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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Hawaii

Sailor legend - a Torah scroll - Jewish traders - Jewish institutions

from: Hawaii; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 7

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)



<HAWAII, the 50th state of the United States; admitted in August 1959.

[The sailor legend of 1798 with a Jewish cook - a Torah scroll]

Jewish beginnings in Hawaii are shrouded in myth. Ebenezer Townsend, Jr., a sailor on the whaling ship Neptune, wrote in the ship's log on Aug. 19, 1798, that the king came aboard ship and brought "a Jew cook with him". This may or may not be true, but it is the first mention of Jews in connection with Hawaii.

A Torah scroll and yad ("pointer") owned by the royal family of Hawaii show a connection between it and the early Jewish community. How the scroll and yad came into the possession of Kind David Kalakaua is not clear.

The Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser of Dec. 24, 1888, states that Queen Lilioukalani, Kalakaua's successor, had the scroll draped around the inside of the tent at Her Majesty's bazaar. The scroll, which has disappeared, was borrowed from the descendants of the royal family for use by the Jewish community on holidays as late as 1930. The yad is now in the possession of the only synagogue in the state, Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation.

[Jewish traders from England, Germany, and "USA" - Jewish institutions - immigration since 1945]

It is believed that Jewish traders from England and Germany first went to Hawaii in the 1840s. A few American Jews went from California at the end of the 19th century, but there was no organized Jewish community until the founding of the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1901. The same year marked the consecration of a Jewish cemetery at Pearl City Junction.

In 1922 the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) established the Aloha Center for Jewish military personnel. In 1938 the Honolulu Jewish community was established.

[[Jewish immigration in the 1930s is probable but not mentioned]].

Temple Emanuel was organized in 1951. The temple has a membership of 175 families. (col. 1495)

The total Jewish population is given as 1,000, but an article in the Honolulu Star Bulletin of Jan. 25, 1967, estimates that the state may have as many as 4,000 Jews on both Oahu and the other islands, and that most of these Jews are unaffiliated with any aspect of Jewish life. The population is both youthful and largely transient.

Most of the Jews have arrived since World War II; some were stationed there during the war, and after the war returned with their families. A few have been there for 40 years or more. Very few Jews are in business; the majority are in the professions - medicine, law, university teaching, government services, both federal and state, etc.

A men's club and sisterhood are affiliated with the temple. A B'nai B'rith Lodge and a Hadassah Chapter have been organized. Temple services are held regularly. There is no real feeling of community as it is known in cities on the mainland of the United States; Jews live everywhere, are active in all aspects of Hawaiian life, and feel very much at ease in Hawaii's multiracial society.

[G.C.S.]> (col. 1496

[[Bibliography is missing in the Encyclopaedia Judaica]].

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Hawaii, vol. 7,
                        col. 1495-1496
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Hawaii, vol. 7, col. 1495-1496