob tried repeatedly to attack and burn down the Ghetto of Rome. After a number of failed attempts, they succeeded in burning down one of the entrances. However, before things could escalate, a sudden downpour quenched the fires and caused the mob to disperse: the thousands of Jews trapped inside the Ghetto walls were saved.
Some say the rain was not the only miracle, though. The other was the intervention of the government and Church in defense of the Jews. Both guards and priests addressed the crowd, trying to reason and convince them that attacking the Jews and the Ghetto was not the answer to the murder of a French diplomat which had triggered the riots and attacks.
I do remember hearing this story, growing up in Rome. I had never really looked into the details. This morning my mom reminded me of the holiday. Separated by an ocean, I suddenly felt strongly connected to my community of birth, and was fascinated by the idea of finding the detailed documentation some of the online articles refer to. I found an article by Enzo Sereni, who in 1935 published testimony by a contemporary Roman Jew, in the Italian Jewish publication ‘Estratto dalla Rassegna Mensile di Israele’ (vol. 10, n.2-3 June-July, 1935). He reports the words of the author, whose identity is not certain, as is sometimes the case in old documents.
The testimony is indeed long and detailed, and quite fascinating. I translated the passage in which these two miracles were both mentioned, which I found particularly meaningful.
“Around six in the morning, the skies opened, and in the middle of pouring rain the Illustrious Marquis Accoramboni cried out loud: “You see, my children, their [the Jews’] innocence. You want fire, and God is sending you water. Recognize the Might of God, and go in peace, my children.” At these words, and partly because the People were tired, and partly because the rain was drenching everything and everyone, almost everyone left. After the rain stopped, they tried again, but the guards had blocked access to the surrounding area a great distance from the Ghetto, and the people turned back.”
One more miracle is noted in the records: for the eight days following the attack and the downpour, all Jews were confined to the Ghetto and not permitted to leave. Given the economic situation and context of the time, this meant starvation for almost all those inside the walls. Maybe it’s the miracles associated with the number eight, or maybe it’s the principle of mutual responsibility that has supported Jewish communities throughout centuries, but donations poured in and were enough to sustain those trapped inside the Ghetto walls.
At the time of the events, the Roman Jewish Community created a special committee, “Ezra’ Bezarod”, complete with by-laws, offices and budget, to ensure the remembrance of this day. They would get together at the ‘Scola Siciliana’ and recite hymns and invocations composed for the occasion by David Bondì and printed by Yaaqov Caivano. As centuries passed the Moed di Piombo was forgotten by most. However, over the past five years, congregations across the city have brought this holiday back, starting with a little shul in the area of Monteverde, in remembrance of the miraculous events that saved thousands of Jewish lives.