Torah and Taro

Torah and Taro

January 12, 2021

A Book Review by Sid Goldstein

Mat Sgan’s third book, Torah and Taro, is an informative history of the Jewish contributions to the Hawaiian Islands. The book examines the impact that the small Jewish population has had on the history, social development, and culture of Hawaiʻi as it transformed from a monarchy to a US possession to a territory and finally to a state in the United States. Sgan repeatedly points out that the population of Jews in Hawaiʻi has hovered around the 1% mark. Yet the contribution of this 1 percent of the population has outsized the numbers disproportionately. From the time of Kamehameha I, the man who unified the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom, Jews have played a significant role in the growth and development of the islands.

Mat has done some in-depth research to prepare for the writing of this book. He quotes multiple sources from other texts about Hawaiʻi as well as biographies, newspaper accounts, personal recollections, films, and other media cataloging the history of the islands. It seems that no stone was left unturned in the hunt for source material for the book. Jewish characters abound throughout the book. One notable character is Hank Greenspan. Greenspan was the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun and a noted gunrunner to the nascent state of Israel. Greenspan, it turns out, got many of his weapons from Hawaiʻi. Sgan goes to great lengths to explain how those transactions happened and how the weapons circuitously made their way from Hawaiʻi to the Middle East. Another notable character is Harry Weinberg. Even today one can’t drive around Oʻahu (or any of the larger islands) and not see multiple buildings dedicated by Harry and Jeanette Weinberg. Yet Sgan shows us the ruthless businessman who made a mark on Hawaiʻi by squeezing out competitors and dominating his trade. Later in life we see the philanthropist whose name appears on all those buildings. Sgan’s balanced portrait of Weinberg is a highlight of this book.

Finally, there is the tribute that Mat pays to so many members of Sof Ma’arav for their contributions to the cultural, economic, and educational life of Hawaiʻi. I will not try to list the members of Sof that Mat names. But let me say that we as a community can be proud of how this membership has so positively affected life in the islands. Mat deserves both an aloha and a shalom for so beautifully pointing this out. Torah and Taro is a nicely written, well researched, and positively crafted book. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a history of Hawaiʻi and how its Jewish citizens helped to shape it to become the place we so love today.

Torah and Taro Press Release

November 29, 2020

Mathew R. Sgan announces the release of Torah and Taro: Jewish Contributions to Hawaiʻi

New book shows how Jews, Judaism and Israel played an important role in Hawaiian history

Book cover Torah and Taro Image of blue sky with a taro plant and a torahHONOLULU – Did you know that pop idol Bruno Mars from Honolulu had a Jewish Ukrainian grandmother to whom he was very close? In Torah and Taro: Jewish Contributions to Hawaiʻi, author Mathew R. Sgan highlights many important and sometimes unrecognized roles that Jews, Judaism, and Israel have played in every stage of Hawaiian history from its first unified Kingdom under Kamehameha I to its present day. Through Torah and Taro readers will learn about Jews in the Hawaiian Islands and how they related to the Indigenous people as well as to other immigrants. Although they make up less than one percent of the population, people of Jewish heritage have made a significant difference to Hawaiʻi.

Sgan investigates matters which researchers have tangled with for many years and raises new ones. Who was the ‘Jew Cook’ who accompanied Kamehameha I aboard the American ship, Neptune, in a Hawaiian port in 1798? What was the relationship to Communism of labor leader Jack Hall and his Jewish advisors who broke Hawaiʻi away from the Big Five corporate oligarchy? Was Catholic architect Alfred Preis influenced by his Jewish heritage in designing the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor?

In many ways this book is a love letter to Hawaiʻi. As a longtime visitor and 20-year Hawaiʻi resident, the author’s keen interest in the involvement and growth of the Jewish community in the islands spurred him to research and write Torah and Taro. He describes many historical issues and events in which Jews played helpful roles by assisting Hawaiʻi’s journey along what it determined was its best political, cultural, and social path.

Torah and Taro: Jewish Contributions to Hawaii By Mathew R. Sgan

Hardcover | 6 x 9in | 224 pages | ISBN 9781664132542   $ 31.99

Softcover | 6 x 9in | 224 pages   | ISBN 9781664132535    $ 17.99

E-Book | 224 pages | ISBN 9781664132528       Available at  $ 5.99

Hardcover and Softcover books available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Xlibris Publishing.

Signed copies available from the author by request to Dr. Mathew R. Sgan.

Praise for Torah and Taro from Fran Margulies

November 29, 2020

I just received a copy of Torah and Taro and am having fun flipping through it and recognizing names! We moved here sixty-one years ago, and I well remember the people you mention. And you have a nice thesis about the Jewish ethic and drive underlying many accomplishments.

Book cover Torah and Taro Image of blue sky with a taro plant and a torah

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