Divine Expectations: An American Women in 19tb-Century Palestine.
Kreiger and Goldman pieced together various sources to create a riveting and easy reading of one woman's personal quest to facilitate the return of the Jewish people to their restored homeland. This biography of Mrs. Clorinda Strong Minor spans just over a decade, opening in 1844 when she was about thirty-five years old. Details of her life prior to this date were not found. She appeared on the scene among the followers of William Miller, who, based on his interpretation of the scriptures, prophesied the Second Coming of Christ in 1843. Afterwards Miller concluded that there had been an error in the calculation and reset the date for Yom Kippur (October 24-25), 1844. Clorinda Minor strongly believed in Miller's prediction and placed the following advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper.
Warning-I believe, according to the Scriptures, that the Lord Jesus Christ, will be revealed, in the clouds of Heaven, on the tenth day of the seventh month, which agrees with the 22d [sic] instant, I therefore entreat all whom this may reach, to prepare to meet their God. Clorinda S. Minor. (p. 15)
But Minor was devastated by the failed prophecy, and for two years grappled with the meaning of the event as it took its toll on her physically and psychologically. She arose with a new belief that "she was Esther, summoned by God to go to Mount Zion and `make ready the land of Israel for the King's return'" (p. 17).
All her subsequent activities were focused on this purpose. Clorinda Minor set sail for Palestine in 1849, and, until her death six years later, she was involved in two agricultural projects whose purpose was to hasten the Second Coming.
The first project at Atras, south of Bethlehem, was in partnership with John Meshullam, a Jewish convert to Christianity. The project had limited success. An extremely complex series of events leading up to and following the dissolution of the partnership involved the British consul in Jerusalem, James Finn, and the American consul in Beirut, J. Horsford Smith, and continued through the diplomatic hierarchy to the American Department of State and British Foreign Office.
The vicinity of Jaffa was the second venue for Minor's attempt at agriculture. The short-lived Mount Hope farm waned after Clorinda Minor's death from dysentery in 1855, closing its doors in 1858 following a Bedouin attack.
This biography provides a detailed account of Minor's activities in Palestine, but often the author does not ground the events with details of exact dates. For example, Minor's journey to Jerusalem started on May 15, 1849 (p. 18); she reached the shores of Beirut 73 days later (p. 23); and toward the end of September (p. 32) she had been in Jerusalem for a number of days. This hinders the understanding of the chronology of events.
The "Sources and Chapter Notes" provide an extensive annotated list of works that relate to Clorinda Minor's activities and background information dealing with mid- nineteenth century American society, the American Jewish community, and the history and conditions in Palestine. A major deficiency is the lack of footnotes or endnotes, which does not allow the reader the opportunity to easily locate sources or challenge the authors' interpretation of them. Quotes are included without references to when these utterances were made and in what context (p. 145)- The lack of notes sometimes lends to a lack of clarity. For example, Minor met with Sir Moses Montefiore in Beirut in 1849. It is not clear whether Minor was the sole source for this meeting, or did Montefiore provide his impressions as well (p. 26)? This is of interest since Montefiore and Minor interacted again with his purchase of property in the vicinity of Jaffa in 1855 (pp. 140-141).
Certain aspects of Minor's activities are not brought to light. One example is an encounter with a wealthy Sephardi family, which is not related. Shortly after her arrival in Jerusalem, Minor and her companions were invited for coffee, sweetcakes and preserved citron in the Amzalak family sukkah (tabernacle).(1) This meeting leaves many open questions. What was Minor's relationship with local Jews? How did this or other meetings with local Jews affect Minor's perception of the Jewish community?
Over twenty illustrations, mainly etchings from the writings of Western travelers, add to the ambience of the age. But at the same time, they skew the perception of the place where Minor resided by providing American and European `orientalist' views. Photographs from the 1840s and 1850s would have provided a more objective picture of Palestine.(2) The selection of certain illustrations could have better reflected the period. Etchings of the Bay of Beirut and Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem are from the 1880s (pp. 25, 28). Those from the 1840s or 1850s would have better suited the period covered in the book. In addition, portraits of characters mentioned in the book (James and Elizabeth Finn, Dr. James Barcley, etc.) would have provided the reader additional insight into their times.
In summing up, Clorinda Minor was a minor character in American history and that of the Land of Israel. Her story was an episode with limited ramifications despite Kreiger's and Goldman's claim that Minor was "one of the least known, yet most pivotal [emphasis added], figures in the story of the evolving American connection to Palestine ... " (p. 8). Nonetheless, Clorinda Minor's biography needs to be told. It is the fascinating story of a passionate, and, in the eyes of many observers, crazed woman taking up the goal, if single-handedly or with a flock of supporters, of restoring Palestine.
Joseph B. Glass The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
(1.) Joseph B Glass and Ruth Kark, Sephardi Entrepreneurs in Eretz Israel, The Amzalak Family, 1816-1918 (Jerusalem, 1991), pp. 82-83.
(2.) See for example: Nissan N Perez, Focus East, Early Photography in the Near East, 1839-1885 (New York, 1988), pp. 70-71, 110, 116, 150, 152, 157, 216, 231.
Joseph B. Glass lectures at the Department of Geography and the Rothberg International School and is the Academic Coordinator of the Halbert Centre for Canadian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His most recent book is From New Zion to Old Zion: American Jewish Immigration and Settlement in Palestine, 1917-1939.
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|Author:||Glass, Joseph B.|
|Publication:||American Jewish History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2000|
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