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January 17: Jews in Hawaii

Lawrence Bush
January 17, 2017
Queen Liliʻuokalani and her government in Hawaii were overthrown on this date in 1893. A Torah scroll and pointer (yad) possessed by the Queen’s father were left in his safekeeping in 1886 by Elias Abraham Rosenberg, a visitor from San Francisco who “intrigued King David Kalakaua and became a royal soothsayer and confidant, preparing horoscopes and teaching Hebrew chanting to the king,” according to the website of Temple Emanu El in Honolulu. “. . . 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.” Soothsaying notwithstanding, Queen Lili’uokalani would be deposed by pro-American elements in Hawaii, backed by U.S. Marines, after she attempted to establish a new constitution that would have strengthened her power as queen and abrogated the special economic privileges of the country’s elite. “As head of the Oni pa’a (“Stand Firm”) movement,” writes the Encyclopedia Britannica, “whose motto was ‘Hawaii for the Hawaiians,’ Lili’uokalani fought bitterly against annexation of the islands by the United States. Annexation nonetheless occurred in July 1898. In that year she published Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen and composed ‘Aloha Oe,’ a song afterward beloved in the islands.” Today, only some 7,000 Jews live in Hawaii, out of a state population of about 1.4 million, of whom less than 10 percent are full native Hawaiian and nearly a quarter are mixed-race. To watch a video about this history, look below. “...He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes. It is for them that I would give the last drop of my blood; it is for them that I would spend, nay, am spending, everything belonging to me.”--Queen Lili’uokalani

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.