Spanish Jews, Marranos,
first settled in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, during the Spanish Inquisition. Then
French Jewish merchants arrived in the Philippines in the late 1800s
in search of new trading avenues. One of the first recorded Jewish families
were the three brothers Levy, natives of Alsace, who moved to Manila
in the 1870s.
American Jews first arrived in the islands in 1898,
during the Spanish-American War. A few years later, a number of Jewish
families arrived from the Middle East, especially from Turkey.
War I, many Jewish refugees arrived
from Russia trying to escape
discrimination. In 1922, the Jewish community formally organized itself
and, in 1924, the Jewish community consecrated the first synagogue in Manila, Temple Emil. By the early 1930’s the Jewish community
of Manila numbered around 500.
As Nazi power and persecution spread throughout Europe, many Philipinos became
concerned about the situation. In the 1930’s, Alex Frieder, a
wealthy cigar manufacturer in Manila, suggested to the President of
the Philippines, Manuel L. Quezon, that the Philippines become a safe
haven for Jewish refugees from Europe. In the 1940’s, President
Manuel and Paul V. McNutt (the U.S. High Commissioner responsible for
overseeing the Philippines) worked together to side-step quotas and
issue visas. This permitted more than a 1,000 Jews a year to enter the
Philippines. Quezon even contributed personal land to harbor the refugees.
Between 1937 and 1938, Alex Frieder and his brother Phillip, with the
support of the American Jewish Joint Distributing Committee, successfully
brought into the Philippines 1,200 Jewish refugees. Among these refugees
was the future author Frank Ephraim. In Frank Ephraim’s book, Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror, the story
of the Manila rescue is recounted. Ultimately, the Philippines admitted
more than 10,000 European Jews.
During the Japanese occupation of Shanghai,
thousands more Jews settled in the Philippines seeking refuge. In 1942,
when the Philippines became occupied by the Japanese, many Jewish citizens
were placed in internment camps and beaten. Furthermore, the synagogue
in Manila was destroyed due to all the fighting in the country. After
the war, while the synagogue was rebuilt, many Jews still opted to leave
the Philippines for Israel or the United States.
On November 29, 1947,
the Philippines was the only Asian nation
to support the partition resolution at the United
Nations creating a Jewish State in Palestine. Israel and
the Philippines established full diplomatic
relationships in 1957. Embassies were opened
both in Tel-Aviv and Manila in 1962. The two countries have
enjoyed warm relations in all spheres. In
1997, the two countries signed a Memorandum
of Understanding (MOU) institutionalizing
the bilateral political dialogue between
the respective foreign ministries. In 2009, Israel joined at least a dozen other nations for Operaiton Blessing in sending humanitarian assistance to the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Ketsana. Israel dispatched both a search and rescue unit as well as an IDF medical team consisting of six volunteer doctors, nurses and paramedics from the organization IsraAID that assisted in medical missions for those injured.
Today, roughly 100 Jews live in the Philippines, but
most Jews are transient businessmen or American military soldiers. Most
of the Jewish population is Israeli or American. The U.S. Air base conducts
weekly services for the Jewish militia stationed on the island.
The Jewish Association of the Philippines serves as
the communal organization for the community in Manila. In 1983, a new
synagogue was erected in Manila. The synagogue holds weekly services,
maintains a mikveh, and runs
a Sunday school. The services follow the traditions and melodies of
the Syrian-Sephardic communities. The community also has a full-time
rabbi, who serves as the communiy’s mohel and shochet.
In February 2015 the Philippines Department of National Defense (DND) entered into contract with Israeli Aerospace Industries subsidiary Elta Systems to purchase three ELM-2288 air defence and air traffic control radar systems. The contract, valued at $56 million, will provide the Philippino DND with resources and technology to better patrol and survey their territory in the South China Sea.