Honey and Poi: Sof History Project

By Dr. Mathew Sgan


Honey and Poi – Sof Maʻarav History Books

 

Two books, courtesy of the Sof History Project. Honey and Poi provides a history of Sof Maʻarav from its founding in 1971 until today. The Sof Maʻarav History Project Appendix offers additional information and details gleaned from further research.

To purchase copies:

Book orders for Honey and Poi may be fulfilled at:
Web: Xlibris Online Bookstore
Or by contacting Mathew Sgan
Hard cover book: $29.99, plus shipping & handling.
Soft cover book:   $19.99, plus shipping & handling.
Ebook:                    $ 3.99
Shipping & handling cost determined by shipping method.

To purchase a copy of the Appendix, contact Mathew Sgan.

Appendix:               $15.99, plus shipping and handling.

Excerpts from the Preface to the Appendix of the Sof History Project

Sof Ma'arav Appendix

During the course of doing the research for the narrative (Honey and Poi) describing the origins and development of Congregation Sof Ma’arav, I was fortunate to be given a treasure chest of documents, photos, brochures, and newsletters. Such materials were of tremendous importance to recreating the history of Sof and telling its story.  Through them and other sources, I was able to reconstruct lists of Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, office holders, shul finances, and events which added to the record.

While I was able to convey encapsulated reviews of such materials in moving the narrative forward, I felt an additional obligation to share them in some original form with all interested parties. They represent what is beyond the bare bones of the story and have a remarkable ability to transport readers back to being a member at the time the item was paramount.

The original incorporation papers and the names of the incorporators are examples of just who the Sof pioneers were and how they went about making sure that Sof had a firm foundation on which to build. Those papers are included as is a presentation of the actual exchanges during the egalitarian debate (role of women during services), which was a watershed moment in Sof history. That debate as recorded, invites readers to join in the discussion and to consider what their position would have been at that time. It also enables a person to bring a current perspective into the picture.

Organizing and displaying the materials was not best done, in my opinion, chronologically. Rather various topics presented themselves as being the most helpful for readers to follow and understand the nature of Sof during its 40 plus years. Certain topic titles (Communications; Community; Education) enabled me to classify items in an understandable way and to present them in the various forms that they assumed during Sof’s development. The narrative provided the story; the Appendix provided additional perspective and the backdrop of the story.


Honey and Poi – The Modern Years: 2000-2016

A New Century Brings Good News


As Sof headed into the turn of the century, good news predominated. The balance sheet, led by dues, donations and cookbook sales, indicated some $39,000 in income. This enabled Sof to purchase some needed service items (kitchen items, books, ritual products), keep up with operational and rent increases, and pay for outside leadership and associated costs for the 5760 High Holidays.

Even the USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) membership fee was paid without fuss! That had been an issue in prior years. A very positive sign of the times.

President Bernice Littman wrote, in her November 1999 message to the congregation, “5760 is proving to be another wonderful year.” She then went on to thank Ken Cohen for acting as cantor; Aileen Grill for her singing; Robert Littman and Bob Goldman for their talks; George Hudes, Sim Granoff, Marlene Booth and Jordan Popper for leading prayers; Robert Littman and Marv Black for organizing things; and Kat Tsuyemura with Francis Maltin, for managing food arrangements. Gregg Kinkley was applauded for his musical talent, prayer leadership and Torah/haftarot readings. Fran Margulies arranged for baby-sitting and Hinda Diamond collected food for the Hawaii Foodbank.

Bernice indicated that Sof’s reputation as the “party shul” was burnished with great Simchat Torah and Shabbat celebrations, along with Naomi Olstein’s anticipation of yet another lively Hanukkah get-together for latke making and candle lighting. Bernice claimed the “highest level” of member participation in Shabbat and holiday services. Ken Aronowitz and Hinda Diamond declared Sof’s Simchat Torah celebration the most spirited evening in the islands!Even the USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) membership fee was paid without fuss! That had been an issue in prior years. A very positive sign of the times.

President Bernice Littman wrote, in her November 1999 message to the congregation, “5760 is proving to be another wonderful year.” She then went on to thank Ken Cohen for acting as cantor; Aileen Grill for her singing; Robert Littman and Bob Goldman for their talks; George Hudes, Sim Granoff, Marlene Booth and Jordan Popper for leading prayers; Robert Littman and Marv Black for organizing things; and Kat Tsuyemura with Francis Maltin, for managing food arrangements. Gregg Kinkley was applauded for his musical talent, prayer leadership and Torah/haftarot readings. Fran Margulies arranged for baby-sitting and Hinda Diamond collected food for the Hawaii Foodbank.

Bernice indicated that Sof’s reputation as the “party shul” was burnished with great Simchat Torah and Shabbat celebrations, along with Naomi Olstein’s anticipation of yet another lively Hanukkah get-together for latke making and candle lighting. Bernice claimed the “highest level” of member participation in Shabbat and holiday services. Ken Aronowitz and Hinda Diamond declared Sof’s Simchat Torah celebration the most spirited evening in the islands!


