The Jews of Rhode Island

Overview

Rhode Island as we know it began in 1636 when Roger Williams, an independent-minded "godly minister" banished from Massachusetts for promulgating new and dangerous opinions, founded a new colony, Providence, at the head of Narragansett Bay. Although none of Williams's followers were Jews, some of his libertarian ideals would profoundly influence the future Jewish population.

Around 1677 a group of Sephardim (Jews of Iberian descent) from Barbados arrived in Newport. Despite ...

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Overview

Rhode Island as we know it began in 1636 when Roger Williams, an independent-minded "godly minister" banished from Massachusetts for promulgating new and dangerous opinions, founded a new colony, Providence, at the head of Narragansett Bay. Although none of Williams's followers were Jews, some of his libertarian ideals would profoundly influence the future Jewish population.

Around 1677 a group of Sephardim (Jews of Iberian descent) from Barbados arrived in Newport. Despite legal protection, this tiny Jewish community on Aquidneck Island did not last. Newport's Jewish community revived in the mid-eighteenth century, when trade with the West Indies brought new wealth to this British outpost. Touro synagogue, only the second built in North America, has endured as a masterpiece of colonial architecture. President George Washington's letter to the "Hebrew Congregation in Newport," written in 1790, also became a pillar of American religious liberty. For economic reasons, however, Newport's Jewish community once again dispersed.

Rhode Island Jewry began to reestablish itself toward the end of the nineteenth century, when immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe settled mainly in Providence. By 1924, the state's Jewish population reached 25,000. Many Jews worked in the state's booming textile and jewelry industries, and others as peddlers and tailors. While some Jews would prosper as merchants and manufacturers, others, particularly women and children, were relegated to menial tasks. There were also Jewish farmers.

Following World War II, Jews were elected to numerous statewide offices and gained prominence in an array of professional, cultural, and philanthropic organizations. Jewish students and professors thrived at many of the state's colleges and universities. In 1970, recognizing the need to work together, communal leaders established the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island.

Today about 18,000 Jews live throughout the Ocean State. In many respects, however, the Jewish community retains the character of a traditional small town. Many Jews have attended the same schools, married hometown sweethearts, and have remained loyal to neighborhood synagogues and charities. A day at the beach endures as an idyllic summer vacation.

This anthology celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Rhode Island Jewish Historical Notes, the journal that has presented and preserved much of Rhode Island's Jewish past. The volume presents seventeen previously published articles or excerpts, two new essays, a timeline, and an extensive bibliography. There are nearly one hundred photographs, most published for the first time. Through the lens of The Notes, The Jews of Rhode Island provides a panoramic view of a famous yet little-known Jewish community.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

GEORGE M. GOODWIN is President of the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association. ELLEN SMITH is Associate Director of the Gralla Program for Journalists at Brandeis University.

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Table of Contents

Rhode Island jewry : a personal perspective
Introduction : the Jews of Rhode Island 1
Communities
The Jewish merchants of Newport, 1749-1790 13
Reconstructing the lives of Newport's hidden Jews, 1740-1790 27
Old bottles, rags, junk! : the story of the Jews of south providence 40
United brothers, bowling and bagels in Bristol : a study of the changing Jewish community in Bristol, Rhode Island 54
Photographic essay : the colonial period through World War I 63
Business and labor
Jews and the textile industry in Rhode Island 75
The jewelry industry, industrial development, and immigration in providence, 1790-1993 83
Beyond New York, a second look : the occupations of Russian Jewish immigrants in providence, Rhode Island, and in other small Jewish communities, 1900-1915 89
Jews in Rhode Island labor : an introductory investigation 95
Jewish farmers in Rhode Island 103
Photographic essay : the 1920s through World War II 111
Learning and leisure
Christians, Jews, and the Hebrew language in Rhode Island 131
"Why not a Jewish girl?" : the Jewish experience at Pembroke College in Brown University 139
Summers along upper Narragansett Bay, 1910-1938 147
The Newport folk festival : a Jewish perspective 156
Photographic essay : the postwar era and recent decades 165
"I remember"
Bernard Manuel Goldowsky, 1864-1936 183
My life at the Jewish orphanage of Rhode Island 190
Our Rabbi with the rainbow division : a World War II reminiscence 205
Recollections of a septuagenarian 213
App. A Editors of Rhode Island Jewish historical notes 227
App. B Letter from the Hebrew congregation of Newport to President George Washington, 1790, and the reply of President Washington (undated) 228
App. C Map of Rhode Island 230
App. D The Jews of Rhode Island : a timeline 231
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