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Hawaii’s Largest Temple Beset by Infighting

Hawaii’s largest temple, beset by synagogue politics that spurred a violent incident and allegations of “Nazi-like propaganda,” cemented the ouster of its rabbi with the election of a new board.

Cliff Halevi won Sunday’s election, becoming the new board president of Honolulu’s Temple Emanu-El, the only Reform temple on the island of Oahu.

In May, the congregation narrowly voted not to renew the contract of Rabbi Peter Schaktman, which expires in June. During the vote, police were called to the temple after a male temple member allegedly forced a female member to the ground during an argument over a third congregant recording the meeting on video, according to reports by the local Star Advertiser paper and The Associated Press.

Leading up to the election, Halevi’s mother sent an email that featured images of a swastika and Adolf Hitler, alleging that her son had been the subject of “Nazi-like propaganda,” reported the Star Advertiser.

In the last year, Temple Emanu-El lost 60 of its 230 member families.

“The temple is in debt because people have left and voted with their feet,” said Alice Tucker, a congregant of 51 years and former board president in the 1980s who lost her re-election bid on Sunday.

Tucker also told the Star Adviser that she heard temple members say of Schaktman, who is gay, that “he should go back to San Francisco and be with his kind.”

“No one has ever made an issue of that to me, even indirectly,” Schaktman told the Honolulu paper. “I’m gay, and the people who hired me knew that I was gay. I didn’t announce it to the congregation, but it wasn’t a secret.”

Halevi will reportedly begin work on finding a successor and raising the financial means to replace Schaktman.

“The people who won this election have been consistent in their unwillingness to work with me,” Schaktman told the Star Adviser about his potential involvement in assisting with finding a successor. “Should they be willing to work with me, I will do my best to support a constructive and healing process with the congregation.”

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