This is a postcard with a picture of the Old Jewish Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. The coloured picture depicts a square brick building with arched windows surrounded by a fence with a brick archway.
The synagogue, built in 1763, is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States today. In the 1700s, Newport was a centre of shipping and trading for the American colonies. By the middle of the 1700s, the Jewish community began to grow and decided to build a synagogue. The architect, Peter Harrison, was a non-Jewish sea captain who taught himself the principles of architecture. He may have learned about synagogue buildings from seeing other synagogues of the time in New York and in the Caribbean. For the inside of the synagogue, Harrison consulted with the Jewish members of the congregation, most notably Isaac Touro, the chazan (prayer leader) of the synagogue. The American Revolutionary War broke out soon after this, and the British occupied Newport. Most of the Jews fled to New York and Massachusetts, while a few remained and took care of the synagogue. In 1790, George Washington, the new president of the United States, visited Newport and was publically welcomed by Moses Mendes Seixas, a leader of the Jewish community who chose to raise the issue of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. Washington wrote Seixas a response that is often cited when the issue of separation of church and state arises. Although there wasn’t much of a Jewish presence in Newport in the 1900s, Jews from Newport continued to feel a sense of responsibility for the synagogue. Isaac Touro’s sons, Abraham and Judah, bequeathed money to the state of Rhode Island for the upkeep of the synagogue. The state was the first to refer to the synagogue as the Touro Synagogue, which is how it is generally called today. In 1946, the Touro Synagogue was declared a National Historic Site. The synagogue continues to hold religious services, and once a year, President Washington’s letter is read aloud.
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Jews in Colonial America – The first Jews in America were from Spain and Portugal. They had been expelled from their home countries and had traveled to areas such as Amsterdam, Brazil, Curacao, and Suriname. In the 1600s, after experiencing economic success, often in trade, they arrived in New York and other cities on the East Coast of America. Many of the immigrants were employees of the Dutch East India Company. In America, they became involved in the economy of the colonies, and soon more Jews arrived from Europe and the Caribbean. Still experiencing discrimination, they continued to practice their religion and were allowed to work in their trades. New York, under the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant, stated that its residents “shall keep and enjoy the liberty of their consciences in religion.” The Jewish community spread throughout all of the thirteen colonies and found more religious freedom than they had in their home countries. In Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and New York, Jews won the right to be naturalised citizens, to conduct business, and to worship publicly. Many became prosperous and contributed to the community. Jews served in the military and many financially supported the revolution.