Jewish Rhode Island

Jews have lived in Rhode Island since the mid-17th century. After fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, many Jews fled to England and Amsterdam, then to Barbados, and finally arrived in Newport. There they were merchants and set up the second oldest congregation, Nephuse Israel (Scattered of Israel), in the United States. The congregation grew to such a size that they required land for a cemetery (see Touro Cemetery tour), and eventually the congregation was renamed Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel).

As time went by, the demographics of Newport changed. After the Revolutionary War, the Jewish population in Newport was sparse; Jews would not return to Rhode Island in any number until the late 1800s.

Providence was the next center of Jewish life. Eastern European Jews arrived in South Providence in the mid-19th century and settled in three areas: downtown Providence, South Providence and the “North End,” which today is the Smith Hill neighborhood. Traces of these early communities can be seen in synagogues still standing (see South Providence tour) and in the oldest and last intact synagogue in Providence (see Sons of Jacob tour).

Along with Providence, Jews spread north into Pawtucket and Central Falls (see Pawtucket tour), and up to Woonsocket (see Woonsocket tour). In these cities they set up small businesses and factories. To the east, in Bristol, there was a thriving, though small, Jewish community which still exists today at the United Brothers synagogue.

In Providence, there was a migration to the suburbs and the East Side beginning in the late 1940s, which led to more Jews living in the outlying areas. This tour offers a view into the historic roots of Jewish life and culture in Rhode Island.

These tours show a world that no longer exists; it is historical in scope and deals with what once was.

The Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island

The Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island (JORI) began as two separate organizations. The first chartered in 1908, headed by the South Providence Ladies’ Aid Society and Mr. Herman Paster, were granted a charter to “support and maintain orphan children…

Jewish Sites in Central Falls and Pawtucket

It was 1905, and five orthodox Jewish men from Pawtucket signed incorporation papers for a synagogue to be called The Congregation Ohawe Shalom. The only problem was that they had no money for a building, so they were forced to worship in a variety…

Sons of Jacob Synagogue

The founders of the Sons of Jacob, an Orthodox synagogue, had a vision: a soaring edifice in the North End of Providence that would be a symbol of their prosperity and place in the new world. Having fled the pogroms in Russia and Poland and unrest in…

South Providence - A personal history

This area was almost totally Irish when I and my compatriots from Austria and Romania began our life in Providence in the early 1880’s on Robinson St. After 1900, Russian Jews fleeing pogroms came to South Providence. Most arrived with little in the…

Touro Cemetery

Jews can have religious services any place, but you need hallowed ground for a burial. Although the Newport cemetery was established in 1677, Touro Synagogue was consecrated in 1763. Touro is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Rhode Island, established by…

If these walls could talk…

In the beginning, there was a Jewish congregation but no home. The small Orthodox community called themselves the Lovers of Peace, and they wandered – first worshipping in a loft over a store near Market Square and then on Main Street, and then going…
If you have any further questions or comments following these tours, please feel free to contact the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association.