1828: The seeds of Touro Synagogue are planted
In 1828, Jacob Solis, a visitor to New Orleans, founded Congregation Gates of Mercy, an Orthodox Jewish congregation, on North Rampart Street between St. Louis and Conti streets. It was not only the first Jewish temple outside the 13 original American colonies but also the sixth-oldest synagogue in the young country. It merged with another Orthodox congregation, Congregation Dispersed of Judah, in 1881 to form what is now known as Touro Synagogue, which joined the Reform movement in 1891.
Touro Synagogue, which has been at 4238 St. Charles Ave. since 1909, has a membership of slightly more than 500 families. In addition to traditional education programs, the temple is heavily involved in community activities.
- The temple is named for Judah Touro, a merchant and philanthropist from Newport, R.I., where his father, Isaac Touro, was a leader of a congregation that is regarded as the country’s oldest synagogue. It, too, is named Touro Synagogue.
- Although the synagogue has operated at St. Charles Avenue and Gen. Pershing Street since 1909, it didn’t acquire its current name until 1937, when it replaced the name Congregation Gates of Mercy of the Dispersed of Judah.
- Judah Touro lived in New Orleans from 1801 until his death in 1854. In addition to being the benefactor of many charities, he fought in the War of 1812 and founded Touro Infirmary.
- Judah Touro also underwrote the construction of a synagogue at Canal and Bourbon streets.
- Among its many other outreach program, Touro taps into local music culture with its annual Jazz Fest Shabbat, where local musicians join in the Friday night service during the annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Performers have included Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen.
As Touro Synagogue has evolved in the 189 years since Jacob Solis first planted the seeds of the congregation, one thing that has remained constant is its dedication to serving its congregation — and reaching beyond it. Among other projects, it supports Eden House, a home for women who were victims of prostitution and sex trafficking; it offers aid to refugees who need help resettling, finding homes and learning English; and it maintains its uniquely New Orleans Jazz Fest Shabbat. As such, Touro Synagogue has long been a cornerstone of the local Jewish community, and of the larger New Orleans community.