Technology brings Imagined Jewish Homeland to Life

Researchers Share How Augmented Reality Technology Animates Unrealized Plans for a “City of Refuge for the Jews” with UM Students and Scholars

Ararat Synagogue in Augmented Reality

In 1825, Mordecai Manuel Noah held a proclamation event on Grand Island, New York designating a new refuge for Jews. Although this refuge, named Ararat, after the mountain where Noah’s Ark came to rest, never came to fruition, researchers from the University of Toronto have recreated what it may have looked like today.

Two University of Toronto’s professors and lead collaborators of Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Jewish Homelands Project, Melissa Shiff, lead artist and project director, and Louis Kaplan, chief historian and theorist,   overviewed the project to the audience of University of Miami (UM) geography, history, and Judaic studies students and scholars  during a presentation co-sponsored by the Art & Art History Department and Judaic Studies Program of the UM College of Arts & Sciences, and the UM Leonard Miller Center of Contemporary Judaic Studies.

Mapping Ararat was envisioned as work of historical fiction, typically a literary genre, using digital means through world-making and global positioning, Shiff explained.

Mapping Ararat uses Augmented Reality to conjure the Jewish ghosts which are haunting Grand Island and its history,” Shiff added.

“So who was this dreamer?” asked Kaplan in reference to Noah, the visionary of Ararat.  He was the most prominent American Jew of the pre-civil war era, who was renowned as playwright, diplomat, and newspaper publisher. Kaplan noted that Noah’s work abroad and his knowledge of international anti-Semitic violence, specifically the Hep-Hep Riots of 1819, led to his proto-Zionist initiative to create a Jewish refuge.

The imaginary digital version of Ararat is comprised of 24 augments or virtual attractions. The majority of these augments are historically based fictionalizations, because there is only one relic, aside from texts, which remains - the cornerstone from the proclamation ceremony.  Finding the augments resembles a kind of treasure hunt, where visitors use their smart phones to see the augments overlaid in the natural environment. The program has been embraced by the visitors of all backgrounds and widely embraced by the local Jewish community.

You can view video and images of all of the augments, from a Noah’s Ark theme park to headstones for the Noah family, online at or by visiting the site of Ararat.

April 18, 2014