Hawai’i Jewish Community

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A Guide to Research

Today (August 21, 2017) marks the anniversary of Hawai’i as the 50th state. We thought it would be a good opportunity to share some resources for researching the history of the Jewish community in Hawai’i.  

Chaplain conducts High Holy Day services in Hawaii, 1953. National Jewish Welfare Board, Records. Call # I-337.B14.F007.0332, American Jewish Historical Society

According to Jewish Virtual
, the first mention of Jews in Hawai’i was in August 1789 when
Ebenezer Townsend wrote in the whaling ship Neptune’s log that the king came
aboard the ship and brought “a Jew cook with him.”

In the 1880s, Hawaiian King David
Kalakaua received a Torah scroll and yad from Elias Rosenberg, a San Francisco
native. According to Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu, Hawai’i, which now possesses the scroll:

When Rosenberg journeyed to San
Francisco in 1887, he left the Torah and Yad with Kalakaua for safekeeping. The
pointer and scroll, along with other artifacts of King Kalakaua through his
widow, Queen Kapiolani, eventually came into the possession of the Kawananakoa
family (descendants of Kaumualii, king of Kauai). From the early 1900’s into
the 1930’s–the times are uncertain – the family graciously lent the scroll
from time to time to the Jewish community for High Holy Day services. Passing
from her grandmother, Princess Abigail Campbell Kawananakoa (1882-1945), the
pointer came into the possession of Princess Abigail Kekuaulike Kawananakoa.

1960, an emissary of Princess Abigail delivered the Yad into the possession of
Rabbi Roy Rosenberg of Temple Emanu-El. At the Temple Emanu-El 
dedication, on May 29, 1960, Rabbi Rosenberg dedicated the pointer to the
Temple. Subsequently, in 1972, the Kalakaua Torah was donated to Temple
Emanu-El through the Flora Allen Kaai Hayes family of ali’i descendants.

King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad (from Wikimedia commons)

In 1923, the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) created the Aloha Center for Jewish military personnel. (The American Jewish Historical Society @ the Center has JWB’s collections! See below).

The Honolulu Jewish community was
established in 1938; Temple Emanu-El opened in Honolulu in 1951. Since the
statehood of Hawai’i in 1959, Jewish population of Hawai’i has doubled.[2]

Currently, the Jewish population makes up about 0.5% of the population of Hawai’i at 7,280 residents. (For a breakdown of Jewish population by state, you can go to http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-population-in-the-united-states-by-state)

To learn more about Jews in Hawai’i, turn to the collections of the Center’s partners. You can check out: 

Hawaii Jewish News, Jewish Federation of Hawaii; Hawaii Jewish Welfare Fund. Published in Honolulu, Hawaii. Call # DS101.H3, American Jewish Historical Society.

A day in the life of the Jewish community of Hawaii, by Young Judea Hawaii [Honolulu: s.n., 1986]. Call # DU620.J5 Y5, American Jewish Historical Society.

The Handbook of Jewish Resources in Hawaii by Susan Kairys [Honolulu, 1975]. Call # DU 624.7 .K3, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

Nuremberg and Beyond: The Memoirs of Siegfriend Ramler: from 20th century Europe to Hawai’i by Sigfried Ramler [Kailua, Hawai’i: Ahuna Press, 2008]. Call # LBIOR110862, Leo Baeck Institute.

National Jewish Welfare Board, Army-Navy Division records I-180 from the American Jewish Historical Society. See the finding aid here (tip: search “Hawaii” using command+F on Macs or ctrl+F on PCs): http://digifindingaids.cjh.org/?pID=365508

[1] http://shaloha.com/a-history-of-jews-in-hawaii.html

[2] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/hawaii-jewish-history

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