Results 1-3of 3 Reviews
April 14, 2005
The present building was dedicated in 1763. Peter Harrison was the architect, and the first rabbi, Isaac Tuoro, verbally gave him the description of a synagogue. This makes it the oldest synagogue in the United States. There are 12 pillars inside, one for each of the tribes of Israel. The men worshipped on the main floor along the walls, and the Torah was read from the center of the room. The woman worshipped from the second level. There are no stairs in the synagogue, so we wondered how the woman got up there. When you go to the gift shop, you will see that there are stairs in this building where there was a former Hebrew school. Good news for the near future is that the Hebrew school is going to be restored and the store is going to be enlarged and moved to another building across the street.
At the time of the American Revolution, there were 30 Jewish families in Newport, and this was their golden age: they were successful businessmen and ship-owners. This group was dispersed by the war, and the original community never came back, though individuals did. The synagogue survived the war because it was used by the British as a hospital, not because it was a house of worship. Later, it was used as a courthouse. Among the treasures on display here is a letter from President Washington guaranteeing the Jews of Newport freedom to practice their religion and a 500-year-old Torah believed to have been brought here by the first Sephartic Jews.
The present community is descended from Askenazy Jews who came to this country from Eastern Europe. Through all its many incarnations, the Jews held the keys to the building, and it is believed that they opened the synagogue as a stop on the Underground Railroad. (there is a trapdoor in the center of the Beema where slaves are believed to have been hidden). Visiting the synagogue must be done on a tour, and photography is not allowed inside. Our docent was quite knowledgeable, but the girl at the gift store, who is also a member of the historic society, knew even more. There is no charge to visit. Security is tight, so be prepared to have your purse searched.
From journal Weekend Getaway Newport Style
by Wildcat Dianne
June 17, 2003
I had never visited the Touro Synagogue in Newport in several visits before to the city, and I decided before leaving my home in Idaho to visit the historic house of worship during my most recent visit to Newport.
The Touro Synagoue is the oldest Synagogue in the United States and the only one that survived the colonial era. Founded by Sephardic Jews who fled persecution in Spain, the Touro Synagogue was built in 1739 by architect Peter Harrison in the 18th Century Georgian style of architecture. In the 18th Century, George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue''s congregation, and the letter is on display inside the synagogue.
I went to Newport on a Saturday, and I realized on the way there that it was the Shabbat or Sabbath, and I would most likely not be able to tour the inside of the Touro Synagogue. Sure enough, when I arrived there, a Shabbah service was just ending and the congregation was coming out. A guard at the door kept me from going to the entrance but allowed me to take photos and talk with him. He was surprised to hear that I came from Idaho, but I told him I grew up in Riverside and was here for my Nana''s memorial service but wanted to see the synagogue.
If you do get inside the Touro Synagogue, it is free, and there are guided tours every 1/2 hour, except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays. There is a Jewish Cemetery about a block from the synagogue and a park on the grounds to walk around and take photos of the synagogue. It is well worth your time and an important lesson in Jewish history and tolerance.
From journal Mansions, Revolution, Beaches, and Claus Von Bulow
Fort Johnson, New York
July 30, 2000
From journal Experience the Opulence of Newport RI