Dear Congregants and Friends,
We write to inform you of what you may soon read about in the press. Shearith Israel has filed legal proceedings against Congregation Jeshuat Israel (CJI), its tenant at Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. You may read that Shearith Israel is moving to evict CJI from Touro. This is a distortion. In discharging our obligations to Touro Synagogue, we are seeking to change the Board overseeing day-to-day activities at Touro Synagogue. No congregants are being evicted. None will be, ever. Shearith Israel also hopes the current Rabbi of Touro will consider staying, as he is very welcome. Ritual services will remain the same. Congregation Shearith Israel is exercising the rights clearly granted it by the final court decision against CJI a few years ago.
The brief background is as follows. A few years ago, the courts confirmed that Shearith Israel owns Touro Synagogue and that CJI was a “holdover” lessee with no right to sell sacred rimonim that Shearith Israel loaned CJI over 100 years ago. Since that decision, the Shearith Israel Board has worked tirelessly to find common ground with the Board of CJI in terms of transparency and cooperation. Regrettably, the effort has not been successful. Our disagreement is solely with a few members of the CJI Board, and we wish to restructure the group overseeing day-to-day activities of Touro Synagogue to restore the Touro Board to a more even division between Shearith Israel and Rhode Island trustees and the trust and confidence that has historically existed, for close to 200 years, between Shearith Israel and Touro Synagogue.
The Shearith Israel Board of Trustees fully supports this effort to replace the Touro Board with a Board in whom we can place trust and confidence. The new Touro Board will be comprised of congregants worshiping at Touro Synagogue, trustees from Shearith Israel, and other individuals from around America with the interest and means of revitalizing and expanding the role of Touro Synagogue in the Jewish world. As we said, all congregants will be welcome to stay, as will the current Rabbi.
We will be sharing more information with you and ask that, if you receive any inquiries on the subject, please forward them to Barbara Reiss.