Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

No Man Is an Island

Ari Z. Zivotofsky

Beyond Hawaii’s sunny beaches and tropical breezes, we examined the halachah of Hawaiian pineapple roots — but what about Jewish roots in this Pacific paradise?

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

 Mishpacha image

Most of Hawaii’s Jews are in the Honolulu area on the island of Oahu, and on the island of Maui — so that’s where we set off to, making sure to get some sun and waves in as well (Photos by Ari Z. Zivotofsky)

Y ou can find Jews in just about every place in the United States, but you might not think that Hawaii — a series of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean over 2,200 miles southwest of the US mainland — is among them. Yet even in that remote location, Jewish footprints abound. In fact, there are an estimated 8,000 Jews living in Hawaii — the last state to join the US (in 1959), although fewer than 1,000 are affiliated with any Jewish organization. Most of Hawaii’s Jews are in the Honolulu area on the island of Oahu, and on the island of Maui — so that’s where we set off to, making sure to get some sun and waves in as well.

The most obvious way to trace Jewish origins anywhere is through local artifacts, but an old sefer Torah was one of the last things we expected to find. While we wouldn’t think of Jewish historical remnants in Hawaii, there is actually a unique item, a “royal Sefer Torah” known as the King Kalakaua Torah scroll, which sheds some light on a Jewish community whose story began in the mid-19th century, as Jewish traders made their way to Hawaii.

The first Jewish business was opened by A.S. Grinbaum in 1856, and his company eventually became one of the most successful trading firms on the islands. He also owned sugar plantations and mills. Grinbaum’s nephew, Polish-born Morris Louisson, together with his wife and two kids, joined him in 1866. And although Grinbaum himself returned to the US, Louisson became part of the Hawaiian elite and was close to King Kalakaua.

Another high-profile character, the eccentric Russian-born Elias Rosenberg, had been all over the world before traveling from San Francisco to Hawaii in 1887, sporting a long white beard. He taught Bible and Hebrew to King David Kalakaua and became the official royal astrologer. 

The daily Shacharis minyan at Honolulu’s Chabad House, where we met Massachusetts expat Ira Pollak, who took us to his home in a rain forest — a two-hour walk from shul, which is just fine for this avid hiker

He was actually on target in that respect, having predicted trouble for the king — indeed, a few months after his arrival, the king was forced to sign into law a new constitution that essentially relegated him to little more than a figurehead position. Sensing the impending turmoil, Rosenberg was on a boat back to San Francisco, but not before leaving the king with a sefer Torah and a yad. According to legend, the king’s widow had the Torah draped around the inside of her tent. After her passing, the scroll was passed to her nephew, who would regularly lend it to the local Jews to use. That means, of course, that there were local Jews interested in a Torah. But the scroll, which we saw on display, was recently inspected by a sofer, who discovered that it had never even been completed! 


Aloha, Brothers

While the Hawaiian adventures of modern-era businessmen are well-documented, some researchers suggest that Jews actually came to the archipelago many centuries earlier. A 19th-century native Hawaiian historian named David Malo, who was also a Christian minister, postulated that the many similarities between Hawaiian culture and Jewish tradition might be an indication that the first wave of Hawaiian settlers were in fact descended from the Ten Lost Tribes. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 716)

Related Stories

Over the Green Line

Shlomi Gil

A spate of arrests have involved young people from chareidi families being used by sophisticated han...

Born by Fire

Gershon Burstyn

Losing decades’ worth of work in a devastating inferno could have been the ultimate tragedy. But for...

Damage Control

Ariella Schiller

The pros all say: Get in front of the crisis, grab the narrative, and be honest. A behind-the-scenes...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"