ISRAEL – Fr. David Neuhaus SJ, Patriarchal Vicar for the Hebrew Speaking Catholics and Coordinator for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, sent an appeal to the Minister of Interior on behalf of 14 eleven-year old Filipino children. These children were born in Israel to migrant workers are deemed ineligible for residency and are facing immediate deportation together with their families. The appeal recalls how the Philippines welcomed and saved over 1,300 Jews who fled from Europe in the 1930s to this small Asian country.
Dear Mr. Aryeh Deri,
It is not my habit to introduce politicians to one another. However, in this case, I believe it is essential that you, the Honorable Interior Minister of the State of Israel, get to know the late President of the Philippines, Mr. Manuel Quezon. To be perfectly honest, I had hardly heard of Quezon before I was invited to the premier screening of a new, full-length documentary, detailing the involvement of Quezon in the saving of 1302 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany before and during the Shoah.
The film, “Open Door,” produced by renowned Filipino director Noel Izon, presents deeply moving interviews with the last remaining Jewish survivors of the Filipino effort to rescue Jews from their persecutors in Europe. Elderly men and women, often moved to tears, tell of the years they spent as children in a safe haven, far from the inferno of war-time Europe. One elderly Jewish man declares: “Not only do I maintain my Filipino passport but have insisted that my children renew their Filipino passports, that land was not my mother land but my adopted mother land”.
Quezon had originally intended to take in many more Jews. The raging war limited possibilities and ultimately only a small number, 1302 Jews, arrived on the islands that make up the country. Quezon’s friendship with the American governor and some of the Jewish migrants to the Philippines, who had arrived in the pre-war era, gave birth to an audacious and generous act: welcoming Jewish refugees, providing homes and work for them and allowing them to stay as long as was needed.
Dear Mr. Deri, I am not only commending Mr. Quezon to your scholarly attention but rather am appealing to you as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a human being in the name of 14 eleven year old children. You have decided that there is no place for them in the State of Israel. These young people have all been born here, speak almost only Hebrew, see this country as their homeland and have only one dream: to make their home here, contributing to the development and prosperity of our country. I add: they are all of Filipino parentage.
Their grandparents’ generation opened the Philippines to Jews escaping the Shoah. Their parents have come here to take care of our elderly, disabled and sick and do so day to day with devotion and love. Many of them have left behind their own elderly parents, disabled and sick relatives and look after ours. The children see themselves as part of who we are.
Dear Mr. Deri, surely when we remember the past, it can open our hearts and our minds to understand that in deporting these children or any other children of Filipino migrant workers, we are engaging in an act of callous cruelty that betrays a memory of kindness and generosity. Please, Mr. Minister, watch the film and change the decree.
Rev. David Neuhaus SJ, Latin Patriarchal Vicar
P.S. I cannot promise that I will not write again about the others who are seeking refuge here. Those who have fled genocide in Darfur and those who have fled the sinister regime of Eritrea and its torture chambers and dungeons, are surely the true brothers and sisters of those Jews who fled and found refuge here from persecution because they are Jews. What about their brothers and sisters in destiny?