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Rhode Island

Early Days

Earliest Settlers and Communities

The first Jews in Rhode Island settled in Newport in 1658. This settlement contained fifteen Jewish families from Barbados and Curacao, where their families had previously migrated from Amsterdam and London after being expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. These original settlers purchased land for a cemetery in 1677, known as Touro Cemetery, located at the corner of Kay and Touro Streets in Newport.

Jews permanently resided in Newport beginning in the 1740s. This first group of “transfers” out of New York were brothers Abraham and Naftali Hart, Jacob Judah, Moses Lopez, Moses Levy, Isaac Seixas, Isaack Polock, and Jacob Rodriguez Rivera. These tradesmen who had business and trade connections both in the south and the Caribbean, saw the potential for trade with Newport Harbor and were instrumental in making Newport the Northern gem of the Atlantic. These settlers traveled between New York and Newport for business and kept affiliation with Congregation Sheriath Israel of New York during that time.

In the 1750s, relatives of the original settlers arrived in Newport. Most notable were three more Hart brothers, Isaac, Benjamin and Jacob, and David and Aaron Lopez. Between the 1750s and 1760s, there were about 25 Jewish families residing in Newport, and they soon needed a place of worship. Between 1763 and 1769, British architect Peter Harrison designed and built Touro Synagogue. This new house of worship and its congregation, Nephuse Israel, was constructed as a sister synagogue to Congregation Sheriath Israel in New York. Today, Touro Synagogue is the oldest standing synagogue in North America.

Major Immigrant-era Settlements: Earliest Known Settlement Dates


South Providence “Jew Town”
The North End

Pawtucket/Central Falls

Major Immigrant Era Industries

Peddling, junk dealing, storefronts, meat markets, textiles, and jewelry were typical industries.

Current Information

Major Current Jewish Population Centers

The current Jewish population of Rhode Island is 18,750.








Principal Statewide Jewish Organizations

Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island
Jewish Collaborative Services
The Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center
Touro Fraternal Association


Principal Statewide Jewish Organizations

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site

Schools and Universities

Brown RISD Hillel
Brown University – Judaic Studies
Bryant University
Chabad of College Hill
Johnson and Wales Hillel
Roger Williams University Hillel
URI Hillel
USY Providence
Congregation B’nai Israel Religious School
Jewish Community Day School (JCDSRI)
David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center
Jewish Learning Institute
Project Shoresh
Providence College Jewish-Catholic Theological Exchange
Providence Community Kollel
PJ Library
New England Rabbinical College (NERC) Yeshiva Gedola of Providence
Providence Hebrew Day School
Congregation Agudas Achim Religious School
Temple Beth El Religious School
Temple Emanu-El Religious School
Temple Habonim Religious School
Temple Shalom Samuel Zilman Bazarsky Religious School
Temple Sinai Religious School
Temple Torat Yisrael Religious School

Jewish Cemeteries and Burial Information

Lincoln Park Cemetery
Moshassuck Cemetery
The Touro Jewish Cemetery
Temple Beth-El Cemetery
Sons of Israel and David Cemetery
Beth Olam Cemetery
Braman Cemetery

Historical Resources

Local Jewish Historical Societies and Resource Centers

Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association

Chartered in 1951, the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association is the oldest Jewish historical society in continuous operation in the United States. The RIJHA is supported through memberships, donations, and bequests. The Association serves scholars, teachers, students, genealogists, and history buffs—Jews and non-Jews alike.

The Association has built an extensive archive about Rhode Island Jewry. Its abundant collections include more than 5,000 photographs, manuscripts, a now digitized collection of the various titles of Jewish Rhode Island; formerly known as The Jewish Voice, and the Rhode Island Herald, congregational and organizational records, city directories, oral history recordings, and a vast number of artifacts.

The RIJHA provides genealogical research and assistance for researchers - there is no designated organization that entirely focuses only on Jewish genealogy.


Statewide Repositories

Rhode Island Archives and Manuscripts Online (RIAMCO)

A gateway to the archival and manuscript collections in Rhode Island. The collections on this site document Rhode Island’s history from its origin as a colony of religious dissidents. RIAMCO is directed by an Executive Committee with representatives from each of the consortium members.

Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association

See above.



Local Jewish Genealogical Societies

The Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association provides research and assistance for genealogical inquiries; there is no designated organization that entirely focuses on Jewish genealogy.



Foster Geraldine. Jews of Rhode Island, 1658-1958, Images of America Series. Dover, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 1999.
Foster, Geraldine. Jews in Rhode Island: A Brief History. Providence, RI: Rhode Island Publications Society, 1985.
Freund, Miriam K. Jewish Merchants in Colonial America. West Orange, NJ: Behrman House Publishers. 1986.
Goodwin, George and Ellen Smith, eds. The Jews of Rhode Island. Hanover, MA: University Press of New England in Association with Brandeis University. 2004.
Lewis, Theodore. Sermons at Touro Synagogue, National Historic Site, Newport, Rhode Island. Brooklyn, NY: Simcha-Graphic Associates, 1980.

Famous Jewish People from Rhode Island

Business and Finance

  • Bruce Sundlun – “From 1976 to 1988, Sundlun was president and chief executive officer of The Outlet Company, a department store and broadcast communications company in Providence.” After several years, he led the company into communications and was personally in charge of 3 radio stations in the US.

  • Martin Chase – his store, Ann and Hope, was the first low-price, discount, department store. It was the model for Sam Walton, who visited and took the idea.

  •  Sol Koffler – founded American Tourister in 1933.

Education and Research

  • Sidney and Alice Goldstein - Sidney, a professor at Brown University, and his wife Alice, a researcher, did ground-breaking research on the Jewish community in Rhode Island, as well as working in China.

  • Henry Loeb Jacobs – came to RI to help the RI Commercial School in 1906 and bought it in 1907. In 1916 he bought Bryant and Stratton, a local business school, and after he did, he arranged for it to be a degree-granting institution.


  • Jon Land – writes the Caitlin Strong series about the Texas Rangers. Has also written a series with Ben
    Kamal and Danielle Barnea who are a Palestinian detective and chief inspector of the Israeli police.

  • Hester Kaplan – writes novels about ordinary people and their problems. She also teaches at Lesley College in Massachusetts.

  • Florence Markoff – wrote about the use of language in many books and had a radio program not only about language but also about famous Jews.

  • Barbara Orson – although she began her career in New York City, she was a famous actress and early producer and a cofounder at Trinity Repertory in Providence, and she also acted with the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA.

Healthcare and Medicine

  • Michael D Stein – A physician and author who works in the field of addiction. He has written many books about his experiences.

  • Stephen Salloway – A physician and researcher in the field of dementia, he is on the faculty of Brown University and the head of the Butler Hospital Memory and Aging Program. As a researcher, he co-authored a paper that amyloid build-up, a sign of Alzheimer’s, can be detected with a simple blood test up to 16 years before symptoms appear.

Public Affairs / Politics

  •  David Cicilline – Mayor of Providence, now in the US House of Representatives. He is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Chairman of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, and on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

  • Bruce Sundlun – second Jewish governor of RI (1991-1995; 2 terms). He was a decorated pilot in World War II. He then went on to become a lawyer (Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, D.C., and later Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General) and businessman.

  • Richard Israel – Attorney General of Rhode Island from 1971-1975.

  • Frank Licht – first Jewish governor of RI (1969-1973; 2 terms). Before that, he was an associate justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court from 1956 to 1968 and member of the Rhode Island Senate from 1949 to 1956.


  • Maurice “Young Montreal” Billingkoff boxed for two decades in the bantamweight class. His first fight was in 1916. He fought in over 200 contests and won three quarters of them.

  • Milton Ernstoff was a sailboat racer. He raced in the Newport to Bermuda races. He won the race in 1964 aboard his racer Burgoo.

  • Gordon Polofsky was a professional football player. From 1951to 1953 he played offensive guard for the Chicago Cardinals.


  • Rabbi William Braude – in charge of Temple Beth El in Providence. He was a great scholar and published many books, which are still used today.

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