Honey and Poi – The Middle Years: 1980-1999

Honey and Poi Cover

 

Background: In the beginning, Sof affiliated with the conservative movement of Judaism and was in touch with its headquarters at the Jewish Theological Seminary for ritual, religious, personnel, and organizational matters. The relationship had, however, not been smooth and questions of money payments and service rose often. In an effort to get back on a healthy relationship, Sof leaders initiated the following steps.

Relations between Sof and United Synagogue of America (now United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism) were once again brought up. President Merle Fischlowitz wrote to Rabbi Benjamin Kreitman, executive vice president of USAM, explaining Sof’s financial predicament and asking to be treated differently from other congregations because of its size, high cost of living, and geographical location. He suggested that the only regional service of which Sof had availed itself was Camp Ramah. Kreitman referred Fischlowitz’s letter to Harold Lipchik, chairman of the Economics Committee of the Pacific Southwest Region (PSWR), which handles the subject of Sof’s dues and relationships as a member of that region. Lipchik thanked Fischlowitz for his letter because the PWSR had been trying to establish contact with Sof for two years without success.

President Fischlowitz had proposed paying a sum of 6% of dues collected in 1985-86, a sum of 5% of dues collected in in 1986-87 plus 0.5% for Camp Ramah. Lipchik stated that Sof’s situation had always been recognized and that, on the basis of a new USAM plan officially beginning in 1987-88, payments to USAM would be based on a percentage of actual dues collected. Moreover, Lipchik was willing to begin this program in 1986-87, providing Sof forwarded 6% of its ’85-’86 dues collection, plus $500 to clear up the $2,737 in arrears at that point. Fischlowitz thanked Lipchik for his constructive letter and indicated that he would be back in touch after consulting with the Sof board. The financial arrangement (6% of collected dues plus $500) suggested in the letters between Merle Fishlowitz and Harold Lipchik of the PSWR of USAM was approved.

Update: Currently Sof pays about $1000 annually to USCJ.  We receive a batch of Luachs (calendar of dates, rituals, aliyahs for services), listing on the USCJ website, publication and personnel information, and other support material from time to time.  


Praise for Honey and Poi

Honey and Poi was published about 3 months ago, and the critical reviews of it have started to arrive.  Here are a few samples:

  1. Perhaps the best book about a small conservative shul on an island in the Pacific thus far this year.
  2. Some may think of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Sholem Asch’s Tales of My People. Others may not think of those books.
  3. Almost Talmudic in its willingness to let everyone who’s anyone speak.
  4. You will not just read Honey and Poi; you will live it!

Shoshana and I are reading Honey and Poi to one another, and we are enjoying it immensely….What a wonderful contribution you have made both to Sof and to the understanding of Jewish life in Hawai’i. Yasher Koach!

– Rabbi Saul Perlmutter

Still, there are Sofers who have not yet joined in the fun of knowing who we are and how we came to be. Amazon, Xlibris, and Mat await your book and Appendix orders! Consider how happy your friends and family will be to receive these books. Joy unbounded! More information, contact Mat Sgan.


Honey and Poi – Author’s Preface

“I read Honey and Poi in one reading. I couldn’t put it down. I especially loved knowing the details of how the schul came into being, who the pioneers were, and the split involving egalitarianism. It is quite an accomplishment and a great service to our community.” – Gayle Goodman

This book has been a labor of love for me from the beginning. Congregation Sof Ma’arav from my perspective deserves all of the accolades which have been associated with it. I enjoyed writing about a group in which I have been an active participant.

For over four decades, Sof has been an educational center, a religious and spiritual guide, a support group, and an uplifting social setting for many who otherwise would have been without such life affirming associations. It has never turned its back on anyone responsive to and in need of the kind of program it had.

My research has included group and individual conversations, document review in the solitude of early morning page turning, and newspaper articles unfurled awkwardly on microfilm at the library. I was looking for information on the setting of Sof’s development, the people who made it happen, and the key factors of its ability to change without losing sight of the cultural vision of its founders.

In order to accommodate such aspiration, I wanted not only to produce this narrative, but also to provide a depository for Sof’s most important written and pictorial history. Hence, there is an accompanying Appendix which I hope readers will peruse. As my efforts increased, I came to see other aspects of this book. I hoped that it would be of interest to other Jewish people in Hawaii and elsewhere who might be responsive to becoming a more active part of their own heritage.

Perhaps, they would say that it was time to investigate what Judaism is really all about and how it will bring deeper meaning to their lives. Perhaps they will say that Sof Ma’arav or another Jewish organization is the kind of religious gathering that they would be pleased to join or initiate in their own community. I realize that is an elaborate hope for such a modest undertaking, but no one should underestimate the creativity of Jewish people.