A Jewish writer’s spiritual path to Hawaii

A Jewish writer’s spiritual path to Hawaii

“Nice Jewish girls” aren’t supposed to abandon a successful career and break up a reasonably happy home to link up with a long-haired Hawaiian, or help him spread the teachings of his long-dead foremothers.

But that is what Inette Miller did, all the while maintaining her own identity, both as a writer and a Jew.

The Baltimore native, now 66, met ’Iokepa Hanalei ’Imaikalani, now 63, while on a holiday in Hawaii in 1997. They have been together now for 15 years, through experiences stranger and harder and ultimately more fulfilling, she said, than anything she could have dreamed of.

They are currently in the continental United States promoting her two books about those years, Grandmothers Whisper and The Return Voyage. They will speak about them and about ancient Hawaiian teachings and rituals on Sunday, Jan. 26, at the Ethical Culture Society in Maplewood.

Miller was in her early 50s when she met ‘Imaikalani and can recall the immediate attraction between them. They married in 2001.

‘Imaikalani, a half-Hawaiian, half-American former construction contractor, was living in Seattle, when, at the age of 46, he began to “see” his grandmothers and great-grandmothers, and “hear” them speak. As ‘Imaikalani embarked on the intensive 10-year education in world philosophy that his grandmothers prescribed, and then — from 2007 onward — to teach their lessons to the wider world, Miller was able to provide advice and guidance on his language.

“I would have stopped if it made him defensive,” she said, “but he is always grateful for it. He is fearless and totally open.”

Her religion has remained important to her, even when it means setting up Hanukka candles on the dashboard of the car, or hunting down the tiny cluster of Jews on Kauai to observe Yom Kippur. Together, they observe the High Holy Days. “The grandmothers are very clear that one must respect tradition, and ’Imaikalani is very respectful of my Judaism,” she said.

Miller, a one-time war correspondent for Time, committed her life to his cause, but it took her more than a decade to go public with her writing on the subject. In a phone interview, she explained: “I was scared. I didn’t want people to think I was crazy.”

They lived without money, often going hungry, camping on a beach, or sleeping in their car. Since the publication of Grandmothers Whisper, things have gotten easier. They have an actual home now, and a growing following.

“The grandmothers did say that once we started on the first book tour” — in December 2010 — “we’d never again have to sleep in the car,” Miller said.

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