My wife is Filipino. I am Jewish. That might sound to some people like cauliflower and ketchup—an unlikely combination. Well, she is a flower and I am always trying to catch up, so perhaps that is not too far off. But it always amazes me how much our cultural origins, half a world apart geographically, have in common. Behavioral scientists speak of the “four F’s,” the four basic needs and instincts: food, fighting, flight, and reproduction. (Well, they use a different word for it.) A different set of four F’s are central to both Filipino and Jewish culture.
FAMILY: Land of a thousand islands, each unique yet imbued with a common spirit that breathes across the sea, the Philippines itself is a metaphor of family. The Jews are also an island people, not literally but metaphorically: dispersed by the Romans two thousand years ago, they lived in small social islands scattered across the world, ghettos in Poland or Rome and villages in China. We are each islands: no one else can feel our pain or read our hearts. The sea that separates our bodies is a stormy one. The bond of family that reaches across those waves unites us. It is the central bond of life that makes life possible, and we cherish and celebrate it. We share the very air: my breath is your breath. My love is your love. And so it is family that is at the very heart of how we understand ourselves. But family reaches beyond brother and sister, mother and child. This air we share stretches over cousins and uncles, over fellow Filipinos and Jews, and, ultimately, over the entire globe. In the final count we are all family, not only descended from a common ancestor but striving together in the great human quest on a tiny island in the unfathomable sea of frozen space.
FAITH: Traditionally, both Filipinos and Jews are deeply devoted to faith in God. Religious Jews hope to die with the words of the Schmah on their lips: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” For me personally, faith has a different meaning. Faith is, ultimately, a conviction of the possibility of goodness in life despite adversity. No matter what our trials, no matter how many difficulties and how much pain we face, we can find enough goodness in the great and small things of life to make life worth living. It is this faith, this devotion to life, that has enabled Filipinos and Jews across the centuries to endure great suffering with grace, to greet each day, however bleak, with joy and gratitude. The histories of Filipinos and Jews have been painful ones, stories of oppression and struggle. And yet we endure and flourish. If you walk along the pavement on a cloudy day, you will see, in some forgotten crack in the sea of concrete, a small spot of green, a dandelion that found its tiny opportunity and spread its tenuous roots, forging, from sunlight and precious rain, a small gasp of life. Hopeless it must seem to the dandelion, surrounded by cold and unyielding concrete. Yet the dandelion, undaunted, grows and flowers, casting its seeds to the wind, hoping for a better life for future generations. We are dandelions, forging our small bloom of yellow joy in the unlikeliest of places, forgotten and beautiful. There is always room for love.
FOOD: Food is the language of love. Sharing food was foremost task of ancestral families, and we have never forgotten it. To share food is, metaphorically, to face life together, to cast our common lot together in a harsh world, and so food is an emblem of fellowship and joy. When a Jewish mother tells her children “eat, eat,” she is saying “partake of life and join with us.” It is a perfect equation: food is life, food is love, and life is love. The kitchen is always the center of our households. Family means food. It is no accident that food is at the center of so many of our occasions, our celebrations and our griefs. Jewish and Filipino food is not sparse and spare. It is rich and generous, overflowing with warmth and intense flavor. The generosity of our food is the generosity of our hearts, for in eating together we affirm our love for each other and our love for life.
FUN: Dancing, eating, and laughing are religious obligations for Filipinos and Jews, for it is through fun that we touch and celebrate the divine. The Shakhinah, the spirit of Sabbath, is a joyous spirit, and on Simchat Torah Jews dance with in the synagogue with the Torah (the scroll containing the five books of Moses). There is a reason so many famous comics were Jewish: the Jewish house is always awash with laughter, for laughter is the
human voice of God. Filipino celebrations are noisy and colorful, for talk and laughter is a birthright of all Filipinos. Poverty was a frequent life companion of both Filipinos and Jews, but always we were rich in the true currency of human life: joy, love, family, and laughter. As we embark, alone and together, upon the endless sea stretching toward the future, with nothing but faith and hope, a family of wanderers, we celebrate the journey that is life with food and fun. Maybe we’ll even serve cauliflower and ketchup.
Eugene Schlossberger, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Purdue University Calumet, Indiana, and isn the author of “Moral Responsibility and Persons,” “The Ethical Engineer,” and other numerous articles. His wife, Maricar Cura, is the Publisher/Editor of Asian ACCESS News Magazine in Northwest Indiana. Email: email@example.com