Shalom and thanks for visiting our Temple Emanu-El website. We are a Reform Jewish Congregation in Irondequoit, New York, a few minutes from downtown Rochester.
We feel fortunate that we share a rich heritage, a vital Jewish community life, and a promising future. Our congregation reflects the diversity of today's society - we invite you to share in our warm, informal approach to Reform Judaism
Shabbat services take place on Friday evenings at 8:00 PM, except for the third Friday of the month when they start at 7:30 PM and are followed with a discussion session led by Rabbi Herzbrun. During the summer, all services begin at 7:30 PM.
To find out more about our congregation, please click “About Us” on the menu bar. Better yet, come visit us.
December 2, 2013 marks the 250th anniversary of the dedication of the Touro synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island – it is the oldest synagogue building in the United States and the only one dating to the Colonial Era. The synagogue is named after the Touro family – see the article at the right.
The first Jews to settle in Newport came in 1658 from communities in the Caribbean, having fled the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. They formed Congregation Yeshuat Israel, the second oldest congregation in the United States. They became a thriving community, participating in shipping and trading. In 1677, the congregation dedicated its cemetery, and by 1758 they had grown large enough to need a permanent building. The Touro synagogue was designed by Peter Harrison, a self-taught architect, who had designed churches and a variety of other buildings in New England. The Touro synagogue was built between 1759 and 1763 with the financial support of congregations in New York, Curaçao, and other communities abroad.
During the Revolutionary War, many Jews left Newport and the Touro synagogue was used as a military hospital by the British. After the War of 1812, most Jews were gone and the Touro synagogue was closed. Its Torahs were shipped to Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, which took over the building’s deed and its contents. During the 1880’s, after an influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, Congregation Yeshuat Israel was reestablished. In 1946, the Touro synagogue was designated at a National Historic Site and in 1966, it was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In 2012, a dispute between Shearith Israel and Yeshuat Israel resulted in rival lawsuits. At issue was who owned the Touro synagogue and its contents. The dispute has still not been resolved.
In 1790, George Washington visited Newport. On that occasion, community leaders read letters praising him and welcoming him to Newport. Among them was Moses Seixas, the congregation’s warden, who said that the United States has “a Government which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to all liberty of conscience, and immunities of citizenship.” After his visit, Washington wrote a letter to the congregation in which he used Seixas’ very words: “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
Each year in August, the Touro Synagogue Foundation, established in 1948 to aid in the maintenance and upkeep of the buildings and grounds and to publicize the history of the Touro Synagogue, holds a public reading of George Washington’s letter. At the 2013 reading of the letter, and in celebration of the 250th anniversary, attended by Rhode Island’s two senators, the governor, the mayor of Newport and other dignitaries Supreme Court Justice Elana Kagan delivered the keynote speech in which she told of the importance of religious freedom to her family which came to the US in the early 1900’s.
Links: Touro Synagogue; Wikipedia; Elana Kagan Address; Lawsuit; Washington Letter
Upon his death in 1854, Judah Touro left an estate of $500,000, which, except for a small amount to his family, went to philanthropic causes around the world. Included in his bequests was money to maintain the Touro synagogue in Newport Rhode Island and its cemetery (see feature at the left). Previously he had financed the restoration of the crumbling cemetery wall. Because of these bequests, and those of Judah’s brother Abraham, the synagogue bears the family name.
Judah was the son of Isaac Touro, hazzan of the Touro synagogue, who had been instrumental in the design of the building, and his wife Reyna. During the Revolutionary War, the family moved to New York and later to Jamaica. After Isaac’s death, Reyna moved the family to Boston. After his mother died, Reyna’s brother, Moses Michael Hays, raised Judah and took him into his business. While there, Judah fell in love with his cousin Catherine Hays.
In 1801, supposedly after his uncle forbade him to marry Catherine, Judah moved to New Orleans, where he opened a store dealing in soap and candles and other items imported from New England. He made New Orleans his home and lived there for 50 years. During the War of 1812, he was not physically able to fight, but volunteered to be an ammunitions carrier in Andrew Jackson’s army. He was severely wounded, surviving only with the help of his friend, Davis Shepherd.
Touro lived simply and was a frugal man, saying: “I have saved a fortune by strict economy, while others had spent one by their liberal expenditures.” He made his fortune in mechanizing, shipping, and real estate.
Judah is remembered for his philanthropic works which benefitted many institutions, Christian, Jewish, and secular, and individuals; the list is far too long to give here. Just a sampling: he built a synagogue in New Orleans; purchased a Unitarian church which was in foreclosure, restored it and gave it to the congregation to use; helped finance the restoration of the Revolutionary War monument at Bunker Hill which had been in disrepair for lack of funds; created endowments for most Jewish congregations in the US; provided for poor Jews living in Palestine; and left money to Massachusetts General Hospital.
Judah Touro is buried in the Jewish cemetery in Newport, where his tombstone reads: “The last of his name, he inscribed it in the Book of Philanthropy to be remembered forever.”
Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America – Seymour Brody;
Links: Wikipedia; Jewish Virtual Library; Jewish Encyclopedia; Touro Synagogue