Touro Synagogue // 1763

While Newport is arguably best-known for the Newport mansions from the Gilded Age, there are soooo many amazing buildings from the Colonial era, including some of the most significant and historic in the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America (for reference, second-oldest extant synagogue in North America was built in 1833, seventy years later)! Its history begins in the 17th century when the small but growing colony of Newport received its first Jewish residents possibly as early as 1658. The earliest known Jewish settlers arrived from Barbados, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. The Congregation now known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel) engaged Newport resident Peter Harrison to design the synagogue. Harrison, a British American merchant and sea captain, who was self-tutored in architecture, studying mostly from books and drawings. By the time he designed Touro Synagogue, he had already completed iconic buildings including Newport’s Redwood Library and King’s Chapel in Boston. Construction began on the “Jews Synagogue” in 1759, which was completed years later in 1763. The building is one of the most significant buildings in America, and is open to tours where you can see the immaculately restored interiors.

Temple Ohabei Shalom // 1927

Congregation Ohabei Shalom was founded in 1842, and is the longest enduring Jewish congregation in Massachusetts and the second in New England after Touro Synagogue located in Newport, Rhode Island. The congregation grew from the original eight families to over a hundred and was forced to continually relocate around Boston for enough space until it purchased the former South Congregational Church on Union Park Street in the South End (now St. John the Baptist). The South End became a hub for Boston’s Jewish community and the congregation continued to grow, alongside catholic and other religious groups in the area, notably the Holy Cross Cathedral a block away. By the turn of the century, the jewish population began to shift outward to Brookline and other outlying cities, which only increased after WWII.

Land was secured on Beacon Street in Brookline in 1921 and the congregation hired the Boston firm of Blackall, Clapp and Whittemore to design a large new temple and sanctuary. The Byzantine-Romanesque edifice and its magnificent sanctuary were completed in 1928.  Modeled on themes from Hagia Sophia and the Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy, it has a commanding presence on the busy street to this day. The temple was to even have a large corner tower, which never materialized. With its use of polychromatic masonry and Byzantine ornament, and capped by a great copper dome, the congregation boasts one of the most architecturally outstanding religious buildings in the area.