Culture & Civic Life
Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue
Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue is a Reconstructionist center for Jewish cultural and spiritual life, merging a deep reverence for ancient trad...
Dedicated on the first night of Hanukkah in 1763, the Touro Synagogue stands as the country's oldest surviving synagogue building. This historic synagogue offered its founding congregation — a group of 17th-century Caribbean immigrants of Spanish and Portuguese origin — a place of worship in a community that promised greater religious tolerance.
Many members of Newport's Jewish community fled the town when the British assumed control of the town in the Revolutionary War and repurposed it as a military hospital and public assembly hall. In 1790, after Rhode Island became America's 13th state, President George Washington visited the synagogue and read a short letter to the Jewish community, declaring that America would protect citizens' religious liberties as "an inherent natural right." This speech has endured as a policy statement supporting First Amendment rights.
As the Jewish population dwindled in the early 19th century, the synagogue closed for weekly services, and Congregation Shearith Israel in New York (the country's oldest congregation) became its trustee. Abraham and Judah Touro, whose father cared for the synagogue during the war, left behind bequests to maintain the synagogue and nearby cemetery. With an influx of eastern European Jews into Newport in the late 19th century, regular services resumed.
Today, the foundation provides tours, lectures, and programming involving the synagogue, which became a national historic site in 1946. The organization also partners with the synagogue's Congregation Jeshuat Israel to stage the annual George Washington Letter Celebration, a reminder of America's great tradition of religious freedom.
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