Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States and was admitted in August 1959. Jewish beginnings in Hawaii are shrouded in myth. Ebenezer Townsend, Jr., a sailor on the whaling ship Neptune, wrote in the ship's log on Aug. 19, 1798, that the king came aboard ship and brought "a Jew cook with him." This may or may not be true, but it is the first mention of Jews in connection with Hawaii.
A Torah scroll and yad ("pointer") owned by the royal family of Hawaii show a connection between it and the early Jewish community. How the scroll and yad came into the possession of King David Kalakaua is not clear. The Daily Pacific Commercial Advertiser of Dec. 24, 1888, states that Queen Liliuokalani, Kalakaua's successor, had the scroll draped around the inside of the tent at Her Majesty's bazaar. As late as 1930, the Jewish community borrowed the scroll from the descendants of the royal family for use on holidays. The yad and the scroll have recently been donated to Temple Emanuel, a Reform congregation. Because of its condition, it is no longer used for ritual purposes, but can be seen on display.
It is believed that Jewish traders from England and Germany first came to Hawaii in the 1840s. A few American Jews came from California at the end of the 19th century, but there was no organized Jewish community until the founding of the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1901. The same year marked the consecration of a Jewish cemetery at Pearl City Junction. In 1923 the National Jewish Welfare Board (JWB) established the Aloha Center for Jewish military personnel. In 1938 the Honolulu Jewish community was established. Temple Emanuel was organized in 1951. The temple had a membership of 300 families in the early 21st century. In 1971 Congregation Sof Ma'arav, a Conservative synagogue, was founded. In 1975 the Aloha Jewish Chapel, a synagogue for military and ex-military, was built at Pearl Harbor. Chabad of Hawaii was established in 1990 and maintained regular services and a small presence. During the 1990s Jewish synagogues were established on Maui, the island of Hawaii, and Kauai.
The total Jewish population probably numbered about 10,000 in 2005, with the majority in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. This is out of a state population of 1,236,100. Because of the large number of unaffiliated Jews, this number is only an approximation. The population is both youthful and largely transient. Most of the Jews arrived since World War II; some were stationed there during the war and after the war returned with their families. A few have been there for 40 years or more. Since statehood in 1959 the population of the state has almost doubled. The influx of new people included many Jews and many in the professions, such as medicine, law, university teaching, government services, both federal and state. A number went into real estate and other businesses. As of 2005, three of the last four attorneys-general of the state were Jewish. The governor, Linda *Lingle , was also Jewish. She was a member of all three congregations. A men's club and sisterhood were affiliated with Temple Emanuel. A B'nai B'rith Lodge and a Hadassah Chapter were organized. In 2004 a Hillel chapter was established at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu. Religious services were held regularly by all three congregations. There were no specific Jewish neighborhoods; Jews lived everywhere and were active in all aspects of Hawaiian life, feeling very much at ease in Hawaii's multiracial society.
As of 2017, Hawaii's Jewish population was approximately 7,100 people.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved. Serata, Gertrude C., and Robert Littman. "Hawaii." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 472-473.