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Jewish Community of the Philippines

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Profiles

  • Ernest Emil Simke (1908 - 1977)
    Shaping Zionist Identity: The Jews of Manila as a Case Study By Jonathan Goldstein Ernest Simke, Israel's honorary Consul-General in Manila. Simke came to the Philippines from China in the early 19...
  • Ernest John Simke (1944 - 1944)
    Ernest Simke, Israel's honorary Consul-General in Manila. Simke came to the Philippines from China in the early 1930s and managed the La Estrella del Norte branch in Bacolod. (Ernst John's father) Th...
  • Hans Broniatowski (1914 - 1940)
    Hans Broniatowski was born in Laurahutte, Germany (now Siemianowice, Poland) in 1914. He was an Olympic capable javelin thrower. Although he moved with his family to Breslau, according to Lotte Wiener,...
  • Rita Simke (Broniatowski) (1909 - 1957)
    Rita Simke (Broniatowski) was born in Siemianowitz, Poland and died in Manila in 1957. Prior to immigrating to the Philippines to escape Nazi aggression, she worked as a physician in Breslau. Rita Bron...
  • Rob Schneider
    A stand-up comic and veteran of the NBC sketch-comedy series Saturday Night Live , Rob Schneider has gone on to a successful career in feature films, including starring roles in the comedy films Deuce ...

Filipino Jewry

In a paper by Jonathan Goldstein Shaping Zionist Identity: The Jews of Manila as a Case Study By 1920, Manila Jewry included the founder of the Makati Stock Exchange, physicians, architects, the conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. The Philippines became the only Asian nation to vote for Israeli independence and also the first to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Source

1500's --

During the country's Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the presence of Marranos is documented. 

Two brothers, Jorge and Domingo Rodriquez, who arrived in Manila in the 1590's, were tried in 1593 and convicted of practicing Judaism, along with as many as eight others. And this incident of anti-Semitism is almost unique in the Philippine Jewish community's long and interesting history.

1800 --

The beginning of a visible Jewish community can be pinpointed at 1870, when another group of brothers, the three Levy brothers and Leopold Kahn from Alsace-Lorraine arrived as refugees from the Franco-Prussian War.

Their first commercial venture was Estrella del Norte importing Swiss watches. Setting a pattern that would be followed by many other enterprising Jewish immigrants, the Levys diversified into automobiles, perfumes and pharmaceuticals.

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 creating a more direct trade route between Asia and Europe, Jews of Egyptian and Turkish origin began to join the small community. The seminal event in Philippine history the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century was also the seminal event in Manila's Jewish community.

A Syrian-Jewish trader, A.N. Hashim, who had arrived in 1892, helped Filipino patriot Jose Rizal escape from Dapitan. Having recently gained U.S. citizenship, Hashim circulated freely among both Spanish and U.S. forces, providing the latter with intelligence.

Although he had landed in Manila with a suitcase of watches, after the war, Hashim took an interest in entertainment, beginning with a bicycle racetrack and later establishing the Manila Grand Opera House. He later diversified into government supply contracting (for both the U.S. and Filipino governments), mining, and import-export.

Among the 70,000 United States troops that served in that conflict were a number of American Jews who liked what they found and stayed on at the end of their tours of duty. Notable among them was John M. Switzer, who was a classmate of Herbert Hoover's at Stanford.

1900 --

Switzer was demobilised in Cebu in 1901, and by 1903 had developed a distribution business in canned goods through small Chinese merchants throughout the far-flung Philippine provinces. It was a business model that proved wildly successful, and brought his company and his leadership to the attention of Pacific Commercial Company, a Jewish-owned conglomerate, which acquired Switzer's company, and his services as Vice President, in 1911.

Meanwhile, Emil Bachrach, a Russian emigre to the U.S. in 1886, read extravagant newspaper accounts of Admiral Dewey's Manila Bay victory, and decided the Philippines was the answer to his numerous health conditions. He landed with US$1,000 in Manila in the early 1900's, establishing first a furniture company and eventually moving into automobiles.

From private cars to taxi services, to provincial bus routes, Bachrach became a Director of the People's Bank and helped organize the Philippines first airline. Bachrach became a major benefactor of the Jewish community, and the community's second synagogue was named in his honor.

While identifying as Jewish, these early community members were not particularly religious. They viewed themselves, and the Filipinos viewed them, as Americans. The first congregation was not established until 1917, and the first synagogue was built in 1924, on land purchased in 1919.

Two hundred Jews were members in 1925, with a ratio of about 3:1 of Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

Religious services before 1924 had been haphazard. In 1905, a Mr. Ginsberg of Singapore had donated two Torah scrolls to be held as long as services for the High Holidays and Passover were conducted. When those services lapsed, in 1909 and 1910, Mr. Ginsberg reclaimed his Torahs.

