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Chapters in American Jewish History are provided by the American Jewish Historical Society, collecting, preserving, fostering scholarship and providing access to the continuity of Jewish life in America for more than 350 years (and counting). Visit www.ajhs.org.
In the Niagara River between Buffalo, New York, and Canada sits Grand Island. On a pedestal at Grand Island Town Hall sits a cornerstone engraved with the Sh’ma in Hebrew and the following inscription:
A City of Refuge for the Jews
Founded by Mordecai Manuel Noah in the month of Tizri 5586
Sept. 1825 and in the 50th Year of American Independence
What was this place, Ararat, and who was Mordecai Manuel Noah?
Born in Philadelphia in 1785 to German-Jewish and Sephardic parents, Noah pursued simultaneous careers in journalism and politics. At age 26, Noah petitioned Secretary of State Robert Smith to grant him a consular position, with a not-so-subtle reminder that the appointment of a Jew to the diplomatic corps would favorably impress Jewish voters and “prove to foreign powers that our government is not regulated in the appointment of their officers by religious distinction.” Noah was subsequently appointed as consul to Riga and then Tunis. Later, Noah was elected sheriff of New York City, appointed surveyor of the city’s port and made a judge of its Court of General Sessions. His position as editor of six different secular New York newspapers over the years assured him of a platform.
In the Ararat project, Noah’s service to world Jewry and his personal advancement came together as he proclaimed the Zionist future. Noah declared in 1818, “Never were prospects for the restoration of the Jewish nation to their ancient rights and dominion more brilliant than they are at present. There are seven million of Jews . . . throughout the world . . . possessing more wealth, activity, influence, and talents, than any body of people of their number on earth. . .they will march in triumphant numbers, and posses themselves once more of [Palestine], and take their rank among the governments of the earth.” In 1820, he began private negotiations to purchase Grand Island, then completely undeveloped, as a temporary “New Jerusalem” where Jews could safely await repossession of their ancient Holy Land.
(Image to the left: Map of Grand Island in the Niagara River, the intended location of “Ararat”. Courtesy of American Jewish Historical Society.)
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