הושיע נא! – Who, when and why to save the Refugees

In the Hebrew edition of the Israeli daily news Haaretz/הארץ , published on February 9th, 2017, Fr. David Neuhaus, Patriarchal Vicar for the Migrants and for the Catholic Hebrew-speaking Communities in Israel at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem wrote an open letter (only in Hebrew and not legible in the English version of the Israeli paper) on “בשמם של 14 ילדים בני 11 [In the name of 14 Children aged 11 years old] that can be read via this link “http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.3739014”. The open letter of the clergyman is addressed to Mr Aryeh Deri, Interior Minister of the State of Israel (Shas).

Neuhaus’ letter was also published online on the site of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and here is the English version as they printed it – it is legible via this link “http://en.lpj.org/2017/02/10/in-the-name-of-fourteen-11-years-old-fr-david-neuhaus-open-letter-to-the-israeli-minister-of-the-interior/” :

In the name of fourteen 11 year olds: Fr. David Neuhaus’ open letter to the Israeli Minister of the Interior

ISRAEL – Fr. David Neuhaus SJ,  Patriarchal Vicar for the  Hebrew Speaking Catholics and Coordinator for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, sent an appeal to the Minister of Interior on behalf of 14 eleven-year old Filipino children. These children were born in Israel to migrant workers are deemed ineligible for residency and are facing immediate deportation together with their families. The appeal recalls how the Philippines welcomed and saved over 1,300 Jews who fled from Europe in the 1930s to this small Asian country.

Dear Mr. Aryeh Deri,

It is not my habit to introduce politicians to one another. However, in this case, I believe it is essential that you, the Honorable Interior Minister of the State of Israel, get to know the late President of the Philippines, Mr. Manuel Quezon. To be perfectly honest, I had hardly heard of Quezon before I was invited to the premier screening of a new, full-length documentary, detailing the involvement of Quezon in the saving of 1302 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany before and during the Shoah.

The film, “Open Door,” produced by renowned Filipino director Noel Izon, presents deeply moving interviews with the last remaining Jewish survivors of the Filipino effort to rescue Jews from their persecutors in Europe. Elderly men and women, often moved to tears, tell of the years they spent as children in a safe haven, far from the inferno of war-time Europe. One elderly Jewish man declares: “Not only do I maintain my Filipino passport but have insisted that my children renew their Filipino passports, that land was not my mother land but my adopted mother land”.

Quezon had originally intended to take in many more Jews. The raging war limited possibilities and ultimately only a small number, 1302 Jews, arrived on the islands that make up the country. Quezon’s friendship with the American governor and some of the Jewish migrants to the Philippines, who had arrived in the pre-war era, gave birth to an audacious and generous act: welcoming Jewish refugees, providing homes and work for them and allowing them to stay as long as was needed.

Dear Mr. Deri, I am not only commending Mr. Quezon to your scholarly attention but rather am appealing to you as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a human being in the name of 14 eleven year old children. You have decided that there is no place for them in the State of Israel. These young people have all been born here, speak almost only Hebrew, see this country as their homeland and have only one dream: to make their home here, contributing to the development and prosperity of our country. I add: they are all of Filipino parentage.

Their grandparents’ generation opened the Philippines to Jews escaping the Shoah. Their parents have come here to take care of our elderly, disabled and sick and do so day to day with devotion and love. Many of them have left behind their own elderly parents, disabled and sick relatives and look after ours. The children see themselves as part of who we are.

Dear Mr. Deri, surely when we remember the past, it can open our hearts and our minds to understand that in deporting these children or any other children of Filipino migrant workers, we are engaging in an act of callous cruelty that betrays a memory of kindness and generosity. Please, Mr. Minister, watch the film and change the decree.

