Archive for the ‘Philippine-Israel friendship’ Category

My Musings on Jews in the Philippines

Hi, there ! It’s me , Renxkyoko Iglesias.

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My previous post was a bit intense, huh, and I’m sure I  had offended a few readers.  I couldn’t help it, though.  I was  on  edge , and so was everybody else here in the US.  Although I was careful  with the words I used so as not to offend anyone,  I might have inadvertently  used some hurtful words.    I  did try my best to be politically correct, and , believe me, it was no mean feat. I was angry.  It was easier to just lash out, and be like this —-> bleep, bleep, bleep,  asdfghjk !  But  then I’d regret it forever.  Nothing comes out well with words said in the heat of the moment.

My family had a very interesting  topic of conversation over dinner  last night.  My brother who lives in San Francisco told us that he saw a documentary film about the history of Jews in the Philippines . The documentary was shown in San Francisco to commemorate the  unveiling of the second marker in Israel in honor of  Philippines -Israel friendship. This is actually the second marker. The first one is a monument  that was built  at the Holocaust Memorial Park located  outside of Tel Aviv.

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Philippine flag is shown. That’s a huge monument , isn’t it?

There’s an interesting story  behind these two memorial markers. First off, a bit of Philippine history.  The US colonized the Philippines in 1898 ( after defeating Spain  during the Spanish-American war ) . In 1935, the US turned over governance of the country  to a Filipino, Pres. Manuel Luis Quezon , with an American overseer , Commisioner McNutt. The Philippines  became  the Commonwealth of the Philippines.  Full independence was given on July 4, 1945 after it was liberated from the Japanese. In the 1930’s , we all know , of course , what went on in Germany.  The German Jews all wanted to leave  but there were very few countries that wanted to take them in by the thousands.

Now here’s the most interesting part…….

The Philippine government had decided to take in Jewish refugees ( in fact, the Philippines was one of  very few countries, including the USA , that took in refugees, and the only one in Asia ) during a poker game in 1938 ,, with players  Commisioner McNutt, Pres. Quezon,  General Douglas McArthur,  Gen. Dwight Einsenhower (  Gen, Eisenhower  became US President , but that time, he was just Gen. McArthur’ second in command  of the US Army in the Philippines. ), and an American- Jewish businessman living in the country named Frieder.  While playing poker,  Pres. Quezon decided right there and then, to take in Jewish refugees. Eisenhower  suggested 100, 000 visas should be issued.  Pres. Quezon immediately  issued 10,000 visas  to German Jews. It wasn’t only to German Jews that  visas were given.  Jews who were already in Asia and those from the Middle East, mostly from Turkey,  were allowed to come in.  Jewish immigartion stopped  when Japan invaded the Philippines.

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Pres. Quezon

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.A synagogue in Manila, later destroyed  during WW2.

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.A new synagogue in Manila, Philippines.

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Photo above were German refugees having a party in Marikina , where they were settled temporarily. The land was Pres. Quezon’s  property. ( Sorry I stole this photo from somewhere. Please don’t sue me.)

It’s weird that the matter of life and death  was decided during a poker game.  However, this was not the only time  the Philippine government had helped the Jewish people.  In 1947. the Philippines  ” delivered the  most crucial and deciding vote ” at the United Nations ‘ resolution to create a state of Israel.  The Philippines was also the only  Asian country to recognize Israel as a state.  As a footnote….. there were  Philippine officials then who had a few misgivings about allowing  so many Jews into the country . That was understandable because the country was totally Catholic.  Pres. Quezon angrily told them,  ” The Jews gave us Jesus Christ” ! ! ! Pres. Quezon was a hot-tempered man.  It was said that he would often use the gavel and yell , Puneta ! ! ( pronounced poon-ye-ta ) at Filipino officials. The word means literally masturbation, but it’s actually a generic all -purpose swear word.  Filipinos swear in Spanish. But I digress.

Majority of the Jews later  immigrated to Israel and the US after the war.  Some remained and became prominent businessmen. ( If you’re a Filipino reader of this post, I don’t know if you’re aware of the Ysmaels, Kahns, Menzis, Guthriers, Levy’s etc,. … appliance manufacturer, owns jewelry stores such as La Estrella del Norte, A&W,  Alhambra, Manila Stock Exchange, etc. They are all Jewish )

Well, that’s the history. I’m not surprised  then why Israel erected a huge monument in honor of  the  Philippines’ humanitarian efforts .

On a personal note……. and another bit of Philippine history.

The first European to step on Philippine soil was Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. He also died there. Spain colonized the country for almost 400 years , and named it in honor of King Philip II.  ( So now you know why it’s Philippines, ha ha ) In Europe at that time , there was a Catholic Inquisition that went on. In Spain, Catholics,  Jews and Muslims lived in harmony before the Spanish monarchy started The Inquisition in the 1590’s.  Muslims and Spanish Jews were either forced to convert or leave Spain.  Some of those who left went to the Philippines.  However, they still couldn’t practice their religion since the Philippines was now entirely Catholic. Practicing  Judaism  was punishable by death.  My mother was born in a remote town , about 200 miles from Manila. Although it was a remote town, there was a high concentration of Spaniards who lived there.  The town’s church is one of the oldest in the Philippines, and there’s a Spanish fort with cannons, to protect the town from Chinese pirates.

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.San Diego  de Alcala Church

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San Diego fort

Now I wrote above  that this story was something personal. We had an extremely  interesting discussion about  this over dinner and after dinner.  It might shed light  on some strange stuff that my mother had often  heard from her grandparents when she was just a kid.  *  Don’t let anyone know you’re a Jew.” It was always said randomly, and to a kid, it  was  really strange, and didn’t make sense.  I mentioned  above the Turkish Jews  who immigrated to the Philippines.  My mother thought back about  the unusually  large number of Turks in their remote town. In fact , right across from their house were the homes of  two Turkish families, the Adads.  The people there called them Turkos.  She remembers them very well because she had a humungous crush on one of them.  And by the way, Pres. Quezon  came from the same place.  The whole province was later named after him… Quezon Province.

Ha ! Conspiracy theory?  Anyway, won’t it be great to trace my genealogy ?  My mother’s side, of course. My father’s is pretty straightforward. We know where  his grandfather  came from… Sta. Maria la Nueva, Segovia, Spain. I wrote about him here (   Barcelona, Part 16). My grandmother even went there to Segovia to meet her relatives.  So, there’s nothing mysterious about that.  But, the idea of  possible Jewish roots  is almost unbelievable. Could it be….. ?  No, I don’t think so. It’s inconceivable. ……………..  It’s funny that 2 random people on 2 different occassions had asked me if I was Palestinian.  Huh ? Why were they  so specific about the place?   And just last week, I was asked by a customer  if  I was Persian . What ? Again?  ( My manager is a nice  Persian lady )  I’m Asian, people !

So, okay, I know  this post is  boring.  If you are  still reading at this point , thank you.

My next post will be my tour of Amboise and Bourdeux in France. Promise.

PEACE  ! ! !