Representing the admirable religious history of Rhode Island is the Touro Synagogue National Historic Site, located within the city of Newport. This is the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, built by historic Orthodox Jewish peoples seeking to worship freely in 1763. The synagogue is still an active house of worship, and regularly holds a congregation.
The synagogue was named after Issac Touro and Abraham Touro. Issac was the first leader of the Jewish congregation in the region, while Abraham left a large portion of money to the synagogue in his will. The money was meant to be used to care for the grounds and surrounding road, and was used accordingly.
Not only does this site represent a place of historic significance, but it also presents an example of classic Georgian architecture. The building was designed by Peter Harrison, often considered one of the finest architects in American history, and has been kept in pristine condition since its erection almost 250 years ago. It is maintained by the Touro Synagogue Foundation.
In addition to representing the religious ideals of the areas original settlers, the Touro Synagogue represents the site of a number of important, historical gatherings. When George Washington visited Newport in 1781, this is where the town meeting was held. Washington later wrote to the congregation, ensuring that the “government of the Unites States…give bigotry no sanction.. [and] to persecution no assistance.”
These famous words are now displayed on a tablet within the site, and his entire letter is read allowed every year to remind spectators of the ideal of our forefathers. The synagogue was also the primary location of the state’s Supreme Court sessions during the same period, and has attracted impressive keynote speakers, such as recent Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
As the synagogue is still an active house of worship, regular services are offered on Friday evenings, as well as Saturday mornings. Additionally, the doors are opened to worshipers on every Jewish holiday. On many days when services are not in session visitors can take a 30-minute guided tour of the synagogue. Guests are advised to be respectful, as this historic site remains a functioning synagogue.