LIHUE — Up until January 2013, Kauai never really had a designated place to bury its Jewish community.
Until Rabbi Michoel Goldman, of Chabad — a worldwide network of Jewish educational, social and cultural centers — had to fly in from New York to bury his good friend Dr. Francine Snyder.
Snyder had been suddenly diagnosed with cancer and died within a week of hearing her diagnosis.
Because of halacha — a collective body of Jewish tradition and laws — Snyder’s body had to be buried, not cremated, within 72 hours of her passing.
“We were working around the clock to find a solution,” Goldman said. “We couldn’t wait much longer.”
Taking the tragedy and turning it to something triumphant, Goldman used Snyder’s death as a chance to do something for Kauai’s Jewish community.
He established Kauai’s first Jewish cemetery.
“The idea was there, we were just thinking about it,” he said. “I saw the opportunity to do something unique for her. She had made many strides in her faith.”
Snyder, a Kauai resident for several decades, was the first person to be buried in the Ali’i section of the Kalapaki Bay Memorial Park, now known as the only Jewish cemetery on the island.
The new cemetery, which is called Kauai Jewish Memorial Garden, recently received a large gift from a donor and became tax-exempt with the IRS. But it still requires additional funding to purchase more plots.
Two other people have been buried in the nearly one-acre section of the cemetery since 2013: Kauai musician Danny Leibovitz and Bennet Seigel, KJMG Board Member Richard Seigel’s father.
Previously, a number of Jewish people on the island had died and had been buried in other cemeteries on Kauai, such as the Lihue Public Cemetery, but Goldman said those places “were running out of space,” because Jewish tradition prevents cremation.
“It’s always been a custom to bury Jewish people with their own,” Goldman said. “There was never a Jewish cemetery that’s been unique to Kauai.”
Goldman estimates about 1,000 Jewish people live on Kauai. All of the major islands in Hawaii have Jewish cemeteries, which are typically within larger cemeteries, so Kauai was the last island to establish one, he said.
“So a very important part of any Jewish community is having our own burial place,” Seigel said. “It’s very important to bury people in accordance with tradition.”
The new cemetery is a collaboration between organizations, which includes the Jewish Community of Kauai. One of the board members, KJMG treasurer Dale Rosenfield, belongs to that organization, Goldman said.
“We included her on the board precisely to show that we are being inclusive and broad, not for one particular group over another but for all Kauai Jewry!” he said in an email. “This is critical.”
Even though the cemetery is collaborative, “Kauai Jewish Memorial Garden is independent of either of these two organizations and geared for all,” Goldman said.
“I’m here for all of Kauai, not anyone in particular,” Goldman said. “Which is why we’re doing this as inclusively as possible.”
To answer any questions the community may have on the project, the board will host an informational meeting today at the Courtyard Marriott in Kapaa at 4 p.m. in the Makai conference room.