History of Touro Synagogue Foundation
Originally known as “The Society of Friends of Touro Synagogue,” the Touro Synagogue Foundation (TSF) was established in 1948 following the designation of Touro Synagogue as a National Historic Site. The mission of the TSF is two-fold: preserve and maintain Touro Synagogue and educate the public about its powerful story. To that end, the TSF has played a leading role in the restoration of Touro Synagogue, both in 1954 and, most recently, in an extensive, 3.5 million dollar restoration completed in 2006. The Foundation was also instrumental in building Patriots Park, which honors colonial Jewish leaders, and in 1982 worked with the United States Postal Service to create a stamp featuring Touro Synagogue.
In order to share the remarkable story of Touro Synagogue more effectively, the TSF is building an expanded campus to accommodate visitors to Touro Synagogue. The completed Campus will include a redesigned Patriots Park, a new Visitor Center, and the adaptive re-use of the Barney House, an early 18th century structure. Scheduled to open in the summer of 2009, the new Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center will feature a staffed welcome station, orientation film, and interactive exhibits exploring Touro Synagogue and its place in Rhode Island’s unique tradition of religious tolerance. Once completed, the restored Barney House will contain an expanded gift shop, theatre, and offices for TSF staff.
Every summer, the TSF partners with Congregation Jeshuat Israel to host The George Washington Letter Celebration, an event honoring our nation’s heritage of religious freedom. Written during his first visit to Rhode Island as President of the United States, George Washington’s 1790 letter to “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,” affirmed the new national government’s absolute commitment to the free exercise of religion, which he regarded as an “inherent natural right.” The federal government, he stated, “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The annual event has a long tradition of distinguished keynote speakers, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Brown University President Ruth Simmons, and includes the presentation of the Judge Alexander George Teitz Award and the Aaron and Rita Slom Scholarship for Freedom and Diversity.