23 May 2009

Philippines: Israel and a much older connection

Two items this week focused on the Philippines, which has a little-known and very interesting Jewish history dating from Inquisition days, when the islands were a refuge for Jews escaping from persecution.

Additionally, the Inquisition used the Philippines as a sort of penal colony. There are Mexican Inquisition records indicating that people were sentenced to Manila for several years.

One story concerned a monument to be dedicated in June in Israel commemorating the "Open Doors" program, and remembering the courage, hospitality and determination of the Philippine government, through President Manuel L. Quezon, to give humanitarian support to European Jews seeking refuge from the Holocaust in the 1930s.

The second story was about a Philippino family that learned about its Sephardic Converso background and has just returned to Judaism in Kansas City.

Tracing the Tribe posted on the country's Jewish history in March 2007. Here's a link to the Embassy of Israel's web site for an online exhibit telling the Manila community's history since the Spanish colonial days through to more contemporary times.
The islands were a Spanish colony from 1521-1898, and conversos accompanied Spanish adventurers who settled the islands, according to Harvard University history professor Jonathan Goldstein, who wrote a paper on Jewish merchants in Far Eastern ports.

New Christians Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez are the first recorded Jews to have arrived, reaching Manila in the 1590s. In 1593, both were tried and convicted at a Mexico City trial ( auto-da-fe) because the Inquisition was not operating in the Philippines. At least eight other New Christians were also tried and convicted. Others with Jewish roots kept very quiet, settling in rural areas, living a precarious existence and keeping their traditions very secret in a very Catholic colony.

The Suez Canal opened in March 1869, cutting the travel time from Europe to the Philippines from three months to 40 days. In 1870, brothers Adolf, Charles and Rafael Levy arrived from Alsace-Lorraine, fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, and established a Manila jewelry store famous throughout the Philippines, La Estrella del Norte included general merchandise, gems, pharmaceuticals and automobiles. Leopold Kahn, also from Alsace, arrived in 1909 and joined them in business.

Many refugees were welcomed during the Holocaust. Later, Sephardic Bagdadi Jews from India arrived, as well as those from the American-European Ashkenazi community.

Some Sephardic discussion groups, such as Sephardim.org have recently seen messages from Filipinos discussing their Jewish backgrounds and remnants of Hebrew still preserved.

Click here to read the story of Cantor Cysner and more.

The Manila Bulletin's story about the monument in Rishon-le-Zion, Israel is here.

Recognizing the generosity and humanitarian assistance of the Filipino people to the Jews during the Holocaust, the Israeli government is set to inaugurate the first Philippine monument in Israel’s Rishon Lezion Holocaust Memorial Park on June.

The Israeli embassy in Manila described the first-ever monument as a "lasting symbol" of more than five decades-old bilateral partnership between the Israel and the Philippines.

This year marks "another milestone for the cordial ties" between the two countries with the inauguration of the "Open Doors" monument, designed by Filipino artist Jun Yee, on June 21, the embassy said in a statement.

"The warm hospitality of the Filipino people undoubtedly shed light to one of the darkest and most difficult periods in Jewish history," the Israeli embassy said.

Holocaust survivor, Frank Ephraim, documented the Holocaust in his book "Escape to Manila," which prompted the creation of the "Open Doors" monument, which was initiated by former Ambassador Antonio Modena, who died in 2007.

The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle covered the story of a group of individuals who recently converted to Judaism. Involved in this story was Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, a Brazilian native, well know for assisting converts and in outreach efforts in South and Central America. The group included a Filipino family:
It’s been a long road for Romeo Bagunu, his wife, Araceli, and their three children, Yeremeya, 10, Yonatan, 9, and Annaliza, 6. Both Romeo and his wife were born in the Philippines and raised in the United States.

“The whole process has taken many years for us, from study, trying to work out our faith,” said Romeo Bagunu.

He estimates they’ve been studying Judaism on their own for 11 years. Research into their ancestry sparked a curiosity about Judaism. Both Romeo and Araceli found that their heritage was Spanish and that their ancestors had settled in the Philippines after the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition expelled Spain’s Jews and forced those who remained to convert to Christianity.

“During the Inquisition, a lot of the Jews settled in the Philippines. In learning that, we became more interested that our family had a lot of Spanish-Jewish culture they kept,” Bagunu said.

