Exploration & Exhibits …
The original of Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island is small in size, but its impact on American life is immense. In 340 well-chosen words, the Letter reassures those who had fled religious tyranny that life in their new nation would be different, that religious “toleration” would give way to religious liberty, and that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.
How did the concept of religious liberty come to be one of America's core values? This exhibit explores this question and explains how Rhode Island contributed to our notions of religious freedom.
At the time of the American Revolution, there were between 1,500 and 2,000 Jews in America, representing 1% of the population. However, their contribution to the American economic, social, and political life far outweighed their numbers. Our exhibit introduces some of the individuals who played an important role in the early history of the United States.
Two of America's best known poets found the Colonial Jewish Burial Ground (established in 1677) a potent source of inspiration. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Emma Lazarus both visited the cemetery, and their poetry reflects very different views of the legacy of the Jewish Community in Newport. This exhibit briefly explores the cemetery and its depiction in American literature and life.