Ararat: Evidence of the Jewish Dream of Freedom

This Date in History

Sep 28, 2014

The Jewish People are a nation of dreamers. Eternally bound to the dream of living as a free people, unscathed by the hatred of other nations, able to survive, thrive, and live proud as Jews.

Witness to the rising need for a refuge for the Jewish people, Mordecai Manuel Noah took upon himself the task of establishing a homeland, or more accurately a “City of Refuge” for Jews, on Grand Island in America.

A well-known Jewish leader, Noah spent 5 years planning the practical establishment of Ararat - aptly named after the resting place of Noah's Ark - on the 2,555 acre island in the Niagara River.

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."

Noah's proclaimation was evidence of the thriving hope of the jewish nation, and an impetus for the Zionist future. 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.

On the morning after Rosh HaShanah, 1825 (then September 15), Noah proclaimed the re-organization of a Jewish governance in Ararat, to be established as an asylum to Jews throughout the world. He levied a tax of three Shekels (one dollar) in silver on every Jew throughout the world, to capitalize the new venture and aid in the settlement of emigrants to the new community.

The plan received wide attention, as the 300 pound cornerstone was prepared and Jews and non-Jews came to the consecration ceremony in Buffalo, NY.

In spite of its grandiose beginnings, Ararat was a profound failure - it had not received the support of Jewish communal leadership, and the wider Jewish community feared it would arouse resentment against them after their long struggle to assimilate into American society. European Jews frowned upon the idea as they feared it would deter from the fulfillment of our traditional and ancestral dream of a return to our ancient homeland of Eretz Yisrael. Some even went so far as to accuse Noah of posing as Messiah, who some day would "lead [the Jewish people] to New Jerusalem and not to New York."

Various Jewish leaders around the world continued the struggle towards Jewish independence and freedom, Herzl being the next individual working towards the practical and political establishment of a Jewish nation re-established in the Holy Land.

Noah's vision that America must play a special part in that restoration foreshadowed the role of American Jewry in the twentieth-century development of Jewish nationhood, thus giving Mordechai Manuel Noah a deserved place in the annals of Jewish and Israeli history.

Join us for an exploration of the life, leadership and legacy of Herzl and the fulfillment of an ancient dream.