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Postal Service Reverses Stand Issuing Touro Synagogue Stamp

December 10, 1980
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A 17-year deadlock has been ended by agreement by the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp to commemorate Touro Synagogue of Newport, R.I., the oldest existing synagogue in America, according to the Society of Friends of Touro Synagogue. The synagogue was dedicated in 1763.

A rending of the Touro Synagogue stamp design will be unveiled tomorrow night to the museum of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington. The unveiling ceremony will be attended by Postmaster General William Bolger and Dr. Martin Greenfield of Great Neck, N.Y. a marketing expert who has had a key role in the effort to obtain Postal Service approval for the stamp.

The stomp rendering has been made port of on exhibit on the history of the Jewish community in early America, 1654-1830, which will be opened the same evening of the museum by former President Ford. A museum spokesman said the museum exhibit will be opened to the public Dec. 11 and will continue until March 15. He said he did not know how long the Touro stamp endearing would remain in the museum.

The idea for such a stamp was initially proposed in 1963 by Sen. Claiborne Pell (D. R.I.). The proposal was subsequently supported by the Society of Friends, a non-sectarian group formed to promote the historic significance of the Touro Synagogue.

OVERCOMING A MAJOR HURDLE

A major hurdle to the idea of such a stamp reportedly was the fear of postal authorities that issuing such a stamp might be construed as a violation of the Constitutional doctrine of church state separation.

Greenfield, who is a member of the board and of the executive committee of the Society of Friends, then suggested that not one, but four stamps be issued honoring religious buildings of differing denominations.

He suggested the four houses of warship first designated National Historic Sites under the Historic Sites Act of 1935 — the San Jose Mission near San Antonio, Texas; Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’ Church) in Philadelphia St. Paul’s Church in Rochester, N.Y.; and the Touro Synagogue.

The Postal Service, meanwhile, mode, a decision which ultimately helped the Touro stamp proposal, Greenfield said. It decided to issue a Yule stamp for 1978 featuring della Robbio’s sculpture, “Madonna and Child with Cherubim.”

Greenfield immediately wrote to Bolger to remind him of the church-state separation clause, adding that the sculpture was neither a U.S. historical site nor under the federal Park Commission. He added that the Touro Synagogue was such a site and bears the insignia of the National Park Service.

He said Bolger replied that the chief objection of the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee–which must pass on all stamp proposals — was not based on the church-state clause but rather on the committee’s opinion that the Touro Synagogue is not an architecturally significant building.

Greenfield said he promptly submitted contrary opinions, one being that the Touro Synagogue architect Peter Harrison, was considered the dean of colonial architects by his peers who, Greenfield said, had been unanimous in declaring the Touro Synagogue an architectural gem.

DATE SET FOR ISSUING THE STAMP

Greenfield, reporting that the decision to issue the stamp was made in October, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, in a telephone interview from his Great Neck office, that the Postal Service plan to issue the Touro stamp first, with the date of issuance to be Feb. 22, 1982, the 250th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

Greenfield said he had suggested that date in recognition of the famous letter written by Presidents Washington, on Aug. 21, 1790, to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, declaring that the United States government “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

The Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee early in November notified the Society of Friends it had approved a design for the Touro stamp, incorporating several ideas proposed by Greenfield. In its final form, it is expected the stamp will have a likeness of the Touro Synagogue with its dedication year, 1763, be neath it, plus the phrase concerning bigotry and persecution in Washington’s letter.

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