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A History of Jews in Hawaii

The first mention of Jews in connection with Hawaii was in 1798, when a sailor on the whaling ship Neptune recorded in the ships log that the Hawaiian king had come aboard and brought a "Jew cook" with him! Jewish merchants began arriving in Hawaii between 1850-1900 and established themselves as suppliers to the sugar plantations, as well as owners of coffee plantations. A Torah which had been given to King Kalakaua in the 1880s was frequently borrowed from the Kawananakoa family for use in services into the 1930s.

In 1901, 40 residents formed the first congregation, the Hebrew Congregation of Hawaii, which lasted about six years. After World War I the Jewish Welfare Board sent Alexander and Jennie Linczer to establish a JWB Center in their home. They were later joined by Max Goldman and the Usheroff family as leaders of the Jewish community. The origins of an organized Temple Emanu-El date back to 1938 when 35 Jewish families on Oahu formed the Honolulu Jewish Community.

In 1939, in cooperation with the Jewish Welfare Board, a small chapel on Young Street was leased and converted into a Jewish Community Center (JCC), which also served as Honolulu's first synagogue building. During World War II, the JCC continued as the focal point of the Jewish community with religious services conducted by military chaplains stationed in Hawaii. In 1942 the Honolulu Jewish Community established a Hebrew Burial Society consecrating a section of the Oahu Cemetery in Nuuanu for use as a Jewish cemetery.

In 1947, the Jewish Welfare Board sent Rabbi Emanuel Kumin to Hawaii to serve as its director. The Honolulu Jewish Community also hired him to serve the congregation on a part-time basis. A temple Sisterhood was organized, and a religious school was begun.The 1950-51 Board adopted the Temple Emanu-El name and purchased a large residence on Oahu Ave, near the University of Hawaii, and consecrated it as the Temple's first home. Rabbi Francis Hevesi, former Chief Rabbi of Budapest, Hungary became the Temple's first full rabbi and on February 11th, 1953, they affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism). By the late 1950s, the Temple had outgrown its facilities. It purchased the Castle House property on Nu'uanu Ave (the Pali Highway) and, in 1960, built the present Sanctuary structure (the first original synagogue ever built in Hawaii).

The Kalakaua Torah Scroll

This Sefer Torah (Pentateuch) and Yad (pointer) were brought to Hawaii in 1886 by Elias Abraham Rosenberg who came here from San Francisco.His tombstone in Colma, California prefixes his name with a Hebrew "resh", indicating he was either an ordained rabbi or scholar. He appears to have intrigued King David Kalakaua and became a royal soothsayer and confidant, preparing horoscopes and teaching Hebrew chanting to the king.

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.

In 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.

When temple Rabbi Julius Nodel and Professor Jacob O. Adler received the Scroll, they researched and confirmed that it was, indeed, the long sought Kalakaua Torah. The parchment manuscript was then mounted to a set of Eitz Hayim (rollers) and placed with its original Yad in an especially crafted koa display cabinet in the Sanctuary, where it is now exhibited.

Sat, April 4 2020 10 Nisan 5780