Monday, June 1, 2009

USA: Update on Newport's Touro: As Visitor Center Gets set to Open, Synagogue Faces Financial Woes

Update on Touro: As Visitor Center Gets Set to Open, Synagogue Faces Financial Woes

(ISJM) As a follow-up to my report in March on Touro Synagogue in Newport cutting back on its public tours, comes this story in this week's Forward. The article describes financial difficulties at Touro, and also, perhaps, a crises of identity. The reasons was varied ...but the essence is that every congregation is struggling now as endowments have shrunk. Are there enough Jews in Newport who want to belong to and support Orthodox Touro? Should the efforts that have gone into the Foundation and Information Center done more to support the synagogue itself - in mission and building? Will the opening of the Visitor Center help the synagogue congregation, or make it irrelevant? Will the story the Visitor Center tells be too historically narrow, or will encompass the broad history of Touro and Newport's Jews over three centuries?

Touro Struggles With Its Historic Legacy

By Anthony Weiss

When the multimillion-dollar visitors center opens in August, it will make Touro’s proud legacy accessible to tens of thousands of new visitors. But the gleaming construction stands in sharp contrast to the synagogue next door — aging, shrinking, and desperate to stay alive.

John Loeb Jr., the primary funder of the visitors center, has invested some $10 million to tell the story of how the separation of religion and state described in Washington’s letter has protected Jews, and how Jews, in turn, have helped build the nation.

But to the congregation, Touro is a different story, one of prayer, ritual and ongoing Jewish communal life, and it appears that their story may lose out. So desperate is the synagogue’s financial situation that it is quietly making inquiries about potentially selling some of its assets, including a 19th century mansion that holds the synagogue’s offices and two sets of rare silver rimonim (covers for the handles of the Torah scroll) that were crafted by colonial-era Jewish silversmith Myer Myers and have belonged to the synagogue since that era.

Read the entire story.

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