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Longfellow and the Jewish Cemetery at Newport

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Measured Drawing of Touro Synagogue, Newport

Item 16529  info
Measured Drawing of Touro Synagogue, Newport / Maine Historical Society

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!


Originally drawn to Rhode Island because of the colony's tradition of religious tolerance, the first Jews (Sephardic) had arrived in 1658. Fifteen families of Spanish and Portuguese descent came from the Dutch West Indies, and soon others followed.

In 1677 land was purchased for a Jewish cemetery. In the mid-1700s about 60 more Portuguese Jewish families arrived after the disastrous Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Over the decades, this small congregation met in private homes (legally, a rare privilege in the 17th-18th centuries) until 1759, when they undertook to build a synagogue.

The Congregation Yeshuat Israel dedicated the synagogue in 1763, appointing the young cantor Isaac Touro, recently arrived from Amsterdam, as rabbi.

However, by the turn of the century virtually all of the Jews had left Newport, the old cemetery occasionally being revisited for a burial.

 

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