Rev. David Neuhaus SJ, Latin Patriarchal Vicar

P.S. I cannot promise that I will not write again about the others who are seeking refuge here. Those who have fled genocide in Darfur and those who have fled the sinister regime of Eritrea and its torture chambers and dungeons, are surely the true brothers and sisters of those Jews who fleorder to enter d and found refuge here from persecution because they are Jews. What about their brothers and sisters in destiny?


Read article on HaAretz site here

Read about “Open Door” documentary here

I got Fr. David Neuhaus’ open letter online when it got published. The man is a Jesuit priest, he is of Jewish descent, born in South Africa as his parents had left Germany by the time of the Nazis (700 years of constant presence in Germany) and emigrated to this Southern region of the African continent because of the presence of many Jewish people who came from Germany or the East-European areas. He arrived in Israel when the apartheid conflicts grew too strong and started to study in a Jewish place. He decided to become a Catholic priest and made his path in the Middle-Eastern zone for the seminarians, also studying in view to be a member of the Societas Iesu (Jesuits). This led him to travel to different countries, in particular Egypt. He finally was ordained a priest by Patriarch Michel Sabbah.

As an Israeli citizen (he had arrived as a Jew), he had to serve in the Army and preferred to become an conscience objector – he was sent for some time in prison for “disobedience”, then spent his military national service at the St. Stephen’s Hospital. After different developments, he was appointed as rector of one of the Hebrew speaking community in Jerusalem and later on he was assigned as Episcopal/Patriarchal Vicar for the Catholic Hebrew speaking believers (Saint James’ Association) in the whole country.

This is in short, because alongside, Fr. David Neuhaus is also a professor at th Beit Jala Latin Patriarchate Seminary, he is well-read in Arabic and Hebrew a in other languages. Per se, the path is quite interesting for the local Church of Jerusalem as well as for the Jesuit Society. Basically.

Now, Fr. David Neuhaus decided to write this open letter in Haaretz where it only was published in Hebrew. This means that the English version of the daily did not translate his address to Mr. Aryeh Deri as Interior Minister. Instead, on February 12, Haaretz in English published a long article on the protest and demonstrations that took place in Tel Aviv, requiring that the State of Israel recognize and grant human and citizen rights to the numerous refugees and foreign workers who live and work in the country, often illegally. The news echoed the claim that they should be given a status and be able to legally apply for asylum in Israel (“http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/1.771156).

This means that Haaretz widened the purpose as described in the open letter of the clergyman to the Interior Minister. There is indeed a dramatic question for the Hebrew State whether to accept the refugees and shelter them officially. Normally they are entitled by international rules and regulations to be secured as human beings residing in any official State. Israel faces another problem: it has been in war in the past decades – in fact since its creation – and has to fix the situation of her own citizens provided that these have a historic right to “return” to Zion from any part of the world.  This is the way the priest arrived in Israel as a teen, when he was a full member of the Judaic heritage.

The arrival of the numerous refugees combined with the “temporary” stay of a lot of foreign workers called by the State of Israel to realize some specific projects (late PM Ariel Sharon had called the first generation of Chinese workers who came to work in the fields). At the present, there are new waves of foreign workers who come to be employed in building houses, facilities. They supposedly participate – for a short or medium-long term – in the development of the State of Israel. In between, there are crowds of illegal passers-by, para-workers, more or less legal people – individuals as groups – who reside in Israel because they found there a good way of living, the possibility to get some “better” salaries than in their home countries, or they send some of their money to their families in need abroad. Israel is a “wealthy” State and society for a lot of souls who also can stay for a while or even their whole life in a place of “welfare” – moreover they can also have the right to worship according to their religious beliefs in the Holy Land.

Then, on February 9th, 2017, Fr. David Neuhaus wrote a letter in the “Leftist”, very open-minded Haaretz newspaper. He did not choose to write the same letter both in Hebrew and in English in this paper and subsequently in other Israeli medias. At the end of the letter, he explains to Aryeh Deri that he may disturb the Interior Minister for other refugees. As for this letter, he mentions the situation of emergency of these 14 children, 11 year old teens.

