A brief, early history of Jews in Hawai‘i

Looking back in history, we see that the first mention of Jews in connection with Hawai‘i appeared in the ship’s log of the whaler Neptune, dated Aug. 19, 1798.

On that date, a sailor aboard the Neptune named Ebenezer Townsend Jr. wrote that the king (Kamehameha I) brought “a Jew cook with him” when the Neptune anchored in Hawai‘i.

During the 1840s, Jewish traders from England and Germany first came to Hawai‘i, and between 1850 and 1900, Jewish merchants from the United States first arrived in Hawai‘i to establish themselves as provisioners of sugar plantations.

Among them were A. S. Grinbaum, who settled in Honolulu in 1856 and founded M. S. Grinbaum and Company together with his nephew Morris S.Grinbaum.

Likewise, a newspaper advertisement of the time read: “Hyman Bros., Importers of General Merchandise and Commission Merchants, No. 58 Queen Street, Honolulu.”

In 1865, the first report by a Jew about Hawai‘i was written by an officer of the British ship Marmion and was published in Germany.

When the Marmion, on route to Hong Kong, made port in Honolulu in April of that year, the Jewish officer noted, among other things, that “Honolulu itself is a big rendezvous for the American south sea whalers and sometimes 180 ships lie here.”

Still another Jew, Paul Neumann, played an important role in the history of the Hawaiian kingdom.

He became King David Kalakaua’s personal friend and advisor and the attorney general of the kingdom, and it was written of him that he had given “faithful service to King Kalakaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani.”

The first Jewish congregation in Hawai‘i, the Hebrew Congregation of Hawai‘i, was formed by 40 residents of Honolulu in 1901.

Just prior to World War I, a number of Jewish members of the U. S. Armed Forces were stationed on O‘ahu, 175 of whom were Schofield Barracks soldiers who attended the Yom Kippur services held in Honolulu in 1913.

As of 2017, Hawai‘i’s Jewish population was approximately 7,100 people.

There are an estimated 1,000 Jews residing on Kaua‘i today.

  1. Michoel Goldman June 28, 2020 7:50 pm Reply

    Thank you Thank Soboleski for doing this research and giving us such an historical context for Jews in Hawaii.
    Thank you TGI for publishing it. Very insightful. Mahalo

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