In the Shadow of Zion

Promised Lands Before Israel

352 pages

12 halftones, 7 maps

December, 2014

ISBN: 9781479817481



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Adam Rovner is Associate Professor of English and Jewish Literature at the University of Denver. He holds an M.A. from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. from Indiana University-Bloomington. His articles, essays, translations and interviews have appeared in numerous scholarly journals and general interest publications. An accomplished public speaker, Rovner has addressed a variety of audiences in Canada, England, Israel, and the U.S. His short documentary on Jewish territorialism,"No Land Without Heaven," has been screened at exhibitions in New York, Paris, and Tel Aviv.
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All books by Adam L. Rovner

From the late nineteenth century through the post-Holocaust era, the world was divided between countries that tried to expel their Jewish populations and those that refused to let them in. The plight of these traumatized refugees inspired numerous proposals for Jewish states. Jews and Christians, authors and adventurers, politicians and playwrights, and rabbis and revolutionaries all worked to carve out autonomous Jewish territories in remote and often hostile locations across the globe. The would-be founding fathers of these imaginary Zions dispatched scientific expeditions to far-flung regions and filed reports on the dream states they planned to create. But only Israel emerged from dream to reality. Israel’s successful foundation has long obscured the fact that eminent Jewish figures, including Zionism’s prophet, Theodor Herzl, seriously considered establishing enclaves beyond the Middle East.
In the Shadow of Zion brings to life the amazing true stories of six exotic visions of a Jewish national home outside of the biblical land of Israel. It is the only book to detail the connections between these schemes, which in turn explain the trajectory of modern Zionism. A gripping narrative drawn from archives the world over, In the Shadow of Zion recovers the mostly forgotten history of the Jewish territorialist movement, and the stories of the fascinating but now obscure figures who championed it.
Provocative, thoroughly researched, and written to appeal to a broad audience, In the Shadow of Zion offers a timely perspective on Jewish power and powerlessness.
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  • “Rovner makes a valuable contribution to the almost forgotten history of the Jewish territorialist movement….In well-crafted chapters, Rovner tells the story of the efforts of the territorialists to find a Jewish home in such places of Angola, Madagascar, Tasmania, and Suriname.”


  • In the Shadow of Zion is an excellent discussion of a chapter of Jewish history that is often overlooked or ignored.  Rovner notes that the stories he tells include ‘utopian fervor, diplomacy, geographic exploration, catastrophe and perseverance, as well as love and tragic death.’  Modern Jewish history – particularly Zionist history – will never look the same again.”

    The Reporter

  • “[…] Rovner’s well-conceived and beautifully written book gives us a much wider lens through which to navigate these questions.  A forgotten history resurrected.  Not quite the return of the repressed but a significant contribution to our evolving understanding of Jews and Judaism in modernity.”

    SCTIW Review

  • "Travel down some of the lesser-known roads to Jerusalem with an expert guide. Few books that claim the power to radically change the reader's worldview deliver on that promise. This informed investigation of several unexplored avenues of Jewish history actually does it. By examining six seldom-discussed attempts to settle a Jewish state outside of Israel, Rovner (English and Jewish Literature/Univ. of Denver) shows how the world might have looked had any of these plans come to fruition. Had the Jewish homeland developed in Angola, Suriname or Grand Island, New York—all considered candidates at one time—how might Jewish history, and world history, have turned out differently? The author meticulously follows in the footsteps of the visionary authors, rabbis and politicians who led hopeful expeditions to far-flung corners of the globe on just such a quest. Rovner writes clearly and precisely, providing a solid historical and geographical context, which he intersperses with personal narratives from his own travels that offer more intimate looks at the landscape and cultures of these countries."


  • "Rovner, an English and Jewish literature academician from the University of Denver, has pieced together from extensive archival research and personal travels the history and prominent personages of the early Zionists and, more importantly, the many geographic programs and projects in three continents that were proposed for Jewish habitation….This is a great addition to a large synagogue collection, a Jewish studies program at any level, and for the reader interested in a broad reflection on the development of the Zionist idea.”

    AJL Reviews

  • In the Shadow of Zion is enriched by Rovner’s colorful turns of phrase and attention to the quirky personalities of well-known Zionist figures.”

    Jewish History

  • "Rovner follows in the footsteps (quite literally, with a lot of zest and a friend who took plenty of pictures) of Steinberg and the other Freelanders as they roamed large parts of Africa, Latin America, and Australia in search of a territory that would serve their purposes in the years prior to World War II, during the war, and even after the war."

    Jewish Review of Books

  • "[T]hese largely forgotten stories, in Rovner's telling, are compelling ones. [...] I applaud Rovner's act of restoring such endeavors to memory."

  • "Equipped with verve and an eye for the absurd detail, Adam Rovner set out across continents and into archives to recover the story of a time when desperation, imagination, and a sheer unwillingness to surrender to reality led some Jews to consider alternate Zions in unlikely corners of the globe. The result is a colorful and offbeat contribution to our understanding of modern Jewish history and of the fevered milieu out of which the state of Israel was born." 

    —Matti Friedman, author of The Aleppo Codex

  • "Through his travel and his scholarship, Adam Rovner recovers the search for a Jewish homeland in upstate New York, in Great Britain’s East African Protectorate (now Kenya), in Angola, on the island of Madagascar and on portions of Australia, and in Dutch Guiana (now Suriname).  A fascinating physical and intellectual geography before the establishment of Israel."

    —Susan Gubar, author of Poetry After Auschwitz

  • "From an island in the Niagara River to the depths of Africa, In the Shadow of Zion shows that the contemporary state of Israel was just one of many modern attempts to solve the 'Jewish problem' through land. This compelling and beautifully written book reveals a history of alternative Zions rendered invisible today by national and imperial ambitions that conspired against them. A masterpiece about the true origins of Zionism and the 'paths not taken,' this volume is a must read for anyone interested in global Jewish history or in the history of Israel."

    —David Shneer, University of Colorado Boulder

  • "In this path breaking study Adam Rovner takes us on a riveting journey through a boundless fantasy. Masterfully written, this little known chapter in modern Jewish history is also painfully thought provoking, for had there been a viable Jewish homeland anywhere on earth prior to the Second World War, the Holocaust may not have happened."

    —Tom Segev, author of One Palestine, Complete