The cause is real. The matter is correct. The demand is strong, indeed.

In fact, the letter is quite similar to the article published by Haaretz on November 17, 2016 “Despite Being Born in Israel, 14 Migrants’ Children to Be Deported” – [The parents of the children, all aged 11, said they didn’t submit residency applications because they knew they would be rejected] written by Ilan Lior (link: “http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.753624”). This “root” article (same picture – (c) Tomer appelbaum – and short excerpts) to Fr. Neuhaus’ open letter to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri stated:

“The ruling means deporting 35 people — the 14 children and 21 family members. All the mothers and most of the fathers are from the Philippines. A number of the fathers are migrant workers from Turkey and Thailand. All but two of the men either left Israel voluntarily or were deported.

The mothers entered Israel with work visas and worked as home health aides. Each lost her visa for various reasons, such as the employer’s death or their own pregnancies, but remained in Israel.”

The initial resolution had been adopted by the Cabinet in August 2010, which means that the fourteen teens are still in the country and have not been deported, though the situation of their fathers led them to be compelled to leave Israel.

In November 2016, the State rule was that the concerned children should leave Israel within six (6) weeks from then, which should have been done by the end of 2016. As for now, they are in the country and benefit from the spiritual and societal assistance of the Latin Patriarchate, in particular of the actions conveyed by Fr. Neuhaus acting as the Latin Patriarchate’s Coordinator for the Pastoral Care of the Migrants.

Is there some change? It is evident that the State f Israel did not grant any kind of status to these children. What is new? What makes things urgent, if any?

Indeed, the priest is right when he invites Aryeh Deri to see the documentary film on how the Philippino government under  Mr. Quezon’s actions for saving the 1302 Jews during the time of the Shoah. The question of how these Far-Eastern Islands sheltered such an amount of Jews in times of harsh persecution. Movies are indeed a real part of our cultural awareness.

This paragraph is also appalling in Neuhaus’ words: “Dear Mr. Deri, I am not only commending Mr. Quezon to your scholarly attention but rather am appealing to you as a Jew, as an Israeli and as a human being in the name of 14 eleven year old children. You have decided that there is no place for them in the State of Israel. These young people have all been born here, speak almost only Hebrew, see this country as their homeland and have only one dream: to make their home here, contributing to the development and prosperity of our country. I add: they are all of Filipino parentage”.

This is a different tune. Does the priest appeal to Aryeh Deri’s Jewishness or does he mention his own backgrounds? It sounds he speaks of his own identity that therefore ask for the Minister’s attention to respect the backgrounds of these teens who, born in Israel, are of Philipino identity and backgrounds and are Catholic Christians (as the clergyman) and not of Jewish nationality.

Maybe the letter could be addressed to a group of Israeli leaders and deciders, both politicians, the Attorney General and some lawyers, actors and thinkers reflecting on the development of the State of Israel – as well as the President of the State of Israel Reuven Rivlin -at the present. There are these 14 children, their quite difficult life-path, the hardships their parents have to face. In 2010, to beginning with, the question ran with regard to more than 400 people.

Finally, the pending question is what is going on at the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. There are changes, real changes that deeply affect the personnel and the structure of the Latin Patriarchate. They aim at allowing the Latin Patriarchate to meet the needs and requirements of the local Catholic Patriarchate that is a bit embattled in different affairs. New assignments in Jordan and in other places and niches of this institution will take place in the coming weeks and months. Updating is a permanent feature and topic of all the religious structures of authority that often look at their position as “immanent old style stands”.

This may be why an open letter should attract the attention of the State’s officials on the dreadful situation of some refugees. Israel is going through the pangs of birth, they do continue and will prolong for quite several decades if not more, due to an overall context in which the attitudes of the Christian Churches are also in question.

Lord have mercy and save! אנ ה’ חוס ורחם והושיע נא!