Today, 1st November (4th Heshvan in the Hebrew calendar), Algerian Jews are celebrating the anniversary of a great day in their history: the so-called Algiers Purim.
In 1541, some 50 years after many of them escaped with their lives from the Spanish Inquisition, panic-stricken Algerian Jews filled their synagogues. They prayed to remain beyond the reach of the Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Spain, Charles V. The emperor had sent his Armada to Algiers to fight the Turks.
A miracle occurred! A storm broke out, destroying more than 150 Spanish ships. The surviving sailors, frozen and starving, were routed. They took refuge with the remaining fleet at Bougie before returning to Spain.
What Charles V did not know was that Algiers harbour was full of small rocks lurking just below the surface – ‘God’s trap’. Pirates could navigate them, but a fleet of the size of the Spanish Armada could not.
The French learned the lessons of geography when they invaded Algeria in 1830, coming ashore at Sidi Ferruch instead of Algiers. So did the Americans when they liberated Algeria during World War ll.
The wooden teba in the Ibn Taoua synagogue in old Algiers was apparently made from the prow of one of Charles V’s wrecked ships.