In 1919 a National Jewish Welfare Board was established, and began bringing in kosher food, wine and matzot. As the business community continued to grow, more religious Jews came to Manila.

WWll

During Hitler's rise to power, Philippine President Quezon offered to accept up to 10,000 German and Austrian Jewish refugees, partly due to the urging of prominent Manila community members of the time. Paula Brings, who arrived with her physician husband, recalls:

The Jewish community in Vienna had been listing job openings all over the world, and we had seen one for a professor of physics at the University of the Philippines. We applied, but it was too late to allow correspondences to run the normal course. We took a train to Amsterdam; there we borrowed money from a relative to pay landing fees in Australia. The main thing was to get out of Europe. We looked for work in Australia but it wasn't easy for a refugee over thirty. We wrote again to the Philippines and in March 1939 the job came through. The university paid for everything, including our passage. We even had enough to help my husband's brother through medical school in the States and to bring his mother here from Vienna---she barely made it out in time.

During World War II, the Japanese interned American Jews, but Austrian and German Jews, as citizens of Japan's allies, were mostly left alone. The most famous of the many Jewish businessmen catering to the troops was William Walton Brown. Again Mrs. Brings remembers:

The Japanese didn't bother us. The American Jewish group was interned but the rest of us were left to fend for ourselves.

Ernest Simke, who later became Israel's honorary Consul-General, noted that in Baguio, Jews were indeed interned:

Only a very small group of [Japanese] officers who were trained and educated in Germany were particularly unfriendly, but in no way aggressive. They did intern the Jews living in Baguio, probably because the Japanese commander there had been trained in the Third Reich. I had taken Filipino citizenship before the war and, when I presented my Filipino passport to the Japanese authorities in Bacalod after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, the officer took a long look at me, looked down at my passport, shook his head, sucked in his breath and said: You put chicken in oven, out should come chicken, not fish.

While most of the community made it through the war, their synagogue did not. Used as an ammunition depot by the Japanese, it was blown up. A new synagogue was completed in 1947.

From a high of about 800, the community dwindled in the 1950's to about 300. The largest segment was still businessmen, with professionals and academics, including many of the remaining European refugees who did not move on to the US.

The government of the Philippines was the only Asian government to vote in favor of Partition of Palestine in 1947, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel, which has been represented officially in Manila since September 1950.

1950 --

In the 1960's and 1970's, the neighborhood surrounding the Bachrach Temple began to deteriorate, and Jews moved into the upscale Makati district. A new synagogue opened in downtown Makati in 1982.

A nucleus of religious Syrian Jews from New York formed the bulk of subscribing members that helped finance the new building, along with funds realized from renting out the Bachrach Temple to a commercial entity. A rabbi, R. Benjamin Cohn arrived with his wife in 1987.

The synagogue is part of a beautiful complex that also houses a large function room above the synagogue, a spacious kitchen, a library, classrooms and a mikvah. A supplemental school provides for the Jewish education of the community's children aged 4 and up, with adult classes available as well. A new kindergarten, Ezt HaHaim, recently opened, and a separate school is being built within the synagogue compound.

Services follow the Sefardi nusach but with an occasional Ashkenazi twist. Usually there is a minyan for services on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays as well as on Shabbat. A sit-down kiddush luncheon follows services on Shabbat.

About 100 families hold synagogue membership, and it is estimated that there are between 200 and 500 Jews in Manila and the Philippines altogether. In Pampanga (about 3-4 hours drive from Manila), there is a Jewish club called The Bagel Boys.

While the recent political situation in the Philippines has had some recent turbulence, this has not affected the Jewish community, and in spite of the Muslim presence in the southern Philippine province of Mindanao, the community, while careful about security, has not been threatened in any way since the first Gulf War.

2000 --

The current rabbi, Eliyahu Azaria, is a native of Chicago. He and his wife, Miriam, moved to Manila with their two daughters in 2004, following study and rabbinic ordination (Midrash Sephardi) in Jerusalem.

An experienced shochet, Rabbi Azaria works with a farm in Batangas to maintain a supply of kosher beef, chicken and veal, and also supervises kosher cheese and milk production.

At the moment, there is no separate kosher restaurant, but meals can be arranged at the synagogue complex, and challah and wine are available there for purchase. Prepared kosher airline meals can be arranged at the larger hotels in Makati, and Rabbi Azaria has a list of kosher foods available in local supermarkets.

Currently Jews in Manila include business people and diplomatic families. The Asian Development Bank, headquartered in Manila, and foreign embassies add to the mix of long-term and short-term community members. Manila remains a comfortable home for business people who manufacture not just in the Philippines but elsewhere in Asia.

While the community has shrunk considerably since the 1950's, it remains a vibrant, outgoing, friendly and welcoming Jewish community.

