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Jewish Communities Pay Back Their Filipino Allies After Typhoon Haiyan

12/16/2013 12:32 EST | Updated 02/15/2014 05:59 EST

In a world without tragedy, there would be no heroism.

From afar, we witnessed the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, an unprecedented storm which left over 6,000 dead, displaced nearly four million, and which has affected 11-million people.

But when disaster strikes, compassion breeds. The international community and relief organizations have swiftly responded by donating tens of millions of dollars, and by airlifting all types of support, whether in providing financial assistance, medical aid & personnel, food, etc. Domestically, Canada has helped out in myriad ways including, but certainly not limited to, providing $40-million in aid and in deploying 237 soldiers as part of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART. Despite this, more help is needed.

The tragedy unfolding in the Philippines has struck a particular cord with the Jewish community in Canada and across the world due to our shared history. Most people have heard of the heroic efforts of Oskar Schindler thanks to Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List. How Schindler saved 1,100 Polish Jews during WWII when he hired them to work in his factory instead of being forced to work in concentration camps. But most people are not familiar with the story of Manuel Quezon, the Philippine Commonwealth President, and how, in 1939, he helped 1,300 German Jews escape probable extermination in the Holocaust by providing them with visas and safe harbour in the Philippines. At a time when hardly any country offered to help, and when Canada was saying "none is too many," the Philippines opened its doors. It's been said that Quezon was willing to accept as much as 10,000 more Jewish refugees if the U.S. State Department had allowed, and as many as 100,000 if President Quezon had his wish.

Quezon's quest, or better yet, what he considered was his personal duty, saw a small Asian nation save the lives of over 1,300 Jewish souls as they fled pogroms in Nazi Germany. Films like An Open Door: Jewish Rescue in the Philippines tells the story of a deep friendship borne of common adversity and intense love for freedom. How Jews and Filipinos endured bigotry and ultimately prevailed against overwhelming odds. These historic ties continued in 1947, when the Philippines was the only Asian country which voted for partition of Palestine leading to the creation of the modern State of Israel.

This kinship continued thanks in large part due to the extraordinary aid efforts undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who carried out "Operation Islands of Hope" where a 150-member team provided search, rescue and medical services. The IDF's hospital treated close to 3,000 typhoon survivors and recently, the first baby born in the hospital was named "Israel" in recognition of these efforts. The Government of Israel also recently gave $500,000 worth of medicine to the Cebu provincial government in the Philippines.

To date, Canada's Jewish community has commendably raised close to $200,000 for relief in the Philippines. We will never forget the role the Philippines played in helping to push for the Jewish people's salvation and in ensuring that our futures are secure thanks to the creation of the Jewish state. A memorial outside Tel Aviv serves as a testimonial to the Philippines, a nation committed to humanity who came to the aid of the Jewish community in our times of need.

It's now our responsibility to repay a debt of gratitude to this island nation. As my colleague Alan Gill, CEO of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee said: "We are fully committed to fulfilling President Quezon's prophecy and returning the favor to the Filipino people. Not just because we are Jews, the heirs to this nation's life-saving actions, but because we firmly believe in mutual responsibility and the idea that each individual life is valuable beyond measure."

On Sunday December 22, Toronto's Jewish community is uniting with our friends in the Filipino community in a city-wide clothing drive with drop-off locations at the BAYT synagogue in Thornhill (613 Clark Ave. W.), Pat's No Frills in North York (270 Wilson Ave.) and at the intersection of Bathurst St. and Avenol Dr.

In the spirit of kindness, care for our fellow man, and with holiday giving in mind, we invite and encourage all Torontonians to come out and show your support.

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