Jews in the Philippines
The Jews in the Philippines refer to the Jews who have acquired Philippine citizenship, or commonly known as Jewish Filipinos. As of 2005, the population of Jews in the Philippines stands at the very most 500 people. Other estimates range between 100 and 500 people (0.000001% and 0.000005% of the country's total population). Manila boasts the largest Jewish community, which consists of roughly 40 families. There are, of course, other Jews elsewhere in the country, but these are obviously fewer and almost all transients, either diplomats or business envoys. Their existence is almost totally unknown in mainstream society. There are a few Israelis in Manila recruiting caregivers for Israel and a few other executives.
Spanish era: Sephardim and the Inquisition
The history of the Philippines' first Jewish presence spans back to the 16th century, to a few individuals during the Spanish empire|Spanish colonial era. It was then that the earliest Jews in the Philippines are historically documented, when two Sephardi Jews|Sephardic brothers (Jews of Spanish origin), Jorge and Domingo Rodríguez, are recorded as having reached Manila in the 1590s. By 1593, both were tried and convicted as Judaizantes (practicing Jews) at an auto de fe at the Mexico City office of the Spanish Inquisition. Known as Marranos or nuevos cristianos ("New Christians"; newly Religious conversion|converted to Christianity), the two brothers had accompanied the Spanish conquistadors who colonized the Philippines. Eight other marranos in the Philippines were subsequently tried and convicted.
The first permanent settlement of Jews in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial years began in 1870 with the arrival of three Levy brothers from Alsace-Lorraine, who were escaping the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. As successful entrepreneurs, the businesses of the three brother grew, and with the opening of the Suez Canal in March 1869 it provided a more direct trading route between Europe and the Philippines, attracting other Jews to Manila. By the end of the Spanish period, the Levy brothers had been joined by Egyptian Jews (Mizrahi Jews|Mizrahim), and Sephardim from Turkey and Syria, creating a community of about fifty individuals.
It was not until the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century, when the United States took control of the islands from Spain, that the Jewish community grew more than a few individuals. By 1918, twenty years after the Americans took over the Philippines, the Manila Jewish community totaled about 150 people, including a number of Russian Jews. By 1936, the Jewish community in the Philippines had a total population of about 500 persons.
A number of Jews were among the Thomasites, a group of American educators who volunteered to teach and set up institutions around the country. A number of American Jews, chose to settle. This included engineers, business men, architects, physicians and others. The founder of the Makati Stock Exchange is an American Jew.
Pre and Post World War II and Exodus to the US
The largest influx of Jews in Philippine history occurred in the years leading up to World War II. In the late 1930s, the Jewish American cigar manufacturer Alex Frieder – an expatriate from Cincinnati resident in the Philippines – along with his three brothers Philip, Morris and Herbert, organised the Jewish Refugee Committee after seeing Jewish refugees stranded at Philippine ports after having escaped on ships from escalating persecution in Europe. They helped 1,200 mostly Germany|German and Austrian Jewish refugees to obtain passports and Visa (document)|visas to enter the Philippines. At first, the Frieder's intended to help some 10,000 people make their way to the islands, but this was hampered by Japanese interventions. The Frieder brothers achieved the granting of permits of entry with the help of Alex's close friends, the then President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon, and Commissioner of the Philippines, Paul V. McNutt.
For the refugees that did manage to settle in the Philippines, the committee organised finding employment and new homes for them in Manila. Though relatively modest in numbers, the newly arrived refugees overwhelmed the tiny Jewish community, and multiplied its numbers overnight.
At their height, Jews resident in the Philippines at one stage numbered over 1,000.† The period in which most of these Jews arrived was under president Manuel L. Quezon, when he allowed them entry as persecution in Europe increased, which eventually led to the Holocaust.
Except for the first few intrepid Sephardi individuals who made their way to the archipelago during the colonial era, the entire population of Jews ever present in the Philippines were of Northern and Eastern European origin (Ashkenazi Jews|Ashkenazim). Eventually, all but a few found there way to other destinations, mainly the United States.
The original established community of the 1870s had largely been secular and decentralised, but with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, and the following tide of Jewish refugees arriving to the Philippines – relative to the community's population numbers in Manila – sparked a renewed Jewish consciousness.
The one and only synagogue in the country – the second ever built in the Philippines – is Manila's Beth Yaakov Synagogue, located at Salcedo Village, Makati. It was built in the 1980s. The only other synagogue that existed prior to the erection of Beth Yaakov Synagogue was Temple Emil, built in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Temple Emil was destroyed by the Japanese during World War II, a time when the Jewish community of Manila saw itself under attack, and many were interned in Japanese detention camps. Interestingly, at first German Jews in the Philippines were not detained, as the Japanese regarded them nationals of their ally, Germany. However, the Nazis were able to contact the Japanese and influence them. The German Jews were segregated from other non-Jewish Germans and grouped together with the other prisoners.
- † "Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror". ISBN 0-252-02845-7 by Frank Ephraim. Narrates the story of the newly arrived Jews in the Philippines; from their day of their arrival, their daily life in Manila, to their departure to other destinations a decade later.
- ‡ Cantor of Manila, Temple Emil photographs taken from UCSB graduate student Bonnie Harris's 83-page research paper "From Zbaszyn to Manila: The Creation of an American Holocaust Haven" (2005)
- Tirol, Jose Ma. Edito K. "The Japanese and the Jews in the Philippines during the Second World War," paper presented at the 8th International Conference on Philippine Studies (ICOPHIL). Quezon City, Philippines, 23-26 July 2008.
- The Sino-Judaic Institute A Filipino-American Effort to Harbor Jews Is Honored
- Alpha-Canada Diplomats Who Saved Jews
- Jews in the Philippines
- INQ7 News: Quezon's List
- Jewish Student in Manila
- http://www.monmouth.army.mil/monmessg/newmonmsg/apr292005/m17hayden.htm During WWII]
- Frieder Family