From Magic City Morning Star

The Story of Touro Synagogue and the Jews of Newport
By NewsWire
Jun 25, 2013 - 8:59:39 AM

Editorial Photo supplied by R.P. BenDedek - (from Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum)
Built in 1763, Touro Synagogue is the oldest standing synagogue in the United States. It may surprise many to know that some of the first Jews that came to what is now the United States settled in Newport, Rhode Island. They played a pivotal role in confirming the United States' commitment to religious freedom and the separation between church and state.

In the new, beautifully-illustrated book, A Genesis of Religious Freedom: The Story of the Jews of Newport, RI and Touro Synagogue, highly-esteemed professor and author Melvin Urofsky recounts the unique history of the Jewish settler in Rhode Island - the first colony to grant widespread religious acceptance to various religious groups. Those Jewish settlers eventually built the now 250-year old Touro Synagogue -- an official National Historic Site.

The book opens with a heartfelt letter written by philanthropist, businessman and diplomat, Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. Loeb provides a fascinating look at one of the most important, but lesser-known statements of religious freedom and American values in history: George Washington's 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. Washington's Letter is considered among the first official commitments that the newly formed government of the United States would reject religious tyranny in all forms, and ensure the natural right of religious freedom to all.

Written for a variety of audiences, Urofsky's book explores the rich history of the Jewish community in Newport and the establishment of Touro Synagogue in a captivating, easy-to-read format. The book provides people of all religions with insights into an important aspect of American history that is often overlooked.

Among many remarkable facts the book provides, it also answers:

Who was Roger Williams and what vital role did he play in shaping religious freedom and tolerance in Rhode Island, and ultimately, the United States?

What attracted Jews escaping from the Inquisitions in Europe and South America to Rhode Island in 1658?

How did this group of early settlers thrive and flourish?

What are the connections between religious freedom and tolerance and prosperity and innovation?

The profound impact that Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island has had as a statement of American values

"The Revolutionary War drove Newport, and especially its Jewish community, into decline but the synagogue was never abandoned or allowed to decay. Starting in the late 1890's, a remarkable series of events led to the revitalization of the community and Touro Synagogue. In 1947, Congress declared the building a national historic shrine. Since then, Jews of Newport and across the United States have restored and beautified the Touro Synagogue and its surrounding park." Melvin Urofsky.

A Genesis of Religious Freedom: The Story of the Jews of Newport, RI and Touro Synagogue which was written by professor and author, Melvin Urofsky.

Available in paperback and electronically on and, A Genesis of Religious Freedom was published by the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Touro Synagogue. The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom works with educators and students about President Washington's letter, constitutional rights and religious diversity in America.

Melvin Urofsky is a visiting professor of history at American University and the author and editor of 52 books, including a biography of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the Court. Previously, he was a professor of law and public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Urofsky holds a B.A., and a Ph.D. from Columbia University, and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.

Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. is a businessman, philanthropist, and former United States Ambassador to Denmark. Following military service in the United States Air Force, Loeb became a partner at Loeb Rhodes & Co., international investment bankers. Since 1979, he has been chairman of Loeb, Rhoades Trust Company, owned by John L. Loeb Jr. Associates, Inc., Investment Counselors. In 2009, he founded the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, and serves as the chairman. Loeb graduated with a B.A. from Harvard College and received an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

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