Manila Ave' Sees Colorful Christmas

While Christians in the Philippines sang the traditional Christmas hymn "Silent Night," their compatriots in Israel were celebrating the holiday on one of the stormiest nights of the year. With religious services taking place all week, thousands of members of the Filipino community in Israel came to celebrate the birth of Jesus together, for the seventh consecutive year, at a colorful party at the new central bus station in Tel Aviv.

A corridor on the fourth floor of the bus station has long catered specially to Filipinos, known as "Manila Avenue."

An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Filipinos live in Israel.

From 5 P.M. on Christmas eve, Manila Avenue became the busiest thoroughfare in the city. Under chains of red and white balloons, Dania Siar, the owner of a store selling CDs and Catholic religious articles, was pacing excitedly. He was supervising the baskets of jewelry, watches, cosmetics and CDs that would be given away as prizes at the main event of the evening, the finals of the community's singing and national dance contests.

Siar, the only one of the 30 store owners on Manila Avenue who is not Israeli, is one of the moving forces behind the event, sponsored by the community's two newspapers, Focal and Manila-Tel Aviv.

"We expect 2,000 to 3,000 people at some time or another to visit the stage," he said. "This is more people than ever before," he said, adding that 5,000 people would come to the bus station to celebrate Christmas.

Following a performance by a male singer dressed half in drag and a girl's choir singing selections from Handel's "Messiah," Siar invited "Africana" a singing group of workers from Ghana, to the stage to perform a traditional African dance.

Filipino Christmas celebrations begin on December 16 with the recitation of a special dawn Mass, and continue until January 6, the traditional date on which the Three Wise Men visited the baby Jesus.

Siar said a nurse and security guards were on duty, and an electrician was on standby to make sure the celebrations went smoothly. As it does every December, the Immigration Administration announced it would suspend arrests during the holiday.

Actor Tomer Cohen, in full regalia, played the first Hebrew Santa Claus, presenting revelers with a phone card good for a five-minute call to the Philippines, a gift of a local phone company.