In exploring their faith, “we went from a very charismatic Christian background to a Messianic congregation, then to an Orthodox congregation and finally settled last year with Rabbi Cukierkorn’s New Reform Temple… Moving from the Christian faith to this, we wanted to know where the paths were alike and different,” he said.
Read the complete articles at the links above.

45 comments:

  1. nice story ..im a pure pilipino too and studying judaism atm.. 11 yrs omg im just no my 2nd yr atm..btw shalom
    bh
    ferdz

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  2. My family, as far as I know, is has Filipino and Spanish roots. However, I while researching my mother's maiden name (which is supposedly where my Spanish roots come from), I discovered that her maiden name is traditionally Sephardic Jewish. I came across your article while trying to trace my possible Jewish roots.

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    1. Anonymous10:39 PM

      Not all Filipinos with Sephardic surname is necessarily of Sephardic origin

      Delete
  3. Hello lgp,

    My sister-in-law is also Filipino and we have been researching possible Sephardic roots. What are the surnames you are researching? It is possible that you may have some family traditions that are rooted in Judaism too. DNA testing may also be a tool you can use in tracing your possible Sephardic roots. Please post more about your ancestry here on Tracing The Tribe and feel free to contact me at heyjude0701@gmail.com if you want to find out more about DNA testing.

    Judy Simon

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  4. KHRISTINE11:56 PM

    Israeli's sure know of Judaism existence amongts Filipinos but not really acknowledging it. My son being born in Israel doesn't count at all. He practices judaism all through out our stay there. but so far, no rabbi will teach him here in the philippines as we are very far from makati. wish all things are well to all...

    ingat!

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  5. Is it documented that some converted Spanish Jews or their descendants stayed in the Philippines during the colonial times? Our lolo told us that we descended from a Spanish friar who lived in the Philippines so many years ago. Incidentally, our surname appears in the list of Sephardic Jews (at sephardic.com) at the time of Inquisition in Spain.

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  6. Is there a study being made regarding the possible existence of Filipinos with sephardic roots? The Philippines became a Spanish colony for more than 300 years, starting late 1500s when the Inquisition in Spain had already started.

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  7. Hi, Jesse,

    The islands served as a penal colony for those conversos caught following Judaic traditions. They were sent there from Mexico City. That has been documented.

    As Judy Simon has indicated in another comment to this post, DNA testing, via FamilyTreeDNA.com, is a tool to find out to whom you are related. If Y-DNA or the detailed mtDNA tests indicate matches with known Sephardic families, you will have clues to follow up on.

    Additionally, many in the Catholic Church were from Jewish families. If a hidden Jewish family had a priest as a family member, he could travel among other hidden families without suspicion. Many leaders of the Church were of Jewish ancestry. So your grandmother's story of the family being descended from a Spanish friar - who may have had jewish ancestry - is quite possible.

    Inquisition court records are available, and you might be able to find evidence there.

    with best wishes
    Schelly

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    1. Schelly,

      Thanks for the information. This year (2012) I will have my y-DNA. I am certain my genes have a sprinkling of non-Malay blood because our family descended from a Spanish friar (about 5 generations ago).

      My father's generation is almost gone, and goes with them some of their practices, too. They are not aware of these practices as they don't know the reasons for their being.

      In my paternal grandfather's time they don't allow men from other clans marry their girls.
      Marrying a relative was common in their clan. Relative families, as some of us in our generation observe, are mostly those listed as sephardic surnames.

      Some of their practices include: sweeping the floor towards the center of the room; Biblical names, mostly from Old Testament, are common especially the generation before us; letting another son marry the fiancee of a dead son.

      When the sister of my grandfather's father was widowed she remarried. She let her sons of second marriage took her maiden name, while the daughter(s) had their father's family name.

      My search for our roots continues...

      Jesse

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  8. Hi iam researching also about the history of my family in particular the DIAZ FAMILY ARE OF SPANISH JEW ORIGIN...IT IS ALSO IN CONNECTION WITH JEWISH DYSTONIA DISORDER THAT IS HERIDITARY AND GENETICALLY PASS ON...OUR PROVINCE ...CAPIZ IN PARTICULAR HAS THE MOST NUMBERS OF FAMILY AFFECTED BY THIS DISORDER. hope you could help me trace my roots.Deo Antonio D. Llamas

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  9. Hi! It is so nice to now that there are fellow pinoys here trying to trace back their identity to jewish roots.

