When we arrived in Hawaii, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Turns out we had no reason to worry, as you will see from the following encounters:

We met Joseph in Kapolei, a small city near Honolulu. He is a student from Istanbul, Turkey, spending his summer as a lifeguard via a work-travel program. We noticed Joseph staring at us as we walked through a shopping center, and when we asked him if he is Jewish, he responded with a thousand-watt smile. Back home, he explained, he is quite close with the local Chabad rabbi, but since he was only here for a couple of months, he hadn’t had a chance to visit the Chabad center and was thrilled to have bumped into us. We met up on several other occasions and spent a memorable Shabbat together.

Our visit with Samuel began with a stroke of Divine Providence. We had travelled to Kailua, to visit someone else, but when we arrived he wasn’t home. A neighbor was sitting on her porch, so we asked her if she knew anybody else Jewish in the area, and she pointed to Samuel’s house. He had never had two rabbis in his home before, but was excited to see us and invited us in. We had a long chat about Jewish life in Hawaii, and afterwards we asked Samuel if he would like to put on tefillin. He told us that he couldn’t possibly be religious enough for that, but we reassured him anyone can do this mitzvah, especially a wonderful Jew like himself! We were soon celebrating his Bar Mitzvah like the joyous occasion it was.

Samuel told us that his father, Don, had fallen ill while visiting from California several years back and was unable to return home. We took down the address of his nursing home and visited him several days later. It’s difficult to describe the joy and warmth that emanated from this dear Jew when we entered the room. Samuel had told us that Don used to be active in his Jewish community, so the sight of us must have transported him back to happier, more vibrant times, and he began weeping quietly. We knew just the thing to cheer him up—we showed him a photo of Samuel decked out in tefillin! This brought a huge smile to his face. We stayed for about an hour, without much conversation due to Don’s weakened state, but an almost indescribable sense of camaraderie.

We encountered Adam, an accomplished artist,at the Kahala Mall. A native New Yorker who has lived in Hawaii for many years, he had somehow never encountered Chabad. Adam was excited to learn that a vibrant Jewish community exists literally at his doorstep. He promised to start coming around, and not only that, he wanted to offer the rabbi some of his paintings free of charge to be sold as a fundraiser!

Meeting these Jews and many others (with whom we will certainly keep in touch) was an invigorating and rejuvenating experience. And isn’t that why people go to Hawaii in the first place?