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Rabbis help mark Yom Kippur on Big Island

<p>Courtesy photo</p><p>These three travelling rabbis are coming to Hilo to help local Jews celebrate Yom Kippur.</p>


Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

It’s easy for Jews in East Hawaii to find themselves isolated during the High Holy Days.

With no synagogue on this side of the island, gathering for communal observances of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, means for many that they must make the long drive over the Saddle to Kona.

In an effort to cater to East Hawaii’s Jewish population, Hilo is hosting this year three Chabad Rabbis who specialize in traveling all over the world to serve people in remote communities that lack opportunities to connect to their Jewish faith and heritage.

“We’re an outreach organization,” said 25-year-old Philadelphia resident Rabbi Yankee Pearson. “The goal is to rekindle the Jewish spark and invigorate the people, to provide stimulation and to bring Jews back to their roots. It’s an organization based out of Brooklyn, N.Y., with more than 4,000 centers around the world. We go out to metropolitan and small cities looking for unaffiliated Jews.”

Chabad welcomes people of all faiths and levels of observance, regardless of background, he added. The idea is not to overwhelm Jews, but rather to provide them a hospitable entry point to discover their faith, or to renew it, he said.

“A lot of the big synagogues in Europe and on the mainland, they do a lot of preaching and singing. We start off at a very basic level for beginners, with a lot of explaining, and going through the Torah. We’re saying what it means to be a Jew, and what our purpose is as Jews. We talk about the meaning of the holidays,” Pearson said. “We don’t want anyone to feel left out.”

According to Pearson, Rabbi Avraham Chazanow and the Chabad of the Big Island in Kona have worked over the past several years to bring the traveling Chabad rabbis to provide services in Hilo.

“It’s been small, and low key the past couple of years,” he said, “but now we’re expanding it and making it more public.”

Pearson is joined by Rabbi Moshe Shemtov, 25, of Uruguay, and Rabbi Moshe Gruenberg, 24, of Jerusalem. The men arrived on the Big Isle on Sept. 13, in time to host Sunday’s Rosh Hashanah services for about 45 East Hawaii Jews. They’re hoping to double that number for their communal Yom Kippur services in Hilo at Uncle Billy’s Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

Among the traditions that will be observed at the event will be readings from an ancient Torah that survived the Holocaust intact, and the blowing of the Shofar. The Shofar is a ram’s horn which produces “a soul-stirring sound which helps us to return to an essential state of being and connect with God,” according to a Chabad press release.

For more information on the Yom Kippur service and Chabad, or to learn more about being Jewish in Hilo, email Yankee Pearson at You can also visit

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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