Arts & Culture

Interview with Israeli Author Nava Semel

Journalist and playwright Mordecai Manuel Noah's proto-Zionist scheme to settle a Jewish colony on Grand Island in New York met with resistance from both Jewish and Christian leaders when it was proposed in 1825. Though it sounds preposterous today, historians … Read More

By / May 1, 2008

Journalist and playwright Mordecai Manuel Noah's proto-Zionist scheme to settle a Jewish colony on Grand Island in New York met with resistance from both Jewish and Christian leaders when it was proposed in 1825. Though it sounds preposterous today, historians of the era suggest that Noah in fact had every reason to suspect that a territorial solution to Jewish economic misery and religious persecution would succeed in America. But though Noah willed it, it remained a dream. No one filed on to his ark.

Today, the one remaining reminder of Noah's dream is a carved cornerstone for the unrealized Jewish micronation of "Ararat." The stone still exists today behind protective glass in the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. Semel recently discussed with me her fascination with Noah and his impact on her alternate history novel, IsraIsland, excerpted in this issue .

This month, as we celebrate Israel's sixtieth anniversary, Semel's novel can serve as a provocative reflection on the hopes that have been met, and the promises that remain unfulfilled, by a country whose modern prophet was another journalist and playwright, Theodor Herzl. Adam Rovner, Zeek translations editor

Q: As an Israeli, how did you become interested in Noah's project?

What caught my attention from the beginning was the date of the founding of Ararat, September 15, 1825. That's my birthday.