RESOURCES

BETH YAACOV SYNAGOGUE 
 Rabbi Eliyahu Azaria 
 110 H.V. de la Costa cnr, Tordesillas West, 
 Salcedo Village, Makati City, 1227, 
The Philippines Tel: (632) 815 0265 -- Fax: (632) 840 2566 -- 
www.jewishphilippines.org



JEWISH ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES
 110 H.V. de la Costa cnr, Tordesillas West, 
Salcedo Village, Makati City, 1227, 
The Philippines Tel: (632) 815 0265 -- 
Fax: (632) 840 2566



ISRAELI EMBASSY
 23rd Floor, Trafalgar Plaza, 
 H.V. de la Costa street, Salcedo Village, 
Makati City, The Philippines 
Tel: (632) 892 5330/32
 -- Fax: (632) 894 1027 -- 
email: info@manila.mfa.gov.il


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Philippine Jewish Heritage

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Links

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I NEVER expected to find two tombstones at the Philippine Burgos Public Cemetery that had the Star of David etched on them. The discovery caused bewilderment as well as curiosity.

On a simple tombstone was written: Hans Broniatowski born June 8, 1914 in Laurahutte, Germany; died July 6, 1940.

Just behind it was a tiny similarly-shaped tombstone inclined to the east as opposed to Hans' north-facing one had the inscription: to my little son John Simke July 16, 1944 September 15, 1944.

Little John's first name looked like an "Ernest" but was badly defaced by the elements. A little sleuthing over the internet yielded that Ernest John Simke was Hans Broniatowski's nephew.

The infant's mother Rita Broniatowski was Hans' sister. Yet she was born in Siemianowitz, Poland and died in Manila in 1957. I later found out that Laurahutte and Siemanowitz were merged communes just very near Germany.

Online data on Hans had a dissimilar but close dates. He was supposedly born on August 6, 1914 and died in June 7, 1940. Are these Hanses one and the same? Are my conclusions correct as to consanguinity of the deceased? Was Ernest John Simke the son of Ernest Simke, Israel's honorary Consul-General in Manila? A photo of Ernest and Rita's wedding proved my hunch right. Simke came to the Philippines from China in 1920 and managed the La Estrella del Norte branch in Bacolod.

The Simkes were one of the Jewish families in the Philippines who chose to remain in the country and take on Filipino citizenship. Here's an account by a certain Paula Brings: I had taken Filipino citizenship before the war and, when I presented my Filipino passport to the Japanese authorities in Bacalod [sic] after the fall of Bataan and Corregidor, the officer took a long look at me, looked down at my passport, shook his head, sucked in his breath and said: ˜You put chicken in oven, out should come chicken, not fish."

The Jewish people are a hardy, resilient lot. They have a sad history of suppression (e.g. Maccabean Revolt), dispersion or the Diaspora, and the infamous persecution during the Nazi Period. From 7th century Spain where Judaism was prohibited, Jews became unpopular for their activities. This was mixed with jealousy over their wealth. The feudal system in Western Europe forced the Jews to engage in finance and moneylending as sources of livelihood for they were excluded by the system contact with the soil. Moneylending was not approved by the Church. The first Marranos or secret jews Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez arrived in Spanish Philippines, they reportedly being residents in the 1590's.

In the Philippines, there are presently about 250 Jews. Salcedo Village has the one and only synagogue in the country, the Beth Yaacov Synagogue. The first one, Temple Emil named after Emil Bachrach a successful American-Jew of Russian descent who arrived in Manila in 1901 and the first to settle there permanently, was destroyed during the Japanese era. In a yet later search, Temple Emil was were Ernest Simke and Rita Broniatowski were married in 1941. Some famous Jews include the Levy brothers who fled Alsace-Lorraine with a stash of diamonds. They founded the La Estrella del Norte in Iloilo and later expanded to Manila.

A. N. Hashim, a Syrian-Jewish trader, helped Dr. Jose Rizal escape from Dapitan. He also established the Manila Grand Opera House. Leopold Kahn also from Alsace became President and GM of La Estrella, and French Honorary Consul-General to the Philippines.

In a paper by Jonathan Goldstein Shaping Zionist Identity: The Jews of Manila as a Case Study, "by 1920, Manila Jewry included the founder of the Makati Stock Exchange, physicians, architects, the conductor of the Manila Symphony Orchestra. The Philippines became the only Asian nation to vote for Israeli independence and also the first to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel."

It is heartening to note that President Manuel Quezon had sent a message to Philippine Congress to admit 10,000 German-Jewish professionals. He also recommended a Philippine$300 million subsidy to assist them to settle in Mindanao. His heart must have softened after being given some information from Jack Rosenthal, Quezon's American-Jewish friend. Although Quezon’s recommendation did not see light, as many as 1,000 Jewish refugees from Hitler were admitted. Our president himself "donated 7 1/2 acres of country estate in Marikina for a working farm." Source