What is going on in Newport RI

Historic Touro synagogue Newport RI

Posted by Darlene McKenzie

As the Innkeeper of the Ivy Lodge I try to commit to monthly marketing meetings the Newport visitors center organizes. I look forward to were each meeting will be held. The venue changes to highlight a specific topic. This month, the venue/topic was the Touro Synagogue; A short stroll for me from the Ivy Lodge to the Synagogue. Our meeting place this day was just outside the synagogue between the newly constructed Loeb visitor center. The topic: Loeb Visitors Center at Touro synagoge to open August 2nd.

The new center serves as a modern gateway to historic Touro Synagogue - America's oldest synagogue and a national Historic Site.

About Touro Synagogue

Historic Overview

The story of Touro Synagogue spans over 500 years. Although the first Jewish settlements in North America date to 1654 in New Amsterdam and 1658 in Newport, their narrative, one of perseverance, tradition and religious freedom, begins in 1492, the same year King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain both financed Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World and issued the Edict of Expulsion. All Jews, rich or poor, living in Spain were forced to "conversion or exile."

While many Jews in Spain were forced to convert to Catholicism, thousands fled seeking refuge in the Netherlands, Caribbean Islands, and South America. When the inquisition followed on their heels, they searched for sanctuary in the America's newly founded colonies.

I n 1658, a group of fifteen Jewish families, hearing about Roger William's "Lively Experiment," where the civil government was devoid of power over spiritual matters, sailed into Newport harbor. These Sephardim (the Hebrew word for Jews from the region in the Iberian Peninsula that is now Spain and Portugal), who like their ancestors were seeking a haven from religious persecution, founded the second Jewish settlement in the colonies and Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel). In 1677, they purchased and consecrated property as a Jewish cemetery, a place where they could bury their dead according to Jewish tradition.

With the assurance of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, as promised by Governor Roger Williams, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations offered more than a refuge; it offered unparalleled social and economic opportunities.

Over the next 100 years the Jewish population of Newport flourished. In 1758, a Dutch Jew named Isaac Touro, became the congregation's first spiritual leader. A year later the congregation purchased land and hired Peter Harrison, the preeminent architect of the colonial era, to design Touro Synagogue. The synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1763.

In 1776 the British captured Newport. A once vital and thriving commercial seaport, much of Newport was destroyed. Supporting the American cause, most Jews left. Until the French liberated Newport, the synagogue was used as a hospital for the British troops and was spared.

After the war Touro Synagogue served as a meeting place for the Rhode Island General Assembly, Rhode Island Supreme Court and the town of Newport. During George Washington's visit to Newport in 1781, to meet with Generals Lafayette and Rochambeau to plan the final battles of the Revolution, a town meeting was held at the synagogue.

Touro Synagogue took on a special significance in 1790 when President George Washington, in his letter "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport," declared that the new nation would "... give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." These few words affirmed the founding fathers' commitment to the principals of religious freedom as a cornerstone of democracy in America.

The synagogue, which continues to serve an active Jewish congregation, greets approximately 30,000 visitors a year who come to see its magnificent interior and hear the remarkable story of its founding.


Visit Touro Synagogue

Tour Information

Touro Synagogue is a National Historic Site and an affiliate property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Every year approximately 30,000 visitors from around the world come to visit Touro Synagogue, delight in its magnificent architecture, and hear its remarkable and inspiring story.

Synagogue and Gift Shop Hours:

The tour schedule may vary due to Jewish holidays, ceremonial occasions and special events.
Unfortunately, Touro Synagogue is not wheelchair accessible. Public restrooms are not available on site.

DATES: May 3, 2009 - June 30, 2009

Sunday through Friday 12 Noon - 2:00 pm.
No tours on Saturday. No tours Friday, May 29th in observance of Shavuot.

DATES: July 1, 2009 - July 31, 2009

Sunday - Friday 10 a.m. 2 p.m.
Tours begin every half hour.
No tours on Saturday or Jewish holidays

DATES: August 1, 2009 - September 6, 2009

Sunday - Friday 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Tours begin every half hour.
No tours on Saturday or Jewish holidays
No tours on August 16 after 12:30

DATES: September 7, 2009 - October 31, 2009

Sunday - Friday 12 p.m. - 2 p.m.
Tours begin every half hour.
No tours on Saturday or Jewish holidays
No tours September 18, 20, 27, 28 or October 4, 11


Ticket Information:

Synagogue Admission & Twilights at Touro:
$5         Adults
Free     Youth (12 and under)
Free     Touro Synagogue Foundation Members
Free     NTHP Members
Free     NPS Pass Holders

Tickets may be purchased at the Touro Synagogue Gift Shop and at the Newport County Convention and Visitors Bureau. All group tours must be prearranged by contacting Malka Benjamin at 401.847.4794 ext. 23

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