The Jewish-American Hall of Fame has honored Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), who was the first Jewish American diplomat, the first Jewish editor of a New York newspaper, a prolific playwright, a judge, and who unsuccessfully attempted to establish a Jewish homeland (Ararat) in 1825 in upstate New York.
These will be among the rarest medals ever issued in the series that was launched in 1969 with editions strictly limited to only 150 bronze and 75 silver-plated bronze pieces, available for contributions of $35 and $85, respectively. An edition of 25 gold-plated bronze medals is sold out. The uniquely shaped, larger than 2-inch diameter medals, minted by Medallic Art Company, can be ordered from the non-profit Jewish-American Hall of Fame, 5189 Jeffdale Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91364; credit card orders can be placed by calling (818) 225-1348. Mention that you read about this in Numismatic News (or World Coin News) and you will receive a 15 percent discount.
The medallic portrait was inspired by the painting by John Wesley Jarvis, in the collection of Congregation Shearith Israel, New York City. The reverse design brings to life the words of the famous author Israel Zangwill, published in 1899, describing Noah:
“The great man [was] enthroned before his writing table. What a noble poetic vision it seemed … the broad brow, with the tumbled hair; the long, delicate-featured face tapering to a narrow chin environed with whiskers, but clean of beard or even of mustache, so that the mobile, sensitive mouth was laid bare.”
Mordecai Manuel Noah was born in Philadelphia on July 19, 1785, the first-born son of Manuel Noah, an immigrant from Mannheim, Germany, who had served in the American Revolutionary War.
Noah was a victim of anti-Semitism exactly 200 years ago. Even after he had arranged for the freedom of Americans held captive by Barbary Coast pirates, his position as Consul to the Kingdom of Tunis was terminated by Secretary of State James Monroe, who stated: “At the time of your appointment, as Consul to Tunis, it was not known that the religion which you profess would form an obstacle to the exercise of your Consular functions.”
In 1825 Samuel Leggett of New York City, acting in Major Noah’s behalf but using his own money, purchased 2,555 acres of Grand Island property, opposite the mouth of the Erie Canal. He had prepared a cornerstone with an inscription, written by Noah, in Hebrew and English: “Hear, O’ Israel, The Lord is our God-The Lord is One. ARARAT, a City of Refuge for the Jews, founded by Mordecai Manuel Noah, in the Month of Tizri, September 1825, and in the 50th year of American Independence.”
Noah declared the Jewish nation reestablished under the protection of the laws of the United States, and he levied a tax of one Spanish dollar a year on every Jew in the world to support the project. But Jewish settlers did not come.
All that remains of Noah’s Zionist dream today is Ararat‘s cornerstone, now on display at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. Afterwards, Noah continued as an influential spokesperson for American Jewry.