Jewish American Heritage Month


Jewish American Heritage Month, celebrated in May, is meant to highlight Jewish history and connections with America.

Jewish history in the United States traces its origins to 1492 Spain, when the Inquisition forced its large Jewish population, living in the Diaspora, to once again seek a safe haven.

For some 200 years the Jews were scattered throughout Europe when, in 1654, the first recorded Jewish group immigrated to New Amsterdam. The early Jews found a home in Newport and other port cities, such as New York.

It is interesting to note that the early American Jews were Sephardic Jews who made their way to Spain from North African and Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco, among many others.  Israel’s Jewish population today is comprised of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern), Sephardic (Spanish) and Ashkenazi Jews (Eastern Europe).

The American Revolution was a turning point not only for this country but for those groups that were seeking a safe and welcoming place to practice their religion. The United States was the first major country that committed itself to religious freedom, tolerance and democracy.

Jews were drawn to this land of promise, where they hoped to practice their faith in safety and prosperity. But, like other minority groups, Jews still had to fight prejudice on the state and, at times, national level.

Historically, Jews throughout America fought for their own rights, as well as the God-given rights of other minority groups.  

The oldest synagogue in the United States is the Touro Synagogue, right here in Newport. Touro is a National Historic Site and stands as a symbol of religious freedom for all. Famously, George Washington visited Touro in 1790 in a show of support for the entire Jewish community in the new, evolving United States of America.

In his address to the Newport congregation, President Washington famously stated, “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance.”

May his words continue to ring true today. God bless America and the Jewish people.

Jeffrey Gladstone, Esq.

Warwick, RI                         

letter to the editor, Jeffrey Gladstone