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Behind the Headlines the Jews of Hawail

The growth potential and growing pains of Sun Belt Jewish communities in Florida, the Southwest, and California are now familiar stories. But an American Jewish community with a South Seas motif — that’s a lesser known phenomenon.

Here, in this vacation mecca 2,400 miles from the West Coast, a growing community of 5,000 Jewish men, women and children is struggling to find its goals and direction. Like most of the “haoles,” or Caucasians, the majority of Hawaiian Jews flocked to these sun-drenched islands in the last 10 to 15 years — following Hawaii’s admission as the 50th state in 1959.

Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation, boasts about 350 members and is the only congregation able to maintain a full-time rabbi on the islands, Rabbi Arnold Magid. A Conservative congregation, Sof Ma ‘arav, which includes about 50 families, is self-directed except for the High Holidays, when Rabbi Melvin Libman of the National United Jewish Appeal comes to lead the services. Paradoxically, a small traditionally-oriented group uses the facilities made available to them by Temple Emanuel.

The community has organized the Hawaii Jewish Welfare Fund, whose primary aim is to aid Israel by allocating most of its funds to the United Jewish Appeal. The identification with Israel is also carried out by a subsidy for a shaliach sent by the Jewish Agency’s American Zionist Youth Foundation, to work with Hawaiian Jewish youth. The need for developing more local services is being studied by a part-time, American-trained social worker.

EMULATING THE NON-JEWISH POPULATION

As is so often true, the Jewish community emulates the non-Jewish population in many respects. In this relatively open society, with its minority of Caucasians, there are many inter-racial marriages in which the non-Jewish partner may or may not convert. Members of the community earn their living in business, the media, the professions and academe.

The acting president is Dr. Jerrold Michael, Dean of the School of Public Health of the University of Hawaii. He reported to a community meeting on his recent attendance in Israel as official U.S. representative at an international conference on public health. He was immensely impressed by Israel’s health achievements, which he learned about in meetings with Israeli colleagues, including those at Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital.

Dr. Robert Littman is professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Hawaii, educated in the U.S., Great Britain, and Greece. His wife is a practicing attorney of British-Jewish origin. Deeply committed to Israel, Littman is the community’s most effective fundraiser, and is an active representative of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Trudy Wong, treasurer of the Welfare Fund, was recently selected as a member of the UJA National Women’s Division Board. She is married to a Chinese-American businessman, who converted to Judaism and whose family has long been established in Honolulu. The Wongs are the parents of a 14-month-old son. Mrs. Wong, a dynamic young matron, is a stewardess on United Airlines, so that her regular trips to the mainland facilitate her attendance at UJA meetings. She maintains a kosher home and, in fact, has perfected a kosher Chinese cuisine.

A SHARE OF PROBLEMS

Like other “island paradises” in this unstable world, the Hawaiian Jewish community has its share of problems. There is an unresolved issue concerning WelfareFund subsidies and supervision for Jewish education. Fundraising has met with recent setbacks, partly because of economic problems, especially in Hawaii’s tourist industry, and also because some major givers in Hawaii frequently shift their gifts to their hometowns on the mainland.

There is only a tenuous relationship with Jewish service men and women stationed in the Pearl Harbor area and other military bases in Hawaii, through the JWB assigned Chaplain Fred Natkin, but it has not been possible as yet to develop close ties with the members of the local community.

The executive director of the Welfare Fund for the past four years is Meyer Washofsky, a former U.S. military pilot during the Vietnam War. He is also associated with the University of Hawaii School of Business Administration, and has used his administrative skills to develop sophisticated computerization of the fundraising program.

To this observer, it seems clear that the geographic isolation from the mainland and from the mainstream of the American Jewish community — even during the jet age — is a major factor hampering the community’s efforts to develop.

IMPRESSIVE VARIETY OF ACTIVITIES

Despite these handicaps, the community supports an impressive variety of activities, including an Hadassah chapter, B’nai B’rith lodge, “40-Plus Singles,” Jewish Welfare Board, Jewish Seniors Council, a kosher co-op, a group for Soviet Jews, student chavurah, and Young Judea. The monthly “Hawaiian Jewish News,” is a lively publication, crammed with local, national, and overseas news, and fascinating Hawaiian Jewish historical information.

What of the future? It is impossible to predict, but it is not unreasonable to anticipate that the many dedicated Jewish men and women of these seductively lovely semi-tropical islands will find a way to fulfill their ambitions, and make their rightful place among other American Jewish communities.

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