Community in Philippines - World Jewish Congress

During World War II, the Philippine Commonwealth Government established an ‘open door policy’ for Jews escaping the Holocaust in Europe, creating a haven for 1,200 Jews. While the Philippines’ diverse Jewish community has considerably reduced to approximately 100 Jews, it remains a vibrant and welcoming Jewish community.

The Philippine affiliate of the World Jewish Congress is the Jewish Association of the Philippines.

WJC Affiliate
Jewish Association of the Philippines

(632) 815-0265

Executive Director: Lee Blumenthal

The presence of crypto-Jews, or so-called Conversos, in the Philippines dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. However, the first permanent settlement of Jews did not occur until 1870, with the arrival of Leopold Kahn and two friends known as “Levy brothers” from Alsace-Lorraine, who were escaping the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War. Their business ventures included a Manila jewelry store called "La Estrella del Norte." With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a flow of Egyptian, Syrian, and Turkish Jews immigrated to the Philippines, creating a multi-ethnic Jewish population.

The 1898 Spanish-American War brought the first wave of American Jews to the islands. While the Philippines was a colony of the United States, a number of American Jewish servicemen decided to become permanent residents after their military discharge. Other American Jews settled there as well. Among them were Isaac Beck, who established Manila’s first department store, and Emil Bachrach, who set up the Philippines’ first automobile dealership and became the nascent Jewish community’s major benefactor. In addition, Jewish teachers from the United States also arrived on the islands. The American presence in the Philippines created new markets for import-export businesses, which attracted young Jewish businessmen to the islands.

Following World War One, a substantial number of Jewish refugees arrived from Russia to escape the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War. In 1922, the community formally organized itself and consecrated its first synagogue, Temple Emil, named for Emil Bachrach. By 1936, the Jewish community in the Philippines had a population of about 500 individuals.

The Years of the Holocaust

Many Filipinos were deeply concerned by the threat the Nazi regime posed to European Jews during the 1930s. On November 17, 1938, hundreds of Filipinos held a rally in Manila to express their moral outrage at the Nazi persecution of German and Austrian Jews and to denounce the Kristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass) pogrom of November 9–10, 1938. Ironically, after the Philippines ceased being a U.S. colony and became an autonomous commonwealth in 1935, it enacted far less stringent immigration laws than those of the U.S. The policy of the Philippines’ first president, Manuel Quezon, was that any Jew seeking refuge in the country would be allowed to stay.

Quezon, together with Paul McNutt, the American High Commissioner to the Philippines, Herbert Frieder, co-owner of the Philippine-based Helena Cigar and Cigarette Factory, and U.S. Army Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower, then chief assistant to General Douglas MacArthur, devised a plan that enabled between 1,200 and 1,300 German and Austrian Jews to find refuge in the islands. Eisenhower wrote in his diary at the time, prior to the perpetration of the Holocaust, that “Hitler’s record with the Jews is as black as any barbarian of the Dark Ages.” Quezon also directed the building of a housing community for Jewish refugees in Marikina in 1939 and allotted a farm and large settlement area for the refugees in Mindanao.

After the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, the Jewish refugees there lived largely undisturbed, protected by the fact that they held German or Austrian passports, with a rabbi and cantor officiating at the synagogue.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Philippine Jewish community to number between 100 and 300 as of 2000. Today, it consists of predominately Jewish businessmen, diplomats, and American soldiers.

Religious and Cultural Life

The communal organization of Philippine Jews is the Jewish Association of the Philippines. In 1983, the Beth Yaacov synagogue was erected in downtown Makati. The synagogue houses a social hall, a kitchen, classrooms, and a mikvah (Jewish ritual bathhouse). Services in the synagogue follow the Syrian-Sephardi nusach. The rabbi acts as a mohel and shochet. There are minyanim on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, as well as on Shabbat. Following Shabbat services, a sit-down Kiddush luncheon is offered. Religious services are also conducted at the large U.S. Air Force bases situated on the island.

Jewish Education

Beth Yaacov offers a number of Jewish education options to its congregation. For children, there are Hebrew and Torah classes on Sundays. Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah classes are offered. There are also weekly Thursday night adult classes with the Rabbi as well as weekly Tuesday classes with the Rabbanit for the women. Children entering kindergarten have the opportunity to attend the recently established Etz HaHaim.

jewish media

The Jewish Association of the Philippines produces a monthly newsletter that is tailored to its congregation, featuring photos of recent community events as well as a monthly calendar. 

Kosher Food

The Jewish Association of the Philippines offers kosher options to its Manila locals and visitors by providing take-out meals and strictly kosher food in the synagogue. The community in the Philippines is the only community in Southeast Asia with its own production of Halak Bet Yosef beef, veal, lamb, and chicken.

Relations with Israel

Israel and the Philippines have maintained full diplomatic relations since 1957 and exemplify their warm relations in bilateral political dialogue and humanitarian aid. The Philippines was the only Asian country to vote in favor of the 1947 partition resolution at the United Nations to create a Jewish state in Palestine. In 2009, a monument honoring the Philippines was erected in Rishon Lezion’s Holocaust Memorial Park.

Israeli Embassy:

Philippines Saving Bank Bldg.
6813 Ayala Av. Rm. 538
Makati, Manila
The Philippines

Tel. +63 2 892 5329
Fax. +63 2 819 0561

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