    As far as I have known (self study of Phil. history), there are more than handful of Sephardims exiled or had chosen to abode in the Philippines during the inquisition period. Cypto Jews initially settled in walled city of Maynila. Most of them are merchants and traders. With vast opportunities of market in the land and because of fear in inquisition as well, these Jews scattered all over the fortified settlements of Spaniards in Luzon, and even as far as Cebu, Bohol, and Ilo-ilo. Sephardi Jews travel as family, and as much as possible, they don't want anyone to know that they are Jews. In that case, it is difficult to find or trace documented migration of these Sephardims from Spain. Most of them changed their names or dropped their Jewish-ly last names upon interring the country, or had already acquired surnames that leaves no clues of their Jewishness. Some of their surnames are name of saints or "churches" where they have been "christened" as Roman Catholics. All they want people to know is that they are either "Spaniards" or "Portuguese".

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  10. Little we do know that some of our Filipino traditions are rooted in Sephardi Jews' tradition. Oro, Plata, Mata (Gold, Silver, Omen)is one of the principles or beliefs of Jewish Kabbalist in 15th-17th century Spain. Eating quezo de bola and "Gelts" or giving gift coins to childrens during Christmas are traditions observed by Jews during their celebration of "Hanukkah" (Feast of lights, Kislev 25 - Tevet 3) that eventually falls every December. Traditional 7 days of mourning over the dead and "Lakdang" or crossing over of children of the deceased's over its coffin during internment, and "Balis" or "Usug" is another. Beliefs in "Zohar" or Jewish mysticism is popular in Spain and Portugal during 14th-17th century among the Sephardi Jews explains of so many "Pamahiin" beliefs of Filipinos are rooted in their mystic beliefs.

    And yes, it is true that most Cryto-Jews embraced Catholism and had hidden their Jewishness. I used to remember the old folks stories in my province (Quezon) includes statements like, "Dont tell anyone that you are a jew" or if a child is stubborn or uncannily witty , they will say "Isa ka ngang Hudyo!".

    Particularly in my family, upon careful study and records of genealogy (recorded and documented by ancestors and relatives, "Elloso Centenarian"), our great grand parents are Sephardi Jew married to a Filipina-Chinese meztiza. The family is noted as "Sarado-Catholico" in religion. The traditions is also passed down to generations that in every "Elloso" family, one of the children will become a priest, or a nun.

    Shalom! Todah Rabah!

    Russ

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    1. Hello Russel,
      I am much interested in your contributing story of the Elloso's great grandparents were Sephardi jew. And all about the Elloso Family. I would like to get in touch with your about the family's ancestry tracing to this particular Sephardi Jew married to fil-chino meztiza. Please do reply. Thank you.

      Delete
  11. We we study deply the origin of filipino people we can trace back that origin to the HOUSE OF ISRAEL

    first we study the culture and belief of our Ancestor

    There is physical evidence of jewish culture that we found to our culture

    According to some historian our Ancestor believe in Supreme God called Bathala in Tagalog Very familiar to hebrew name of god "ELOHA" to Visayan people they called this "ABBA" very familiar to aramaic language that they addres to The FATHER ...Jesus Himselp called his father ABBA.(mat.6:9)even Apostle Paul He called god "ABBA"(gal.4:6)

    One of Oldest custom of our ancestor is the custom of circumsation..Before spanish colinized this Island Our ancestor practise this as part of thier custom the male must circumsize and we know circumsation is a part of jewish custom to the children Abraham.(Gen.17:914)

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    1. Anonymous2:14 AM

      Some Historians say 9 th Century before the arrival of spanish colonization. the middle east people arrive in malayan penisula.

      Delete
  12. I posted on this blog about a year ago about my possible Jewish roots through my mother's family (Cardona). My mom was from Borongan, Eastern Samar. The posts following my own posts are compelling.

    Judy- I am sorry that I didn't see your reply until now. The names that I know of in my mother's family are Cardona, Tañada (which came from her mother, who came from Palo, Leyte), Abinas, and Abelgas. I know less about my father's side, which is Parado.

