Ear­li­er this week, Adam Rovn­er wrote about what he thinks would have been the most viable Zion out­side of Israel and top five alter­na­tive Jew­ish home­lands that he didn’t explore in his new book, In the Shad­ow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel, out this week from NYU Press. He has been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Council’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

In the Shad­ow of Zion: Promised Lands before Israel presents a nar­ra­tive his­to­ry of mod­ern pro­pos­als to cre­ate autonomous Jew­ish ter­ri­to­ries beyond the bor­ders of Israel. I’ve referred to my book as a shad­ow his­to­ry” of Zion­ism — an effort to bring to light the for­got­ten strug­gles of a failed branch of Jew­ish nation­al­ism called ter­ri­to­ri­al­ism. Territorialism’s adher­ents believed in the neces­si­ty of estab­lish­ing a Jew­ish home some­where in the world oth­er than the land of Israel. While research­ing and writ­ing my book, I came across a num­ber of works of fic­tion that imag­i­na­tive­ly engaged with ter­ri­to­ri­al­ist what-if sce­nar­ios. Here’s a list of five alter­nate his­to­ries of Zion in Eng­lish and Hebrew:

Num­ber 5Her­zl Amar (2011)

Israeli author Yoav Avni’s nov­el con­sid­ers what might have hap­pened had a Jew­ish state been estab­lished in East Africa. The plot fol­lows two friends who plan a trip to Pales­tine after their com­pul­so­ry mil­i­tary ser­vice in a coun­ter­fac­tu­al African Israel. This clever and often satir­ic vision of con­tem­po­rary Israel owes a debt to the his­tor­i­cal pro­pos­al advanced by Theodor Her­zl in 1903 to cre­ate a New Judea” in what is today west­ern Kenya. A chap­ter of my book is devot­ed to the so-called Ugan­da Plan and the crises it engen­dered, includ­ing a rup­ture at the heart of the Zion­ist Orga­ni­za­tion and an assas­si­na­tion attempt against Herzl’s lieu­tenant. An excerpt appeared in Eng­lish last year in Jew​ish​Fic​tion​.net.

Num­ber 4IsraIs­land (2005)

Nava Semel’s genre-bend­ing Hebrew nov­el imag­ines in one of its three sec­tions what might have hap­pened had Morde­cai Manuel Noah’s planned Jew­ish microna­tion of Ararat devel­oped into a city-state in the Nia­gara Riv­er. Ararat, in Semel’s vision, becomes a force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics and suc­ceeds so wild­ly that Jews can bare­ly recall their bib­li­cal home­land. In my book, I describe Noah’s urgent call to Euro­pean Jew­ry to reset­tle in Amer­i­ca fol­low­ing the noto­ri­ous Hep-Hep Riots of 1819. No one came, and Noah him­self was ridiculed by reli­gious lead­ers in France and Eng­land, and by the press in the Unit­ed States. 

Num­ber 3 — Noah’s Ark” (1899)

British author and ear­ly Zion­ist leader Israel Zang­will pub­lished Noah’s Ark” dur­ing a peri­od of close col­lab­o­ra­tion with Her­zl. The sto­ry imag­ines that Noah’s call for immi­gra­tion is answered by a Ger­man Jew, Peloni, a name derived from the Hebrew word for an anony­mous some­one.” Fired by inspi­ra­tion, Peloni sails for the New World intend­ing to make Noah’s Ararat his home. He soon set­tles upon the site of the planned Jew­ish sanc­tu­ary near Buf­fa­lo, New York, but he remains the sole occu­pant of Noah’s utopi­an project and is con­demned to lone­li­ness and despair. 

Num­ber 2 — The Last Jew” (1946)

This com­pelling and bizarre short sto­ry was penned by Jacob Wein­shall, a doc­tor, author, and sup­port­er of Ze’ev Jabotin­skys right-wing Revi­sion­ist par­ty. In the sto­ry, the Nazis have emerged vic­to­ri­ous from World War II and exter­mi­nat­ed every last Jew, except for a sin­gle sur­vivor liv­ing in Mada­gas­car. He is even­tu­al­ly dis­cov­ered and con­demned to death by a tech­no­crat­ic Nazi régime. Some Hebrew read­ers con­sid­er The Last Jew” to be the first lit­er­ary work to imag­ine a Nazi vic­to­ry, now a sta­ple plot in the alter­nate his­to­ry genre. My book exam­ines Jew­ish efforts to cre­ate a refugee colony in Mada­gas­car, and how that plan was ulti­mate­ly per­vert­ed by the Nazis. Though doubts remain, my research leads me to believe that Jabotin­sky him­self sup­port­ed lim­it­ed Jew­ish relo­ca­tion to Mada­gas­car, a fact which may help explain Weinshall’s hal­lu­ci­na­to­ry tale. 

Num­ber 1The Yid­dish Policemen’s Union (2007)

Michael Chabon’s clever nov­el may be the most famil­iar exam­ple of a ter­ri­to­ri­al­ist what-if. Chabon makes use of the detec­tive genre to explore the fic­tion­al world of a Yid­dish-speak­ing Jew­ish ter­ri­to­ry in Sit­ka, Alas­ka. The premise derives from a real pro­pos­al to chan­nel Jew­ish immi­grants to Alas­ka that was sup­port­ed by Roosevelt’s Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or, Harold Ick­es, in 1938. Chabon, how­ev­er, revealed to me that his fan­ta­sy also has its ori­gins in his long-stand­ing fas­ci­na­tion with Morde­cai Manuel Noah’s plan for Ararat.

To learn more vis­it www​.adam​rovn​er​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

Adam Rovn­er is Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­ver. His arti­cles, essays, trans­la­tions and inter­views have appeared in numer­ous schol­ar­ly jour­nals and gen­er­al inter­est pub­li­ca­tions. Rovner’s short doc­u­men­tary on Jew­ish ter­ri­to­ri­al­ism, No Land With­out Heav­en, has been screened at exhi­bi­tions in New York, Paris, and Tel Aviv.