TEL AVIV -- They call themselves “Manilaners” or Manileno-Jews because they lived in Manila for much of their growing-up years.
Max Weissler, 89, and Margot Pins Kestenbaum, 88, were just two of the 1,300 Jews who sought refuge in the Philippines during the holocaust.
Weissler and Pins Kestnebaum were guests at the inauguration of Balai Quezon (Quezon House), which was held at the Philippine Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Balai Quezon will serve to recognize and promote greater awareness and recognition of President Manuel L. Quezon’s open-door policy, which provided a safe haven for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust.
An exhibition, entitled “The Philippines and Israel: An Enduring Friendship, A Growing Partnership,” was also launched, where Weissler lent personal items, such as passport and photos that depict his life in the Philippines as a young man.
Weissler, who requested to be spoken to in Tagalog, proudly calls himself a “kanto boy” in Pasay, a slang for locals frequently seen hanging out in the local communities.
“Taga-Pasay ako, malapit sa F.B. Harrison,” explained Weissler. “I got there at the age of 11. I grew up in the streets. I learned Tagalog before I learned English. Kanto boy ako dyan eh, sa inyo.”
Max’s wife, Esther, said her husband is a Filipino at heart.
“Whenever he saw a Filipino, he talks to them to have a conversation. You see a white man speaking in Tagalog. He is really a Filipino at heart. He is really attached to the Philippines,” she explained.
Pins Kestenbaum, meanwhile, sang a Philippine folk song, when prodded to speak in Tagalog.
She can still vividly recall some of the best days of living in Manila, like watching the sunset at Dewey (now Roxas) Boulevard with her friends.
“I, as a young girl, had a bicycle and we went to see the sunset every evening,” she said.
She is also grateful for the refuge given by the Philippine government when they left Europe. She came to the Philippine at the age of seven and left the Philippines at the age of 19.
“Thanks for the Philippines, I survived,” said Pins Kestenbaum.
Asked what the Philippines means to her, she said: “Philippines means several things. One, it means my very existence. Secondly, friendliness and warmth, qualities that are unique to Filipinos.”
Also present at the Balai Quezon inauguration were keynote speaker, Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella; Yarin Mayer from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Honorary Consul Shimon Weinbaum; and, hosting the event, Ambassador Neal Imperial.
This year’s Philippine Film Festival, organized by the Philippine Embassy in Israel also showcased "Quezon’s Game," a film depicting President Quezon’s efforts to allow Jewish refugees to stay in the Philippines.