Mordecai Manuel Noah was the most influential Jew in the United States in the early 19th Century. He was an editor, journalist, playwright, politician, lawyer, court of appeals judge, New York Port surveyor, a major in the New York military and, foremost, an ardent utopian Zionist.
Noah was born July 19, 1785, in Philadelphia of Portuguese Jewish ancestry. His father, Manuel M. Noah, served with General Marion in the Revolutionary War and contributed a considerable sum of money to the cause.
When Noah was 10, his mother died and he went to live with his maternal grandfather. He stayed with that family until he became old enough to go to Charleston, South Carolina, where he studied law and he became involved in politics.
He was an ardent patriot and, at the age of 26, he wrote forceful editorials in a Charleston newspaper advocating war (of 1812) with England. As a result of his editorials, he was appointed the U.S. Consul to Tunis. In 1815, he returned and settled in New York to engage in journalism and politics. He published the National Advocate and edited several other newspapers.
Noah broke off his relationship with the powerful political machine of the Tammany Society and opposed them by publishing the New York Enquirer from 1826 to 1829. He was a prolific playwright, which reflected his patriotic fervor. He wrote Fortress of Sorrento (1808), She Would Be A Soldier (1819), and Siege of Tripoli (1820), which was produced many times under different titles.
Noah supported education and medical care. He was a founder of New York University and he projected the idea of a Jewish hospital - Mt. Sinai - which was to come into being after his death. In 1825, Noah helped purchase a tract of land on Grand Island in the Niagara River near Buffalo, where he envisioned a Jewish colony to be called Ararat. This project elicited interest and discussion, but it turned into a failure. After this disappointment, he realized that Palestine was the only answer for a homeland for Jews. He lectured and wrote on the need for such a homeland, expressing ideas that preceded those of Leo Pinsker and Theodor Herzl. Noah was very active and supportive of the congregations of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia and Shearith Israel in New York. He was the best-known Jew in America when he died of a stroke in 1851.
Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.