Touro Synagogue — Newport, Rhode Island

Posted in on site by Editor on December 20, 2011

The November/December 2011 issue of Preservation highlights a dozen National Trust Historic sites, across the United States, from James Madison’s Montpelier (1797) in Virginia to the Cooper Molera Adobe (1823) in Monterey, California. One that caught my eye, in particular: the Touro Synagogue (1763) in Newport, Rhode Island. From Lauren Wasler’s article in Preservation:

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In 1658, 15 Jewish families whose ancestors had fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal arrived in Rhode Island by way of the West Indies. Settling in Newport, they established a close-knit community and founded a congregation in a colony already recognized for its religious tolerance. A century later, Isaac Touro became the congregation’s first spiritual leader and was part of the effort to build an elegant house of worship for the faithful.

Today, that synagogue endures atop a hill near the city harbor—a living monument to religious freedom. “This is both a historic site and a functional synagogue. It has two distinct purposes,” says Chuck Flippo, manager of Touro Synagogue’s visitors center. “Come in the afternoon and you’ll see it as a historic site with guided tours. Come back in the evening and it reverts to its other role—its primary role—as a synagogue.”

Touro, the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, remains virtually unaltered since it was completed and dedicated in 1763. Designed by Peter Harrison, a British American merchant, sea captain, and self-taught architect, the two-story Palladian structure accommodates the religious needs of a typical Jewish congregation (for example, the ark containing the sacred scrolls is positioned so that worshipers can pray facing Jerusalem), while also reflecting New Englanders’ preference for restraint. Twelve Ionic columns (one for each tribe of Israel) support a second-story gallery; Corinthian columns ringing the gallery support the domed ceiling. Declared a National Historic Site in 1946, the synagogue became a National Trust Historic Site in 2001. . . .

The full article is available here»

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  1. Editor said, on December 28, 2011 at 2:10 am

    While Touro is the oldest “standing synagogue” in the U.S., the Synagogue of Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasidim (Congregation of Blessing, Peace, and Loving Deeds) on the island of St. Thomas, in the city of Charlotte Amalie, seems to be the oldest in continuous use now under an American flag. The first building was constructed in 1796; the current building dates to the 1830s. It’s often referred to as the St Thomas Synagogue. I’m relying largely on the U.S. National Park Services website and the Wikipedia entry so more information is certainly most welcome. -CH

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