The 60th anniversary of the Philippine–Israel diplomatic ties was celebrated with an outdoor program held at Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv, Israel where the Open Doors Monument stands as a symbol of the special relationships between the two countries.
Hosted by the city government of Rishon Lezion led by Mayor Dov Sur, the auspicious event was organized by Ephesus Travel and Tours represented by its President and General Manager Rosemarie Galang and the Christian Friends of Magen David Ado –Philippines led by Chairman Josephine Brobio.
Giving full support was the City’s Foreign Relations Department headed by Director Annette Ben-Shabar.
The afternoon program kicked-off with a wreath-laying ceremony, a solemn gesture to honor those who gave their lives during World War 2 and a reminder of the hardships suffered and endured by the two countries.
The Philippine Ambassador to Israel Neal Imperial, Mayor Dov Sur and holocaust survivor Margot Pins Kestenbaum laid the wreaths at the Monument which was launched and unveiled in 2009 during the term of the late Ambassador Antonio Modena, who according to Imperial, came up with the idea for the monument.
In his speech, Imperial acknowledged the people who made the construction of the monument a reality, among them: Simi Salpeter, former Ambassador to Israel Petronila Garcia and CDA Gilberto Asuque and Israeli friends whose “footprints are imprinted on the base of the monument, symbolizing the enduring friendship between the two countries,” namely: Max Weissler, George Loeweinstein and Doryliz Goffer.”
“Through this imposing monument, Ambassador Imperial said, “the story of the Philippines’ Open Doors Policy initiated by President Manuel Quezon is getting known throughout the world.”
His benevolent move came at the “time when our moral compass pointed in the right direction when human compassion and hope prevailed over hate and prejudice,” Imperial added.
During the holocaust in the early days of World War 2 when the Jews faced persecution, President Quezon lobbied for a permanent Jewish settlement in Mindanao, as well as a working farm in Marikina issuing 30,000 visas to the victims.
One of them was guest of the celebration Kestenbaum who made a homecoming to the Philippine Women’s University in 2015 where she and her cousin Lotte, then only seven years old entered third grade at the PWU Elementary School, now Jose Abad Santos Elementary School (JASMS).
She came back after 70 years and spoke before over 500 PWU officials and students and kept the audience in awe and admiration as she recalled the sweet and bitter memories of school days and of war, notably the bombing of Manila which she and her family witnessed.
Mayor Dov Sur in his speech retold the “darkest of modern times, but one country chose to hold its hand out and welcomed the fleeing Jews from the Nazi terror.”
He acknowledged with deep gratitude the generous offer of Pres. Quezon to issue visas to Jewish emigrants.
“Some 1,200 Jews availed of the offer, survived the journey, reached haven and were warmly received in Mindanao and Marikina,” he said.
“Some 78 years after issuing the life-saving visas to Jews who fled in fear of their lives, we stand here today marking 60 years of ever strengthening diplomatic relations between our two countries,” Mayor Dov Sur stated.
The musical numbers were provided by Laarni Lozada, Pinoy Dream Academy grand champion and Israeli top artist Tal Kravitz who sang popular Pilipino songs to the delight of the audience.
Joining the celebration were former Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines Menashe Bar-On and wife Eti and some 23 pilgrims , including the author, brought by Ephesus Travel and Tours for a 10-day tour to biblical sites and flown in by its official carrier, the Ethiopian Airlines.
Serving as spiritual director of the pilgrimage was Rev. Fr. Artemio Fabros, chaplain of San Jose Manggagawa Parish in Manuguit, Tondo.