Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, is considered the first synagogue built on American soil and one of the most historically significant Jewish buildings in America.
Dedicated in 1763 and designated a National Historic Site in 1946, it still serves as an active congregation and greets over 30,000 visitors yearly who come to see the magnificent interior and hear its remarkable story.
The congregation was founded in 1658 by descendants of Jewish families who fled the inquisitions in Spain and Portugal as well as the Caribbean, seeking the greater religious tolerance that Rhode Island offered.
In his famous letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport” written in 1790, President George Washington pledged that our new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.” Touro Synagogue stands as a symbol of religious freedom for all Americans.
During a 30-minute guided tour, visitors will learn more about the history of the synagogue from its founding during colonial times up to the present day. In addition, the Loeb Visitors Center, adjacent to the synagogue, contains two floors of interactive, multimedia exhibits about the history of the synagogue and its role in helping to form the foundations of the ideal of freedom of religion enjoyed in the United States today.
“The Touro Synagogue lets visitors discover how Newport and the colony of Rhode Island laid the groundwork for our First Amendment rights,” said Meryle Cawley, site director. “It provides an opportunity to celebrate over 250 years of Touro Synagogue history, Newport’s colonial Jewish community and the origins of religious freedom, as well as the separation of church and state in America.”
Newport has more pre-Revolutionary dwellings still being used than any other town in the United States. Visit “Historic Hill” and learn about the town’s rich colonial history and architecture.
For more information on Touro Synagogue, call 401-847-4794, ext. 207, or visit tourosynagogue.org.
Story by Mira Temkin