Synagogue from 18th century a window to the past

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

While visiting our son at camp in Maine on visitor’s day, my husband and I enjoyed the opportunity to further explore the east coast. We headed in the direction of Rhode Island. While we liked the day in Providence — walking around Brown University followed by a delicious Mediterranean meal — we took tremendous delight in our time in Newport.

Even before checking into our hotel, we headed straight for the Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United States. Dedicated in 1763, it is considered one of the “one of the most architecturally distinguished buildings of 18th century America.” 

The informative tour reminded us of the rich history of this state. Those who left England for religious freedom and founded Massachusetts, went about discriminating against others who didn’t follow their way. The persecuted parties left and founded Rhode Island. In fact, in 1790, President George Washington wrote a letter to the congregation in which he started:

It is now no more that tolerance is spoken of as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…”

President Washington also wrote to the United Baptist churches in Virginia, the General Assembly of Presbyterian churches, the annual meeting of the Quakers and to Roman Catholics. It is upon this foundation that we should remember our religious inclusiveness which has made our nation one where can celebrate faith in peace. It is the call of a remarkable leader whose vision became and remains a hallmark for humanity to thrive.