December 2, 1763 – Dedication of the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, the first synagogue in what will become the United States.
The Touro Synagogue was built from 1759 to 1763 for the Jeshuat Israel congregation in Newport under the leadership of Cantor (Chazzan) Isaac Touro. The cornerstone was laid by Aaron Lopez, a philanthropist and merchant in Newport involved in the spermaceti candlemaking business, slave trade and other commercial ventures. The Jeshuat Israel congregation itself dates back to 1658 when 15 Spanish and Portuguese families arrived, probably from the West Indies.
The synagogue was designed by noted British-Colonial era architect and Rhode Island resident Peter Harrison and is considered his most notable work. The interior is flanked by a series of twelve Ionic columns supporting balconies. The columns signify the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. Each column is carved from a single tree. Located at 85 Touro Street, the Touro Synagogue remains an active Orthodox synagogue. The building is oriented to face east toward Jerusalem. The ark containing the Torah is on the east wall; above it is a mural representing the Ten Commandments in Hebrew. It was painted by the Newport artist Benjamin Howard.
In 1982, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the Touro Synagogue (Scott No. 2017). The stamp bears a quote by George Washington, “To bigotry, no sanction. To persecution, no assistance.”