An American Jew’s Failed Attempt to Create a Temporary Zion in Upstate New York

At various points in his life, the Philadelphia-born Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) was, in Jenna Weissman Joselit’s words, “a politician and a playwright, a man about town, a journalist, and a diplomat in Tunis, where he jousted with pirates.” But perhaps his best-known exploit was his attempt to transform Grand Island—a richly forested bit of land in the Niagara River, not far from Buffalo, NY—into a refuge for European Jews fleeing persecution and poverty. He called the putative settlement Ararat. Joselit writes:

Considerable fanfare—booming cannons, a 24-gun salute, the glorious sounds of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus—attended Ararat’s public launch. Noah, kitted out in a costume inspired by Richard III—a crimson silk robe trimmed in ermine, festooned with an oversized gold medal—presided over the elaborate proceedings, whose centerpiece was an exceedingly wordy “Proclamation to the Jews.”

Adopting the mantle of “governor and judge of Israel,” Noah called on the Jews of the world to gather together “under the protection of the American Constitution,” where after a lapse of 2,000 years they would re-establish a “Hebrew government.” Quick to point out that Ararat was no substitute for Zion, but rather a “temporary and provisionary” place of refuge, an “asylum,” he also made it clear in his address, as well as in subsequent speeches, that the Grand Island settlement was no “mere colonization” but an exercise in amelioration, or what we today might call social engineering. The big idea was to provide the Jews with a “period of regeneration,” during which they would modernize themselves as well as deepen their familiarity with “liberal principles.”

For all the verbiage and hoopla, nothing came of Ararat except a 300-pound cornerstone and much public ridicule. No one took the newly fashioned governor and judge of Israel up on his kind offer to relocate to an island outside Buffalo.

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More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, New York

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey