The Oldest Synagogue in America

Photograph of Touro SynagogueTouro Synagogue from Patriots Park (Photo by author)

You might know Newport, Rhode Island, for its plethora of beautiful and historic mansions, many of which overlook the Atlantic coast. Maybe you know that the city hosted the first U.S. Open Tournaments for both tennis and golf, or that during the 17th and 18th centuries it was one of the richest ports in the American colonies. For me, however, Newport has always been synonymous with my grandparents and our culture, as Jews with close ties to Touro Synagogue.

Seyna Bazarsky, Stephen M. Green Miss Seyna Bazarsky, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bazarsky of 786 Indian Ave., Middletown, became the bride of Stephen M. Green, son of Mr. and Mrs. Alex Green of Riverdale, N.Y., yesterday in Touro Synagogue. The ceremony was performed by Rabbi Theodore Lewis and the Rev. Ely Katz and Mr. Bazarsky gave his daughter in marriage. A reception was held at the Hotel Viking. The bride wore a gown of ivory brocade, styled with scoop neckline, three quarter sleeves and bell skirt wtih a full train, and a matching headpiece with a silk illusion veil in floor length. She carried a Bible with white tea roses and stephanolis. Miss Judith Bazarsky, her sister's maid of honor, was gowned in a hunter green satin of cocktail length, with matching headpiece. She carried yellow and white tea roses. Howard Landsman, brother-in-law of the bridegroom, was his best man. After a wedding trip, the couple will live in Coral Gables, Fla. The bride, a graduate of Rogers High School, is a senior at the University of Miami. Mr. Green, a graduate of that university, is manager of a Miami bowling ally.My grandparents’ marriage reported in the Newport Daily News, 17 December 19621

On 16 December 1962, my grandparents, Seyna (Bazarsky) and Stephen Green were married at Touro Synagogue by Rabbi Dr. Theodore Lewis. The same rabbi went on to preside over my own father’s bris and bar mitzvah.

Even before my grandparents were married, my grandmother and her family attended services at Touro. My great-grandfather was also on the board, helping to maintain the congregation and the historic building, which was listed on the Register of National Historic Places in 1945. Even now, with so much of my family no longer living in Newport, we still have connections to this beautiful and historic place. I decided to learn more about Touro Synagogue and the Jews who made it what it is today.

Photograph of Touro SynagogueTouro Synagogue and Levi Gale House

Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States. Its construction began on 1 August 1759 with the laying of the six cornerstones, and was completed and dedicated on 2 December 1763. The architect, Peter Harrison, also designed the rebuilt King’s Chapel in Boston in 1749.

During the American Revolution, many members of Touro’s congregation were patriots, supporting independence both financially and through military service. The congregation was forced to abandon Newport, along with their synagogue, when the city was taken by the British army on 8 December 1776. After the war ended, the community returned to rededicate and consecrate the synagogue.

Touro Synagogue was famously visited by George Washington in 1790, along with delegates from the Continental Congress. In response to the congregation’s letter of welcome, Washington wrote to assure them that the new government would not be tolerant of bigotry, and that all those of differing beliefs would be protected. He wrote that under his leadership as President, their right to religious freedom would be kept safe, and that, “… the Government of the United States… gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance…”2

Washington’s letter would later serve as the basis for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which affirms the right of citizens to practice any religion without fear of persecution. I am thrilled to know that the seeds of this important legislation were planted in Newport, Rhode Island, at the same synagogue where my ancestors worshipped.


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1 Newport Daily News; “Seyna Bazarsky, Stephen M. Green; 17 December 1962.

2 “From George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, 18 August 1790”. National Archives.

Beck Green

About Beck Green

Beck is a Researcher at American Ancestors. They hold both a B.A. in Public History and a M.A. in Preservation Studies with a concentration in Museum Practices. Their interest in genealogy grew from a fascination with the human aspect of history; the ways in which museum collections are more than just objects on display, they are the result of people connecting with the world around them.View all posts by Beck Green