One of Warwick’s most vibrant and exciting houses of worship is Temple Am David, located at 40 Gardiner St. Under the spiritual leadership of Cantor Richard E. Perlman, the congregation is carrying out the spirit of Conservative Judaism and fulfilling a positive role in both the Jewish Community and all of Warwick.
The Jewish Congregation in Rhode Island can be traced to 1658, when several Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews came to Newport with the hope of worshipping God as they deemed right and to educate their children in their beliefs. By the time of the American Revolution, the number had grown to over 30 families, and in 1763 they were able to build the Touro Synagogue in Newport, the oldest extant synagogue in America. These men and women contributed greatly to the ideals of religious freedom and open commerce that helped make Rhode Island one of the leading colonies in America.
The settlers in Warwick during the pre-Revolutionary period conducted a brisk trade with Newport and were allied politically with the Samuel Ward faction in colonial politics, as were many of the Sephardic Jews. One of the leaders of the Jewish community was Aaron Lopez, who was denied citizenship in 1762. While the general belief is that he was denied because of his religious beliefs, many modern historians feel that the true reason may be that the rival Hopkins political faction denied him for his alliance with the Greene/Ward political group.
The Jews in Rhode Island were closely allied with the Patriots during the Revolution, and when Britain occupied Newport in December 1776 the impact on the Jewish community was devastating and many fled to Providence and other port cities. The numbers were small during the colonial and federal periods, but by 1854 Providence’s oldest Jewish congregation was organized as the Sons of Israel and in 1874 they merged with the Sons of David.
The tradition of religious freedom and community service that started in colonial Newport by the Sephardic Jews nearly 350 years ago is being carried out and enhanced by the synagogue in Warwick. Temple Am David traces its history to more than a hundred years ago to the Jewish experience in Providence. During the early 1880s many refugees came to Rhode Island as a result of the persecutions in Russia and Russian Poland and by 1891 were numerous enough to establish a synagogue in Providence. Soon, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform elements began to build temples of their own.
When there was a significant migration from Jewish communities from South Providence, Smith Hill and the North End to Warwick following World War II, the need for a synagogue in Warwick became apparent. Restrictions on travel during the Sabbath saw many Warwick residents looking for a place to worship that was closer than the temples in Providence or Cranston. At first a group of men met at private homes, and then on Oct. 25, 1954 they were able to use Hanger #1 at Theodore Francis Green Airport. Later they used one of the schools in the city for their meetings. In 1956 they organized the Warwick Jewish Community Association with Israel Moses as the first president. In 1957 the present Temple Am David was erected.
Temple Am David is a Conservative Synagogue that has merged with Temple Beth Am, which then became Temple Beth Am-David and then Temple Am David. In 2006 President Richard Levenson was able to write, “Temple Am David has never been stronger, the leadership never better and the congregation never more unified.” He credits much of this to Cantor Perlman. He feels that Cantor Rick “not only guides us with his compassion, strength and wisdom but inspires us and our children to be active members in the Jewish faith.” Herb Singer who was president of Temple Am David when Cantor Perlman became the congregation’s spiritual advisor, feels that the synagogue was very fortunate indeed to obtain his services and he and Cantor Perlman have become close friends as well as colleagues. Mr. Singer recalls that when he came to Warwick in 1965 there were relatively few people of his faith in the city. Now, the community has grown and he has seen the temple expand in membership to over 200 family units.
The stories of Warwick’s houses of worship will be continued.