By land he's a rabbi, by sea a whale researcher. When David Glickman relocated to the South Pacific more than 15 years ago to research endangered humpback whales, the move took him well beyond the ocean's realm. It also prompted this son of an Orthodox cantor to become a rabbi on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
Glickman, who was raised as an observant Jew, soon became a lay leader among Maui's largely non-affiliated Jews. While there is no official count on the island, estimates top out at a few thousand.
Glickman began leading High Holy Day services and teaching bar/bat mitzva students and Hebrew school. After functioning in that role unofficially, he eventually received private ordination from the mainland and was hired by the Jewish Congregation of Maui in Kihei. The shul had been holding formal twice-monthly and High Holy Day services since 1985. According to Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, the community dates back 35 to 40 years.
Glickman's current congregation of more than 100 families includes supporters from the contiguous United States. The shul offers what Glickman describes as an Orthodox approach to a Reform service Friday night and Shabbat morning services that lean toward Conservative with Orthodox overtones. The egalitarian services include English readings and mixed seating. A mehitza is available upon request.
"Those are some of the demands of where we are," he said. "I'm not trying to defend it. Ideologically, I'm Orthodox, and the message that I put out is that message."
No documents attest to the arrival of Jews in Maui, but it is likely at least some landed in the 1800s, around the same time Jews began settling in Honolulu on the nearby island of Oahu. Jewish retirees began taking up residence in the Lahaina-Kaanapali area on the island's northwest coast in the early 1960s and early 1970s.
By the early 1980s, young Jewish families who had settled in Kihei began to gather by word-of-mouth led by Tikva Ben Dayan and her Israeli husband "Jo-Jo," according to Prof. Bernard Katz, who has written a history of Maui for Beth Hatefutsoth.
THESE DAYS, mid-February to mid-March is the prime season for out-of-town guests, as well as Glickman and his colleagues at the nonprofit Hawaii Whale Research Foundation, which studies a population severely curtailed by excessive whaling over the past 100 years. It's also the time Glickman welcomes participants in the shul's annual Jewish Studies Program, sponsored by Kol Echad (www.kolechad.org).
Lay leaders Kim Azizy, Ruth and Marcello Warat and Joshua Danziger founded post-denominational Kol Echad in Charlotte, North Carolina, to provide opportunity for Jewish study for "the intellectually curious and spiritually serious from all backgrounds and walks of life." As Glickman explains, "We didn't receive a Renewal Torah, a Reform Torah, a Conservative Torah and an Orthodox Torah. We received the Torah as one people."
Since participants reside throughout North America, Kol Echad relies on conference calls and the Internet to facilitate remote classes and discussions.
For Kol Echad's second annual in-gathering of old and new participants in real time, travelers came from points across the United States to join local Jewish residents for the program last winter. Hosted by the Jewish Congregation of Maui, the rich menu featured an introductory course on Kabbala with Rabbi Jonathan Feldman of Manhattan Jewish Experience that explored the popular fascination with the topic, including "bindels," the ubiquitous red threads, the 10 sefirot, reincarnation, dreams, free will, astrology and more.
Gavriel Meir-Levi, a cantorial candidate at Yeshiva University who has taught at Lincoln Square Kollel, Abraham Joshua Heschel School and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, gave a class entitled "Spiritual & Physical as One - an Inspiring Journey through Maui" that combined lectures on relevant topics, such as the Book of Jonah, with touring and activities such as whale watching.
The third course was taught by me. I had joined the 2004 program as a participant/journalist and was invited back to teach a course on inspirational women leaders throughout Jewish history entitled, "Giborot: Women of Battle, Women of Valor."
ABOUT A 30-MINUTE drive away from the Jewish Congregation of Maui, a young Lubavitch couple, Sholom and Danit Shusterman, previously of Brooklyn, have set up shop as the Maui Mitzvah Center. They decided to move to Maui just months after their February 2004 wedding.
"I'm the only girl who came to Maui on her honeymoon, asked her husband, 'Can we move to Maui?'and he said 'Yes,'" Danit says. Actually, her husband says, "The inspiration comes from the rebbe."
A follower of Chabad-Lubavitch Hassidism, his grandfather, Mordechai Shusterman, read Torah for the late Lubavitcher rebbe every Shabbat in Crown Heights.
These days, Shalom and Danit use their current home, a cottage whose use is donated by a friend, as a base to teach local children Hebrew, hold community Pessah Seders, visit the sick and hold other classes for adults.
"I find people so receptive, especially here on Maui, to the idea of a personal redemption, to find mind, body and spiritual balance," Shusterman says. "It's about returning to their roots and doing it out of pride. We are trying to provide a positive experience to Torah study and fulfilling mitzvas. And we encourage them to tap into Judaism on their level."
The couple also operates the Kosher Kafe, a meat restaurant not far from the Kahului airport serving kosher sandwiches and deli sides. Future plans include building a mikve. Currently, locals and visitors rely on a secluded stretch of the beach for ritual bathing.
"Our motto is there can be too many people doing good things," Danit says. "It's so beautiful here physically, but the galut is so dark spiritually. We like to bring the light of Torah and mitzvas here for the tourists and the local people."
On any given day, they may encounter new Jewish neighbors in unusual circumstances. On a recent whale-watching excursion, their boat responded to a distress call from a Kihei resident stranded in the ocean. "Everything in the world is Divine providence," Danit says, "but we see it so clearly here."
When you go:
Beit Shalom Synagogue, the Jewish Congregation of Maui, is located at 634 Alulike Street in Kihei, firstname.lastname@example.org, (808) 874-5397, www.mauijews.org.
Kosher catering and wedding planning is also available. For more information, contact Rebbetzin Jody Glickman.
Within walking distance of the shul are several hotels. These include the Maui Sunseeker and Wailana Inn, 551 South Kihei Road, tel. (900) 532-6284 or (808) 879-1261, www.mauisunseeker.com and www.wailanainn.com. Another option is the Maui Lui Resort, (808) 879-5881, www.aston-hotels.com, the closest walking distance to the synagogue. Ask for a beachfront room for a memorable Shabbat.
Kol Echad's retreat programming costs start at $630 for singles and $900 for couples. Accommodations, air fare and car rentals are la carte. For more information, visit www.KolEchad.org, or contact Kim Azizy at (512) 797-7010 or Kim@KolEchad.org.
From February 19 to 26, 2006, the Jewish Congregation of Maui hosts the third-annual Jewish Studies Retreat sponsored by Kol Echad. The weeklong session includes workshops, touring and a complete Shabbat program. For more information, visit KolEchad.org or call (512) 797-7010.
The Maui Mitzvah Center can be reached at PO Box 1545, Wailuku, Maui HI 96793, (808) 249-8770, www.mauimitzvah.com.
The Kosher Kafe at 1592 Mill St. in Wailuku, tel. (808) 249-2613, serves kosher deli meats and vegetarian options starting at $6 for a sandwich and side salads. Call for hours.
Kosher provisions are also available throughout the island at local supermarkets, natural foods stores and Costco. Some local specialty shops also offer kosher items. Lappert's Ice Cream, which also sells gourmet flavored coffees, is on the corner of Front Street in Lahaina harbor, and also in the Shops at Wailea. Check with store supervisors for confirmation of products under half-moon K supervision. More information is available at www.Lapperts.com. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, located near the Kahului airport at 433 Kele Street, (808) 893-0883, is under the supervision of Rabbi Glickman.