October 3 - December 8, 2013
A Public Place for Gathering: Touro Synagogue at 250 showcases the history of Touro Synagogue since its dedication in 1763. Touro Synagogue is America’s oldest synagogue building, a National Historic Site, and a physical symbol of the country’s commitment to religious freedom.
This exhibit was installed in the Rovensky Delivery Room vitrines and was open to the public whenever the Library is open. It complemented the synagogue’s 250th anniversary re-dedication ceremonies on Thanksgiving weekend and remained on display through the end of Chanukah. Photographs from the opening reception on October 6 are available here.
A Public Place for Gathering brings together artifacts, documents, and images to illustrate the place of the synagogue and the congregations it housed in the wider Newport community. Objects, paintings, and photographs, some never before displayed publicly, are drawn from the collections of the Touro Synagogue Archives, Redwood Library, Newport Historical Society and private collections. The exhibit explores stories of the synagogue and its members in history, culture, art, and time.
The congregation that dedicated the synagogue in 1763 included many who had fled the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal, and the Caribbean. These refugees came to colonial Rhode Island to experience the freedom and security of the “lively experiment” in religious liberty granted to its inhabitants by King Charles II one hundred years earlier. Newport’s Jewish community made the remarkable choice to build their beit knesset – place of gathering – on a hill overlooking Newport harbor and within yards of the Colony House, Rhode Island’s capital building, in equal prominence with the other denominations that ring the Colony House. Peter Harrison, architect of the Redwood Library and Newport’s Brick Market, was commissioned to design the house of worship and learning. The building is now considered a classic example of early American Palladian architecture, reinterpreted to meet the needs of Sephardic Jewish ritual.
Sponsors of the exhibit include The Redwood Library & Athenaeum; Congregation Jeshuat Israel; and the Touro Synagogue Foundation. Grants, generously provided by Carolyn and David Brodsky and Sarah and Bernard Gewirz, support the exhibition. Additional support, object loans, and content has been provided by Newport Historical Society; St. John’s Lodge No. 1, A. F. & A. M.; The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom; Ruth and Michael Feldberg and Heritage Muse, Inc.
The exhibit has been guest curated by David M. Kleiman of Heritage Muse, Inc. and curator of the Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue, with design and fabrication by Adams Taylor and Scott Citron.
Copies of the book, A Genesis of Religious Freedom: The Story of the Jews of Newport, RI and Touro Synagogue, are available at the Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center at the Touro Synagogue.
The photo of Touro Synagogue, by Joshua Appleby Williams (c. 1865), is one of the earliest representations of the Hebrew Synagogue in Newport.