Dedicated during 1765, Touro Synagogue is considered one of the most architecturally distinguished buildings of 18th century America . It is America’s oldest Jewish house of worship, and its congregation, which was founded during 1658 by Jews who fled the Inquisition, is one of the many symbols that promote religious freedom in America.
During 1790, President George Washington set the standard for religious freedom by declaring in a letter addressed “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport ” that the new nation “would give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
The Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center is located steps away from the synagogue and celebrates the history of the synagogue and the congregation, Newport ’s early Jewish history, the origins of religious freedom and the separation of church and state in colonial America .
The original meaning of “separation” was much different than the meaning that has been in use during the last 100 or so years. “Separation” to colonists and early citizens of the new U.S. meant that the government would not establish a national religion, as was the practice in Great Britain . Over the years, however, “separation” has evolved to remove religion from many public activities, such as prayer from public schools, religious symbols on public land during major holidays and, in some instances, forcing governments and businesses to replace a greeting such as “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.”
Interactive multimedia exhibits at the center help visitors examine the role of the nation’s founders in establishing key freedoms. Newport ’s colonial community helped nurture America ’s first amendment rights to follow the religion of personal choice.
The center is handicapped accessible, but Touro Synagogue is not fully accessible. Located near Washington Square at 85 Touro Street , hours vary from June through October. The buildings are closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays.
[Image: Mike Virgintino]