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Senator's efforts with Torah helped Jews in Kona become a community

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 10:16 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

Practicing Jews in Kona have a special place in their hearts for Dan Ino­uye.

In 1985 Hawaii's senior senator played a key role in ensuring the safe passage from Europe to Hawaii of the centuries-old Torah that to this day has served as the focal point for monthly services held by Kona Beth Shalom.

Barry Shain, then head of the Jewish Federation in Hono­lulu, recalled Monday speaking to longtime friend and frequent Hawaii visitor Mark Talisman about how the fledgling Jewish community in West Hawaii was in need of a Torah. Talisman is founding vice chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Torah, the first five books of Jewish Scripture or law, is considered the center not just of a Jewish service, but of its congregation. "You need a Torah to be considered a community," Shain said.

The Torah destined for Kona is believed to be at least 180 years old and was confiscated by the Nazis in Polna, now part of the Czech Republic, during the Nazis' 1939 invasion of Eastern Europe. It was one of 1,564 Torahs that Hitler had collected during the invasion, and "he wanted to open what he called a museum to an extinct race in Prague, including these Torahs," said Talisman, who later helped recover them from the communist government in Czechoslovakia.

Talisman, who had befriended Ino­uye when he was a rookie chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Charles Vanic, D-Ohio, in 1963, asked Ino­uye to help bring the Torah to Kona. He also stressed the need to treat it with dignity, "like it is a human being," Talisman recalled telling Ino­uye. The senator arranged for the Torah to get first-class seats on airplanes as it made its way from Britain to Kona with Talisman and his wife as escorts.

"There are many people who come to Congress and strut and try to make one believe they are important. And then there are others who do, and by the product of what they do, you know who they are, and that was him," Talisman said in describing Ino­uye.

At a special installation ceremony at Puu­ho­nua o Ho­nau­nau, the historic Place of Refuge in South Kona, Talisman and Shain said, dolphins began leaping in the ocean, and a light mist began to fall.


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