Touro Synagogue
Photo by Lew Keen, courtesy of Touro Synagogue Foundation

Following reports that New York Congregation Shearith Israel has filed legal proceedings to evict Congregation Jeshuat Israel from Touro Synagogue in Newport, Congregation Jeshuat Israel and Congressman David Cicilline released the following statements;

Congregation Jeshuat Israel last week announced in a press release that it was shocked to learn that Shearith Israel – which has leased the historic Touro Synagogue to Jeshuat Israel for 120 years – has filed legal proceedings to evict the Congregation from the Synagogue, effectively seeking to dismantle and displace the Congregation, which has served as the Synagogue’s faith community and sole steward for generations.

“We are shocked that Shearith Israel seeks to expel Rhode Island’s Congregation Jeshuat Israel from the historic Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the country and the nation’s cradle of religious liberty,” said Louise Ellen Teitz, Co-President of Congregation Jeshuat Israel in a statement. “The members of the Jeshuat Israel Congregation have been the faithful stewards of and peaceable worshippers at Touro Synagogue for more than 140 years. At a time of unprecedented attacks on American Jewry, we are devastated that our Congregation has become the target of a shameful power grab by another Jewish congregation that over the years has not provided us or Touro any meaningful support at all.  We condemn this destructive attack on our Congregation and displacement of our community, and call upon Shearith Israel to let Jeshuat Israel live and pray in peace.”

Congregation Jeshuat Israel says that Shearith Israel’s eviction filing “is retaliatory, unprecedented, and unjustified”.

The New York congregation has rebuffed mediation efforts and instead is exploiting its legal status to punish Jeshuat Israel for functioning as an independent Congregation, says Congregation Jeshuat Israel.

Congressman Cicilline wrote in a statement on February 7, “As the nation’s cradle of religious liberty, Touro Synagogue is a symbol of our freedom of worship. It was after his visit to the site that George Washington wrote, ‘[f]or happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’

“This National Historic Site is an integral Rhode Island institution. Congregation Jeshuat Israel had called Touro Synagogue home and has served as it’s faithful stewards for the last 140 years and should, of course, be allowed to continue to do so,” Cicilline continued.

“The filing of official eviction proceedings against the Congregation in the District Court of Rhode Island is shameful and egregious,” Cicilline concluded.