NPOTA: Touro Synagogue, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

During the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 9000 activations from 444 different different units of the NPS (with only 44 not yet activated), with over a half million individual contacts.

One interesting aspect of this event is learning about the different parks, some of which I did not even know existed.   For example, in an earlier post, I wrote about the fascinating history of Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii, a remote settlement originally set aside for persons suffering from leprosy.

Synagogue interior. Wikipedia photo.

This week, I learned, by talking to someone there, of another important site in American history, Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport, Rhode Island.  In addition to being the oldest synagogue in the United States, the site is important as a symbol of religious liberty for all Americans.  The synagogue still houses an active congregation, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, as it has since 1763.  It was designated a National Historic Site in 1946, and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service.

The congregation itself was founded in 1658.  The ancestors of the founders had fled Europe for the Caribbean in search of religious freedom, and the founders of the synagogue ultimately fled to Rhode Island for even greater liberty.  It was well established by 1790, when President George Washington wrote his letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” in which he vowed that the new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

The congregation does an annual reading of President Washington’s letter, the next scheduled for August 21, 2016.

This week, the park was put on the air by students from Rogers High School Ham Radio Club, W1VRC.  Most national parks can be easily “activated” by individual hams simply pulling in and operating from a parking lot or picnic table.  But many culturally sensitive sites, such as this synagogue, require more advance planning, and W1VRC worked with the site to do an activation that was both sensitive to the site, and also well planned from a radio point of view.  With their advance planning, they were able to put up a 132 foot long Windom antenna, that put out an effective signal but was unobtrusive.

In sanctioning the activation, the Synagogue found especially compelling the youth involvement as the students made contacts.  The young operators all did an excellent job, and there were many compliments as to their professionalism as they  made 185 contacts, including one with me.  This operation was actually a trial run for a larger activation, which will take place on August 7, 2016.  If you’re a ham, I encourage you to try to work them.  The best place for up-to-date information on frequencies is the NPOTA Facebook group. More information about W1VRC’s activation is also available at the school’s website.

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