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Outpouring of Jewish support in fire-ravaged Hawaii



Having witnessed and enjoyed the magnificence of Maui island in Hawaii, South African-born Rabbi Michoel Goldman was horrified to hear of the devastation wrought by wildfires on 8 August, which left an entire town destroyed, hundreds of people dead or missing, and many unanswered questions.

Goldman lives on a neighbouring Hawaiian island, and is one of Rabbi Yossi and Rebbetzin Rochel Goldman’s children who are carrying out Chabad shlichut in far-flung places.

He told the SA Jewish Report this week how he and his family recently visited the nearby island of Maui for a holiday. They really enjoyed the historic streets and visited stores owned by Israelis. Never did he imagine that a few months later, wildfires would rampage across this paradise.

“I visited there a few months ago with my wife and our kids. We actually walked through Lahaina [the town that was destroyed by the wildfires]. There were a bunch of Israeli stores in Lahaina, so we knew some of the people working there and went to visit them. We walked around and took a boat tour. So we actually know the area intimately. In the pictures, we see of all the destroyed areas – we walked on the streets a few months ago. So we know exactly where it is.”

Goldman, who is travelling at the moment, said he felt devastated by a disaster that hit so close to home. “Kauai is 200 miles [321km] away [from Maui], but it’s heart breaking and painful to witness, even from afar. Even though the islands are apart, the people of Hawaii all feel interconnected. So it hits home. We’re in mourning with them. It’s a tragedy of epic proportions.

“Everyone is trying to offer support to everyone affected. People are hosting the homeless. I know some Jewish people who took in some newly homeless people. People from other islands are dropping off supplies at local churches, stores, and even the shipping companies are delivering to Maui from all islands. There’s a thing in Hawaii called the ‘aloha spirit’. It’s a sense of human connection and honouring one another with care and love. There’s an outpouring of aloha between people now that’s legendary.”

At the same time, he says, “There’s a lot of resentment and hard questions people are asking, like why the government wasn’t properly prepared for such a disaster. Some things are beyond our control, like hurricane winds spreading the wildfire but, for example, a better warning system to alert people to evacuate [would have made a difference]. There’s an island-wide alarm system for potential tsunamis. I’m not sure why it wasn’t activated to alert people to escape.

“Oddly police were blocking some exit roads from Lahaina intending to direct traffic but caused traffic jams and people couldn’t escape the inferno. So, people are angry at the government’s mismanagement. The national guard came in to help in the aftermath and also attempt to keep curious people out. It blocked access but also didn’t allow locals to bring much-needed food and gas for their friends. So besides the tragedy itself, there are lots of tough questions people seem to be asking.”

Jewish groups in the United States and in Hawaii are launching relief efforts. The wildfires have all but destroyed Lahaina, which Hawaii’s Jewish governor, Josh Green, toured on 10 August with Brian Schatz, the state’s Jewish senator.

“What we saw today was likely the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history,” Green said. There are 2 000 to 3 000 Jews in Maui with two synagogues – the Jewish Congregation of Maui, which wasn’t in the evacuation zone, and Chabad of Maui, which was. Congregants from both were among those evacuated.

Rabbi Mendy Krasnjansky, known as Rabbi Kras, is the Chabad rabbi on Maui. Miraculously, he and his family weren’t on the island at the time, and the fires stopped just short of the area where their shul stands. Speaking to the SA Jewish Report from Maui, he says, “The Rebbe sent my parents to Hawaii in 1987 to bring Chabad to the Hawaiian Islands. So I claim to be the first local-born rabbi from Hawaii in history. I was actually off-island, visiting family when the fires broke out, but I came back to the island as soon as possible.

“In the initial couple of days, there was a lot of chaos on the ground,” he says. “Power lines were down, we were fielding calls from all over the world, people were trying to touch base with their loved ones to make sure they were okay, and we were putting people in touch with whoever we heard was safe.

“Thank G-d, the Chabad centre was under evacuation notice. We had a volunteer standing by to grab the Torah and the holy books and run, but the fire stopped short of our neighbourhood. There’s a tremendous amount of devastation. Our hearts are heavy with the loss to the greater community and the loss of life. Thank G-d everyone we know from the Jewish community is accounted for, but many have lost their homes and their businesses, and got away with just the shirts on their backs.

“Chabad hosted some displaced people. There were people who weren’t able to get back to their hotels and came to Chabad. We’re organising places for people to be put up, and we’ve set up a fund to assist those with disaster relief.

“Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who have lost so much,” he says. “As we enter the month of Elul, which is the month of mercy, we prayed to Hashem to give us strength to soldier on and help those in need. There’s a long road to recovery. The Jewish community of Maui has come together – helping each other, hosting, checking, and making sure everyone’s okay.”

Kransjansky and his family will stay on in Maui. “We’re here to help for the long haul, and there’s much rebuilding to do,” he says. “We’re touched by the outpouring of love and support from all over the world, Jews from every corner of the world reaching out to see how they can be of assistance. They give us much chizuk [strength]. Whatever anyone can do to help those in need is greatly appreciated. We take strength from our Jewish brethren around the world, reaching out to help, and we pray to G-d for much fortitude in the moment and going forward.”

  • To support Chabad’s relief fund, visit

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