Jewish Newport Rhode Island
At the heart of Jewish Newport Rhode Island is Touro Synagogue. The building was dedicated during Hanukah, 1763. At that time many of the Jews in Newport had moved from New York City and were of Spanish-Portugese descent. A few Ashkenazim were among them. Newport was a prominent city in colonial America. It was a trading city and was involved in the manufacture of spermaceti candles, Castile soap and the triangular trade which involved the slave trade. Jewish merchants were active in these pursuits. Newport was also a fishing port.
As a result of the Revolutionary war Newport declined. Many of the residents including the entire Jewish community left. Eventually the synagogue building became the property of Congregation Shearith Israel from New York City. Shearith Israel was the oldest congregation in North America. The colonial Jewish congregation, Yeshuat Israel was the second oldest. By the 1880s enough Jews were in Newport to hold regular services.Some of the them came from Russian Poland and Austrian Poland (Galicia). In the early 1900s an influx of mostly interrelated families arrived from the Dokshitz Glebokie area, which were in the Vilna Gubernia of the Russian Empire, and are now in Belarus. Eventually this group became more the 50% of the twentieth century Newport Jewish community.
Shearith Israel sent a several rabbis to Newport to lead worship in the Synagogue. Congregation Jeshuat Israel was founded in 1893. The Newport Jewish community constituted several factions, including the Touro Congregation, incorporated in 1899. When all were locked out of the synagogue, some of them broke into the synagogue in an attempt to dispute ownership of the building in court. This failed. From 1903 onwards Jeshuat Israel rented the building for $1 per year, continuing to worship in the orthodox Spanish-Portuguese fashion. After several years of legal wrangling, Jeshuat Israel has lost its lease for Touro Synagogue. It continues to hold services at Touro while it contests eviction. If you are planning to worship at Touro Synagogue, be sure to visit their website for information.
A second orthodox synagogue, Congregation Ahavas Achim, was incorporated in 1915. Most of its members were from Eastern Europe, many from what is now Belarus. Others came from Austria-Hungary, especially Galicia, much of which is now in Ukraine. Ahavis Achim reached its height in the 1950s. Eventually it disbanded, since the changing community did not need two orthodox synagogues. A liberal synagogue, Temple Shalom, makes its home in nearby Middletown. There is also a reform Havurah.
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