Yes­ter­day, Anna Solomon wrote for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing about a grand­moth­er’s secrets. Her nov­el, The Lit­tle Bride, is now available.

I still don’t know how the sub­ject of Israel came up. I was at a par­ty, in line at the bar, when the man in front of me turned and said, You know, I have a solu­tion to that whole prob­lem in the Mid­dle East.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him cor­rect­ly, nor did I know which prob­lem he was refer­ring to, until he gave me a wary look and said, Are you Jewish?”

I am,” I said. Clear­ly this man doesn’t know Jews, I thought.

I am, too,” said the bar­tender, so be care­ful what you say.”

The man appeared a lit­tle abashed, a lit­tle excit­ed. Two Jews! 

Well,” he said, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to all the news about the vio­lence and bomb­ings and every­thing, and I was hear­ing some­thing on the radio about how in the Great Plains they’re los­ing pop­u­la­tion every day, all the young peo­ple are leav­ing, and I thought: why don’t they just move Israel to the Dakotas?”

The bar­tender smiled. I smiled. I was in shock. Not just because the pro­pos­al was so offen­sive, or because this man had the gall to share it with us, but because some­thing sim­i­lar to it had been pro­posed 130 years ago, by Jews in Odessa. As pogroms inten­si­fied, many East­ern Euro­pean Jews were head­ing east, to Pales­tine. But this Odessa group – Am Olam, they called them­selves, mean­ing Eter­nal Peo­ple – decid­ed that Jews should head to America’s West, and become farm­ers. From 1880 to 1920, Jew­ish agri­cul­tur­al colonies were found­ed across this coun­try, in Ore­gon, Louisiana, Col­orado and New Jer­sey – and, yes, in North and South Dakota. 

And, I’d writ­ten a nov­el about it.

I men­tioned this last part non­cha­lant­ly. I didn’t get into pol­i­tics or his­to­ry or point out to him his obvi­ous igno­rance about the sit­u­a­tion” in Israel. I just took my beer and walked away. But I have to admit: this man got me think­ing. What if the Am Olam farm­ers in Amer­i­ca had suc­ceed­ed? (Most wound up back in cities and towns.) What if there was a ver­i­ta­ble Jew­ish state smack in the mid­dle of our coun­try and Jews there played every role, as we do in Israel? Farmer, mechan­ic, elec­tri­cian, plumber, cook, ranch­er. Imag­ine. I was remind­ed of The Yid­dish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Chabon – a sim­i­lar­ly wild vision, of Jews tak­ing refuge in Alas­ka. What if such a thing had come to pass in the low­er 48? It’s not a pro­pos­al, but a re-envi­sion­ing, an expan­sion of my some­times nar­row assump­tions about what Jews can be and do and mean in Amer­i­ca today. This expan­sion has led me to ques­tion, and search. And guess what I found? There are Jew­ish kids learn­ing to farm right now, in 2011, at the Jew­ish Farm School in upstate New York.

Check back tomor­row for Anna Solomon’s final post for the Vis­it­ing Scribe.

Anna Solomon is the author of Leav­ing Lucy Pear and The Lit­tle Bride, and a two-time win­ner of the Push­cart Prize. Her short fic­tion and essays have appeared in pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The New York Times Mag­a­zine, One Sto­ry, Ploughshares, Slate, and more. Coed­i­tor with Eleanor Hen­der­son of Labor Day: True Birth Sto­ries by Today’s Best Women Writ­ers, Solomon was born and raised in Glouces­ter, Mass­a­chu­setts, and lives in Brook­lyn with her hus­band and two children.