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#OTD 1763: Members of Oldest Surviving Touro Synagogue Witnessed the Dedication from the Colonial Era

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Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Dec.02: 2022:

#AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – On December 2, 1763, members of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue building in what is now the United States—and sole survivor from the colonial era.

Front and Side Elevations (View from Yard), Touro Synagogue, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, Newport, R.I.. Jack Boucher photographer, 1971. In Touro Synagogue, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, 85 Touro Street, Newport, Newport County, RI.

Designed in the Georgian style by English architect Peter Harrison, the synagogue was named for Isaac Touro, its first Hazzan (prayer leader).

Organized Jewish community life in Newport dates to 1658, when fifteen families emigrated and established a congregation in the growing seaport. Then called Nephuse Israel (Scattered of Israel), it was the second Jewish congregation in the future U.S., and the first in a British colony.

Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey. Prints & Photographs Division
Newport, R.I., 1878. New York: Galt & Hoy, 1878. Cities and Towns. Geography & Map” Touro Park, Newport, R.I. c1905. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

Newport developed into a thriving commercial center where the Jewish community included a sizeable number of merchants active in the sea trade.

By the mid-eighteenth century, Newport’s Jewish congregation, now known as Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel), was ready to build a synagogue structure for its ongoing use. Begun in 1759, the “Jews Synagogue” was designed by Harrison with a neoclassical exterior but an interior closely suited to the needs of Jewish religious practice. Still in use as a synagogue today, the building was designated a National Historic Site in 1946.

On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew congregation of Newport welcomed George Washington to their city. In a pair of letters exchanged with the congregation’s president, Washington penned his most memorable statement on the place of religious freedom in America: “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance.”

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Newport’s temperate climate and scenic location made it a favorite vacation spot for the rich. Newport is filled with “cottages” like Belcourt Castle and The Breakers. Designed by architects like Richard Morris Hunt and landscaped by professionals including Frederick Law Olmsted these mansions provided imposing settings for wealthy Americans like Cornelius Vanderbilt.

The Breakers, Vanderbilt Residence, Newport, R.I. c1904. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division

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