    I'll definitely email you regarding DNA testing. My partner and I recently visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and my curiosity has definitely been piqued.

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  13. Has anyone here been successful at tracing their Sephardic roots in the Philippines by finding documentation? If so, what did you do and how did you find the information?

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  14. I was able to trace back my sephardic jewish roots. with the help of our local civil registrar. old documents "pamana" and a very confidential document that the Marcos's hand over to my late lolo.

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  15. At Ancestry.com, I was informed that the family Name TERRY is listed in the Jewish Passenger List in the US pre war in the 1800+-.This has ignited my desire to know if this has Jewish roots as my Maternal Great Grandfather's parent's were among the early American Irish in Massachusetts. My Great Grandfather married a Filipina from Bicol Region, lived in the Philippines after serving the U.S. Army as Captain and engineer who built bridges here and other countries after the war. However,we had no contact with the TERRY family at the U.S.,as he was abroad often, and my grandmother grew up in an American convent school here till she married.I also have Spanish blood from both maternal and paternal side.I sure would like to know if we have Jewish roots because also as a full gospel Christian, Israel is so close to my heart.

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  16. Anonymous7:42 AM

    My surname is Israel (Rosendo Emano Israel) and my father's birthplace is in Aboyog, Leyte very close to Samar. I am wondering if I have also a Jewish ancestry base on my surname and my great love for Eretz Yisrael. Are all Filipinos that bear the surname Israel have a Jewish ancestry? I hope somebody from here will answer my question because I'm very curious. Thank you.
    Shalom.

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  17. Anonymous6:32 AM

    Without valid records it is hard to trace back the ancestry .It needs also record during migration and that would be hard .We can't rely on just mere speculations at all . Also during the few hundred years of the Spanish occupation, authorities enforced hispanization of all names and surnames from what used be native sounding names.So we can't rely exactly if our family names which sounded like Sephardic is exactly traceable to Sephardic origins .It might just be a plane surname with no connections at all ,as it was like a pick and choose of surnames .If you got meztisos line ,it is probaly worth digging up .When persecutions happened during those days agains Jews ,do you think it would not be tempting for them to change family names and be lost among the crowd ? I think the best way to trace is by DNA evidence and by the same evidence you can nail the truth down with no more hanging on speculations ,that you are a descendant of Sephardic crypto Jews .

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  18. Anonymous6:20 AM

    My great grandfather Raphael Habibi, a Sephardic Jew from Smyrna, Turkey, went to the Philippines in the early 1900s seeking opportunity. He opened a store there and his wife and son later followed him. Raphael and his wife Esther had more children, all born in the Philippines. Raphael became a prosperous businessman. More family members joined him from Smyrna. Among them, members of the Campeas family. Most of the family left the Philippines prior to WWII. My family was able to immigrate to the US because the Philippines were a US territory then. Those that stayed in Manila suffered mightily under the Japanese occupation. If anyone has any information regarding the Habibis or Campeas's, I would be interested in exchanging info.

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    1. Anonymous1:04 PM

      I am also from the Habibi Campeas family from Smyrna, Turkey. My Great Grandfather and Raphael Habibi were brothers. Their father and mother were Ruben and Alegre Habibi. I have reconnected with some of Raphael's family through Ancestry. Please contact me to exchange information. My email is listed as dmagella72@hotmail.com

      Delete
  19. Anonymous1:11 PM

    My family is also Habibi Campeas from Smyrna Turkey and Raphael Habibi and my great grandfather Habibi were also brothers. Ruben and Alegre Habibi were their parents and my great great grandparents. Please reply so that we can exchange information. I also have information regarding the Campeas family as this is my maiden name.

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  20. Anonymous10:28 PM

    My family tree is from PAREDES in Northern Samar and according to the Wikipedia Research there are four groups (crypto Jews-Spanish) migrated all over the world and the Wikipedia describe that the fourth group went to the Philippines and specifically Northern Samar and this Paredes clan has been suspected as secret Spaniards hiding in the place.-Can you support this claim based on your research of origins if this is true?

    Thank you.

    Pedro P.

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  21. Anonymous7:09 PM

    My great grand parents came from Spain in the 18th century. I remember my grandfather also talking in spanish. I found their surname ZARAGOZA in the Sephardic list, so us my father's surname PINEDA.
    When family are planning to go and settle in Spain, my son Joshua replied "why not in Israel". I don't know if this has something to do with your roots or origin, so just brushed it aside.

