President George Washington was hardly a regular synagogue attendee, but he did visit the Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI–the oldest synagogue in America–and he liked what he saw. In a 1790 letter to the synagogue, he thanks the congregation for the “cordial welcome I experienced in my visit.” Washington extends a promise of continued liberty and religious freedom to all religions, and offers a bit of his signature humor as well: “It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration,” he writes, and you can almost hear a wink at the readers.
You can read more about Washington’s visit to the Jewish community of Newport here and Washington’s entire letter is reprinted on MyJewishLearning.com. The conclusion is peppered with biblical metaphors, as well as genuine happiness to have the Newport community as a part of his nascent nation:
“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”