The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America applauded a decision announced last week by the U.S. Department of the Interior to award a $375,000 federal grant under the Save America’s Historic Treasures program to the Touro Synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, the nation’s oldest synagogue and a member of the U.O.J.C.A. (The funds will be used to preserve the synagogue’s exterior architecture and reinforce overloaded roof trusses.) (Grants were also awarded to New York’s Eldridge Street Project and Texas’ Mission Concepcion.)
The grant announced at the Touro by Interior Secretary Gale Norton is the latest implementation of a policy announced by the Department last May opening up the Save America’s Treasures program to historic religious structures – a policy step in keeping with President Bush’s stated goal of making all federal programs treat religious institutions fairly and equally to the secular. Previous to yesterday’s announcement, historic churches, synagogues or other houses of worship were inappropriately excluded from receiving preservation grants – even for religiously neutral purposes – simply because they were religious institutions. Save America’s Treasures was established in 1998 as a public-private partnership between the Interior Department’s National Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The competitive, religion-neutral, grants process is designed to ensure America’s important architectural treasures are preserved for generations to come. A recent study by the National Trust found that the average historic congregation faces up to $2 million of repair costs.
Nathan J. Diament, the Union’s director of public policy, issued the following statement in connection with the policy announcement:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations is very grateful for the decision by the Bush Administration, announced by Secretary Norton, to continue its policy of treating religious institutions fairly. Historically landmarked housed of worship are a treasure for all Americans, but for too long the small communities associated with some of these treasures have had to bear the cost of preserving them alone, with no assistance from the government – simply because of their religious character. This policy is the right one as it recognizes that historic preservation serves all Americans of all faiths and that faith institutions must be treated fairly and equally.