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    1. Anonymous9:27 AM

      very interesting. that's so unusual it should have struck you as something to investigate further. i mean it's not like he suggested Canada or States..

      Delete
  22. Anonymous10:46 AM

    Hi, does anyone know of a book written about Filipinos of Sephardic ancestry? If not I think I would definitley would be helpful and interesting in our search of those with Portuguese and Spanish backgrounds

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  23. Anonymous5:34 PM

    The modern historians and demographers identify the ancient port of Palapag along the present day Candawid Bay in between Isla de Batang and Laoang Islands in Northern Samar. This is most likely the ground zero of the biblical Ophir which the natives call Araw City and the government calls Samar. Samar came from the ancient biblical place in the Holy Land called Samaria, the homeland of the Samaritans, Jewish people by blood but are not practicing a strict Jewish rituals. Isla de Batang is the first land mass you will see after a long travel in the Pacific Ocean going to Manila. It is a part of the Galleon Trade route and the home of the ancient shipbuilding industry which later become the Galleon Trade ship repair station. The significance of the island was recognized by the American government who decided to modernized an ancient lighthouse found in the island. It is no wonder that when the Sephardi Jews from Spain were imprisoned and were thrown in the Spanish colonies, some of them who knew about the place decided to choose Northern Samar in the Philippines. They later become known as the crypto Jews or hidden Jews. One of the Jewish families who settled in the present day Laoang Town is the Ejercito family. Although their ancestral home is still there up to the present, most of their descendants later moved to Manila, Bulacan, Cavite and Laguna.Other Jewish families in the Laoang, Catubig, Pambujan and Palapag area are the Saba, Mendoza, Infante, Hechanova, Cerbito, Mercader, Rivas, Deaneneas, Sarmiento, Lucero, Arandia, Veloso, Quiles, Daza, Vicencio, Siervo, Pinca, Acedera, Luto, Adora, Romualdez,Cardenas,Moncada, Lopez,Lagrimas,Gullab,Rosales,Loverita, etc.

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  24. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Is Alvarez or atillo are one of those names? Plz reply my grand parents is from Samar, I am here now in tel aviv and most Israelis would say you look like an israeli yourself.

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  25. Alvarez is listed at sephardim.com as one of those sephardic jew surnames...

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  26. Anonymous4:35 AM

    Ocenar, from Samar. My uncle has an Isreali resemblance. But we'd like to know if we actually are decendants

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  27. Anonymous4:58 AM

    Somebody please let me know where to take Y-DNA tests, for possible trace of Jewish ancestry. I'm at maotzetung5@gmail.com. Thanks much!

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  28. Anonymous5:03 AM

    Somebody please let me know where to take Y-DNA test in the Philippines, for possible trace of Jewish ancestry. Im at maotzetung5@gmail.com. Thanks much

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    Replies
    1. if you want to know your possible jewish ancestry you may take Y-DNA test but it will only tell you your paternal DNA haplogroup. you need to confirm it through your genetic matches. but if you did not descend from direct male to male line then y-dna may not answer your queries. if you decide to have your dna test at Family Tree DNA (FTDNA), try also its Family Finder test as it gives you information who are your genetic cousins both from your paternal and maternal lines. when your results of Family Finder test are already available download it at GEDMATCH.com. In there, you can match your dna result with wider gene pool from other companies.

      Delete
  29. Anonymous6:06 AM

    I've been curious about my ancestors (mom's Ester side) since last year. I did a genealogical research in the Internet, and I'm surprised to discover that Bello (my grandpa Jose's full name is Jose Bello Pilanga) is not a Christian last name but Jewish according to Roman Catholic Church and Jews websites. Probably, some of the Bello clan (which are Sephardi/Spanish Jews) migrated here in the Philippines from Spain during the diaspora/dispersion around 16th century A.D. Grandma Cristina told me last year that my great grandmother Matea Bello (mother of my grandpa Jose Bello Pilanga) was a Spanish from Cebu City and settled down in Zamboanga City.

