In a recent story for the Canadian Jewish News, “Small Jewish community thrives on Big Island, Hawaii,” writer Andrew Muchin profiled the Northern Hawai‘i Chavurah, a small Jewish fellowship on the Big Island.
The approximately 200 members of the Northern Hawai‘i Chavurah and Kona Beth Shalom are spread over 100-plus square miles and constitute what may be America’s geographically “largest small” Jewish community.
Big Island Judaism is not your father’s Judaism, unless dad migrated to the land of loud shirts for slightly, oh, intuitive reasons, and likes to combine Hebrew and traditional Hawaiian phrases. Thus, “shalom” and “aloha” become shaloha, the greeting a visiting Jew is likely to hear from Big Island landsmen. …
Big Island Jewish religious life is unique … in that most minyans require somebody to drive an hour or so at night on poorly lit two-lane highways. For 11-year-old Becca Barrett of Waimea, the hour drive to the Outrigger resort for services “feels like a bazillion hours.” Paul Janes of Laup-ahoehoe, on the island’s northeast coast, recently sought to resign from the KBS board of directors because of the 200-mile round-trip drive to meetings. The board refused, and he still attends meetings, but “seldom can my wife and I go” to simchahs, he notes sadly. …
[T]he success of organized Jewish life on the island may depend more on improving outreach to the island’s estimated 600 unaffiliated Jews. “There is a hidden Jewish community on the island,” says Judy Steinman of Laupohoehoe. “It takes a Chanukah party to get them out.”