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The Jews of Hawaii

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JewishTreats.org

According to The American Jewish Year Book (2012), there are approximately 7,000 Jews residing in the state of Hawaii. While there was no established community until the 20th century, according to the log of The Neptune, a whaling ship that visited Hawaii in August 1798, the Hawaiian King Kamehameha I was accompanied aboard by a “Jew cook.” No further information is recorded.

Less mysterious is the story of Elias Rosenberg, who came to Honolulu from San Francisco. Rosenberg traveled with a Torah scroll and a silver yad (pointer). Having bequeathed himself the title of rabbi, he became fast friends with the Hawaiian King David Kalakaua. Rosenberg purportedly taught the king Hebrew and acted as some sort of sooth sayer – offering favorable “horoscopes” to the king and other influential people. Apparently, Rosenberg did have some level of foresight, as he hastily returned to San Francisco in 1887, just before King Kalakaua was forced to become a figurehead rather than a true monarch. 

“King Kalakaua’s Torah and yad”
by Wmpear via Wikipedia 


Rosenberg passed away a month after returning to California. The Torah scroll remained in the keeping of the king. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is that even into the 1940s, the fledgeling Jewish community borrowed the “Kalakaua Torah scroll” for High Holiday services. Today, it is in the possession of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu. 

Although Hawaii did not became a state until August 21, 1959, a United States military presence has been at Pearl Harbor since around 1876. To care for Jews in the military stationed there, the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) established the Aloha Center in 1923. The community began to flourish and the Honolulu Jewish Community was established in 1938. Today, there are at least 9 congregations serving the Jews of the Hawaiian islands. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

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