Cityfront: Garden of gratitude

Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay visited Boys Town Jerusalem where he was shown the school’s tribute to former president Manuel Luis Quezon, who offered 10,000 European Jews refuge in his country before WWII.

Marker for Jan Zwartendjik (photo credit: Batsheva Pomerantz)
Marker for Jan Zwartendjik
(photo credit: Batsheva Pomerantz)
The people of the Philippines took to the streets of its capital city, Manila, on November 19, 1938, to express their outrage regarding the persecution of Jews throughout Germany and parts of Austria, 10 days after Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” A thousand people attended an Indignation Rally held to denounce the series of brutal riots against the Jewish community on November 9-10, 1938, marking an intensification of Nazi anti-Jewish policy that culminated in the Holocaust.
Later, the Manila Municipal Board condemned Nazi persecution of the Jews and extended a “brotherly welcome” to Jewish immigrants. The Philippines offered 10,000 visas to European Jews, and 1,200 visas were issued just before the war. President Manuel Luis Quezon offered employment opportunities to Jewish refugees and supported the construction of a housing community outside Manila, complete with farmland taken from his own private estate for their use.
On April 23, 1940, Quezon led the dedication of the housing community and said, “It is my hope, and indeed my expectation, that the people of the Philippines will have in the future every reason to be glad that when the time of need came, their country was willing to extend a hand of welcome.”
Some Jewish refugees were killed, along with Filipinos, during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines of 1941-1945.
Recently, Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay visited Boys Town Jerusalem (Kiryat Noar Yerushalayim) in Bayit Vagan, which took the lead in paying homage to Quezon and the Philippine nation.
“Like most of the Philippine population, I was unaware of president Quezon’s heroism in offering 10,000 visas for European Jews,” Binay said, looking at the marker dedicated last year in the school’s Jan Zwartendijk Memorial Garden. “It is extremely gratifying that Boys Town has acknowledged this deed and has raised awareness both in Israel and in the Philippines.”
On his visit, Binay met with President Shimon Peres, dedicated Manila Square in Haifa and met many Filipino caregivers at the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv (of the 40,000 caregivers in Israel, many take care of Holocaust survivors).
Binay headed a delegation that included Philippine Ambassador Generoso Calonge and former Philippine ambassador to Israel Petronila Garcia. As assistant secretary in the Office for Middle East and African Affairs, Garcia flew in for the visit to Boys Town. Last year, she received the Jan Zwartendijk Award for Humanitarian Ethics and Values on behalf of the Philippines and president Quezon and unveiled the marker at the Jan Zwartendijk Memorial Garden.
The award and the garden are named for the courageous Dutch consul in Lithuania who helped more than 2,000 Jews escape from Europe, eventually reaching Shanghai. Among them were some 500 Orthodox Jews, including future leaders of religious institutions in Israel and the Diaspora.
“The founder of Boys Town, Rabbi Alexander Linchner, z”l, dedicated all the gardens around the campus to the memory of the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust,” says Eddie Wolf, public relations director of Boys Town. “In 1996, he established the Jan Zwartendijk Memorial Garden, which commemorates communities that were destroyed and Righteous Gentiles.”
Linchner – who died in 1997 – considered himself a Holocaust survivor, even though he was born and raised in the United States. He was one of the few Americans to study at the pre-Holocaust yeshivot in Eastern Europe. At the yeshiva in Radin, Poland, he came under the direct influence of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Hafetz Haim, a leading authority in Jewish law and philosophy whose works continue to impact Jewish life. Linchner returned to the US before the outbreak of World War II and worked in Jewish education with his father-in-law, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz, the founder of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Days Schools, which pioneered Jewish day schools in the US from 1944.
“Deeply affected by the devastation of the Holocaust, which also destroyed the Eastern European yeshiva world Rabbi Linchner had grown to love as a student, he was asked by father-in-law to promote Jewish education by working with immigrant youth of Israel. Rabbi Linchner’s goal was to inspire and train Israeli youth,” says Wolf.
Linchner founded the school in 1948. Starting with a handful of children studying Jewish subjects and skills for the printing trade in an abandoned building in Jerusalem, today more than 800 students, ages 12 to 20, live on the sprawling campus, learning in one of Israel’s major technological training centers.
Thousands of the school’s graduates have served in the IDF, and many have become engineers, technicians and educators, all with a strong sense of pride in their Jewish heritage. Today, Boys Town is headed by the founder’s son, Rabbi Moshe Linchner.
“The majority of the student body at Boys Town come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds, and their families cannot afford to send them to [visit] the [concentration] camps in Poland, which many Israeli students participate in [during] their senior year,” says Wolf. “Many students are from Sephardi backgrounds with no family connections to the Holocaust. Because they cannot visit Poland, we bring survivors here and have different areas in the school that highlight communities and Righteous Gentiles.”
Among the lecturers in recent years were Rabbi Dr.
Benny Lau, who related the story of his father, Naftali Lavi, and his uncle, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Avraham Carmi, from the Teheran Children; German-born sisters Bertha Leverton and Inge Sadan, who escaped to England in the Kindertransport; and Leibel Leo Zisman of New York, a survivor from Kovno, Lithuania.
This year, the requirements for the history bagrut (matriculation) include interviewing Holocaust survivors.
Eleventh grader Shlomi Tzur, whose grandparents were hidden as children in Holland, is interviewing them on video. “It’s very important to hear the survivors and learn about them. There are fewer and fewer survivors as the years go by. What we don’t learn today will be lost. The school’s efforts are very important for all students,” he says.
Among the recipients of the Jan Zwartendijk Award were a Muslim couple from Sarajevo – Dervish and Sesvet Korkut, who risked their lives to save Jews; and Christoph Meili, a Swiss security guard who saved Holocaust-era bank documents from the shredder at the United Bank of Switzerland in 1997.
“By focusing on Righteous Gentiles, the students learn the value of hakarat hatov, or recognizing good that others do,” explains Wolf. “This is one of the educational messages that we’re sending to our students.
No matter what the person’s background or religion is, the students learn the value of gratitude.”
The religious connection
Among the large photographs of synagogues lining the wall of one of Boys Town’s corridors is a picture of Manila’s Temple Emil, rebuilt after it was bombed in World War II.
Sephardi Jews started to trickle into the Philippines from Syria, Egypt, Turkey and Greece with the decline of the Ottoman Empire. After World War I, Jews immigrated from Russia. In 1919, the community was formed under the name Temple Emil Congregation. By 1925, construction of the synagogue was completed.
During World War II, the building was used as an ammunition depot by the conquering Japanese. When American forces liberated Manila, the Japanese blew up the building in retreat. American Jewish soldiers, who were among the liberators, held Yom Kippur services in the bombed-out structure.
One of the soldiers sent to liberate Manila was Moses Fuchs, the father of Dr. Ya’acov Fuchs, chairman of English at Boys Town, who related his father’s story to Philippines Vice President Jejomar Binay as they looked at the photograph of Temple Emil.
“My father was drafted into the US Army when I was two months old. He was away for two years and didn’t see me until I was two and a half years old,” Fuchs recounts. (His father served in the Ordinance Corps in the Dutch East Indies.) “My father was very religious and kept kosher by eating potatoes and bread and canned food. Because of his background, he became assistant chaplain and organized a Passover Seder for 2,500 Jewish soldiers in the jungles.”
Fuchs showed Binay photos of his father, who was awarded the Purple Heart. “My father was flown to the Philippines with the purpose of invading Japan. The war then ended. He remained there as part of the occupational forces.”