Tuesday, April 30, 2013

SPECIAL EDITION: The Touro Synagogue

Today, I had the pleasure to pray in the beautiful Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. 

In 1658, approximately 15 Jews from Barbados settled in Newport.  Several Jewish merchants flourished through trade with American ports, the West Indies, England, and West Africa. By far the most successful was Mr. Aaron Lopez, who emigrated from Portugal in 1752. He gained renown as an accomplished merchant, shipper, and manufacturer.
The first Congregation was called Yeshuat Yisrael (Salvation of Israel), it was established in 1756. Peter Harrison, a Newporter and one of the colonies' most distinguished architects, designed the exquisite two-story brick building with a central bimah based on the Synagogues of Amsterdam and London. The Synagogue accommodated approximately 30 Jewish households or 200 people. Rabbi Hayim Caregal (see this) was brought by Mr Aaron Lopez in 1772 from Hebron, Israel, to serve the Jewish community of Newport. His inaugural speech was published in the  Newport Mercury. It was the first Jewish sermon published in North America.
In 1781, President George Washington visited the synagogue when it housed Rhode Island's General Assembly and Supreme Court. When he returned to Newport on August 17, 1790, Washington received a congratulatory letter from the Hebrew congregation, written by the Hazan Moses Seixas. Washington's reply was perhaps America's most important expression of religious liberty, proclaimed "For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should discern themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." 
As Newport's economy declined Jews sought opportunities elsewhere. In 1822, Moses Lopez, the last Jew in Newport, departed for New York City. In that same year Abraham Touro provided funds to maintain the synagogue in memory of his father, Isaac, who had been the congregation's first ḥazan. In 1854, the magnanimous bequest by Abraham's unmarried brother Judah, of New Orleans, provided for the perpetual care of the synagogue and cemetery. 

In Honor of the hatan and kala, Mr Ralph Dweck and his wife Naomi Tawil, who got married last night in Newport, Rhode Island.