Saturday, April 3, 2010

To Life

Yesterday, my friend, Alan Perlman and I discussed on line a post "The Day The Philippines Stands Still" which I had written last year for my other blog site, "Your Guide to Living In The Philippines". Briefly, that post discusses the Philippine culture's fixation on death, an example of which is the observance of Good Friday and Easter in which the Filipino focus is on the crucifixion story of the former rather than on resurrection as represented by the latter.

After reading the post, Alan posited a fascinating question: Why haven't  Jews who are better acquainted with death than Filipinos made it a dominant theme in Jewish culture? Indeed, the destruction of the Temple centuries ago should have been the end of us as a people. But like the Energizer Bunny, we've kept on going and going in the face of incredible adversity and hostility.

My semi-educated guess which I hope doesn't beg the question is that since for the Jews the long awaited messiah who God promised did not arrive in the early days of the diaspora, it was hope and the resulting optimism that he would do so sooner than later. An example of this thinking is Maimonides' Principle of Faith: "I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he tarry, I will wait for him." In turn this kind of confidence sustained the Jews and made life bearable even under miserable circumstances.

Progressive Jewish movements have of course long since abandoned the notion of an anointed savior who will redeem the Jewish people. How did this happen? The Enlightenment promised a new day for mankind. It infused many Jews with its ideals and gave them an awareness that each of us is his or her own messiah and is responsible for our own personal deliverance from centuries of persecution and humiliation endured by the Jewish people. It was this bold departure from traditional Jewish theology by Enlightenment-influenced thinkers such as Theodore Herzl, a founder of modern Zionism, that brought about the State of Israel, not the Orthodox and other theistic Jews who still wanted to continue waiting for the Messiah to appear and lead us to back to the promised land.

In the Philippines, on the other hand, perhaps the self-hatred and necrophilia that had been inculcated in the people here as the result of three hundred years of oppressive Spanish and Church rule ran too deep even for such brilliant Enlightenment thinkers as Jose Rizal to successfully remove in all but the handful of people who led the revolution against Spain, and who themselves were usurped by the Americans. Maybe Jewish determination like that of the majority of Filipinos would likewise have been pounded into submission if we too had been confined to one geographical location for the many centuries that we were persecuted. Could it be that despite the confines of the ghetto on one hand , the diversity that we encountered and experienced as "wandering Jews" on the other actually worked to our genealogical and cultural benefit? In this regard, Filipinos likewise make significant contributions to the countries to which they immigrate or serve as "OFW's" (Overseas Filipino Workers) as they are referred to in the local idiom.

Once again I want to emphasize that I'm not an academic expert in Jewish or Philippine history. My knowledge is relatively fragmentary at best in both fields. I leave it to professionals to decide whether or not the above observations have merit and look forward to feedback on them.


Alan said...


I agree about the Jews. Belief in waiting for the Messiah could get you killed. Belief in getting the hell out -- that could save your life. Action is better than faith.

But Filipinos and Latin Americans (I've seen some very creepy death masks, costumes, floats, etc.) had nowhere to go.

Jews also responded with fantasy, i.e., the Kaballah, which contains some of the weirdest (presumably non-drug-induced) fantasies I've ever seen.

Secular Guy said...


Thanks for your input. According to my wife, a Filipina, Filipinos do well and abide by local the rules when they have "somewhere to go" as OFW's and immigrants due to colonial mentality.

But when they return to the Philippines (or even at the consulates in the countries where they're residing), they revert to their old undisciplined ways even after many years of living abroad. I'm afraid she's right. I've seen this transformation and relapse in action. National character will out.