Mordecai Manuel Noah was the first Jew born in the United States to reach national prominence. He was a Jewish American playwright, diplomat, and journalist born in 1785 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of Portuguese Sephardic ancestry.

In 1811 he was appointed by President James Madison as consul at Riga, then part of Imperial Russia, but declined, and in 1813 was nominated Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis, where he rescued American citizens kept as slaves by Morroccan masters. Take that, CK! Allegedly, Noah was removed from this position because, in the words of US Secretary of State James Monroe, his religion was “an obstacle to the exercise of [his] Consular function.” Thank you, Wikipedia.

Now what was so unique about Mordechai Manuel Noah? In 1820, in a precursor to modern Zionism, he tried to found a Jewish homeland at Grand Island in the Niagara River, to be called “Ararat,” after Mount Ararat, the Biblical resting place of Noah’s Ark. He erected a monument at the island which read “Ararat, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai M. Noah in the Month of Tishri, 5586 (September, 1825) and in the Fiftieth Year of American Independence.” He also hired some kind of savvy PR chick in designer jeans and pointy heels to spread the word, but the sad truth is, nobody came.

What would have happened if all of Eastern European’s Jewry had heeded Noah’s call? A very different picture of Jewish History would emerge. Israeli author, Nava Semel’s new book riffs on this possibility. In her book (available currently only b’Evrit) an alternate history is given where Jews do heed the call, IsraIsland becomes the smallest of the federated states of America, Israel does not exist, and there was no Holocaust. Imagine that.

About the author