The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom celebrated the opening of The Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue on Sunday, August 2, 2009. Over 1,200 men, women and children attended on opening day.
United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Newport resident, was the first in the door on Sunday morning. He said, “This is not only an enormous contribution to Newport and Rhode Island but also to the entire country. It tells the story of religious freedom with pictures and videos in a very user-friendly way, accessible to all ages.”
Other visitors noted: “… this exhibit will singlehandedly change historic presentation in the city, and will definitely be on the must see list for anyone coming to Newport” and “From the moment you walked through the doors you could sense that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary experience.”
David Brussat, the leading architecture critic in Rhode Island, praised the design of the Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue in his Providence Journal article of July 30, 2009. “The Loeb Center’s primary aesthetic features all conspire to express their unorthodoxy in ways that help the building fit into its colonial context. Its rusticated Indiana limestone, its arched Palladian fenestration of mahogany, its gently pitched roof all proclaim its embrace of Newport’s architectural community. It is obviously a classical building, yet it is unlike any other. No work of classicism could possibly depart from canon with greater dignity, hence no building could possibly fit onto a historic street with greater distinction.”
The new Visitors Center features interactive, multimedia exhibits exploring the meaning and importance of George Washington’s 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport. This extraordinary letter is the first and clearest presidential expression of support for American’s constitutional right to the free exercise of religious belief and the separation of church and state.
The Loeb Visitors Center further interprets and celebrates the history and architecture of Touro Synagogue, the oldest functioning synagogue building in the nation. First dedicated in 1763, the synagogue was designed by America’s first architect, Peter Harrison. In 1946, Touro Synagogue became a National Historic Site under the U.S. Parks Service. Then in 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation also selected the synagogue as a National Historic Site, making it the sole religious institution amongst only 29 properties to be designated with this honor.
The Loeb Visitors Center is located on the Touro Synagogue campus at the intersection of Touro and Spring Streets, Newport, RI and is open every Sunday-Friday, from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM. The center is closed on Saturday. For more information, please visit www.tourosynagogue.org.
The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom has built and will maintain the Loeb Visitors Center. The Institute’s mission is to promote awareness of the historic roots of religious liberty in America. In addition to the Loeb Visitors Center, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom supports educational and scholarship programs for individuals seeking to learn about and discuss the origins and development of American religious liberties.