    Please contact me if you are part of the Bello clan : weinzbelardo@yahoo.com

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  30. Anonymous5:22 AM

    I have been intrigued by the story of Marranos or Crypto Jews in the Philippines especially because of a little secret story about my maternal ancestor. My maternal grandparents when they were still alive used to tell me that their great grandfather was a Spanish man who jumped off a ship in the shore of Capiz during "Tiempo Quintos" and changed his last name from "Valdes" to "Dating" and settled incognito in Antique where he married a native woman. It's also a strange coincidences that a lot of unexplained practices were followed by my great grandparents have roots in Jewish faith. My grandparents never eat pork and fishes without scales though they were Sarado Catolico. I remember that when we were growing up we were forbidden from taking a bath on Fridays especially during evenings. We also cover our mirrors when someone dies, My grandparents would light altar candles every night. All the boys in my family are circumcised. I also remember that my grandfather have delicate facial features with aquiline noses resembling those from Northern Mexico and Nicaragua. Although these features were somehow lost in succeeding generations, I would still see them sporadically among my nephews and nieces.
    My claim to Sephardic lineage may be a figment of a wild imagination and may never be substantiated, but those uncanny similarities and " secrets" may have a grain of truth to it. Hence, I could not just brush off those persistent stories as outlandish myths. I may be one of those among here who feel they will never be complete until they unravel the secrets if their past.
    Good. Luck! Art from Las Vegas

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  31. Anonymous5:23 PM

    I took a dna test and what came out is I'm part Jewish, Algerian and Chinese. The only Jewish tradition that's left in my family that we still practice is "gelt". Its the giving of coins to kids during hannukah, but my family does it on Christmas since they are Christians already.
    I believe there's a lot of crypto jews in the Philippines just like my family.

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    1. Anonymous9:35 AM

      I also want to find out if I have Jewish ancestry. I really got more curious after reading your post. I don't understand why my mama gives me coins too. She says I should keep it. My maternal grandfather's brother (my grandpa died when I was young) told me that my grandfather stayed somewhere in Samar (I think in Northern Samar) before WWII because we have relatives there. My grandfather if I remember it right worked on a piece of land owned by an uncle or a relative. I also want to know so I will search more soon.

      Delete
  32. Anonymous11:09 PM

    I am a direct descendants of the Sepharad from the Philppines

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  33. I am also trying to trace our roots. I just recently known that our Family have Spanish roots and when I tried to google My Grandmother's surname, I was surprised to learn that our surname is of Jewish origin. If the only way to prove our roots is by dna testing, how much does it cost?

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  34. Just to let you all know. Lequios had settlements in the Philippines. Lequios are King Solomon's gatherers who reached the far east. Spain documented an encounter with big, white, bearded men in the Philippines before colonizing it.

    It is possible that some of the lost tribes of Israel ended up in Ophir (Philippines).

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  35. Anonymous5:18 AM

    Hi there where can we have a Y-DNA tested here in the Philippines? And around how much does it cost? Thank you.

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  36. Anonymous10:21 AM

    Can anyone provide tips on how to trace your sephardic lineage in the Philippines? Saw the list of names that are of sephardic origin and my bf's last name is one of them. Any info on where to look and how to trace the roots. Read on y-dna testing..does anyone know who conducts that kind of testing here in the Philippines?

    My bf's last name is Valdez. Grandfather's name Leonides Valdez from Ilocos region.

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  37. Anonymous2:04 AM

    interesting article! i have been searching for my family genealogy for several years ago and i have and inkling that somehow i might have a Jewish ancestry..it started when i talked to my granduncle before and he mentioned that my great grandma told him about the forefathers fleeing the Spanish Inquisition..my great great grandpa's surname is German, her mom's is Sanchez..great great grandpa told his children that his ancestors real family name was Ortiz of Spanish origin but it was changed to German..and the Sanchez family line is from a Spanish friar who impregnated a Filipina...and my mom's maiden name is Ventic--a not so Filipino sounding surname..whose earliest known ancestor in the Phils. date back late 1700s...a European friend of mine said that it is a Croatian/Romanian/Italian family name..he said it might be of Eastern European Jewish origin..most of the Ventics married each other's cousins, nieces, nephews, etc..and also cerrado Catolico..most are priests, nuns, monks..i really don't know if some of my ancestors were of Jewish origin..but where and how to inquire about the DNA testing? could someone shed a light... :)

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