Pinoys in Israel: Caring for Elderly

Tel Aviv's Filipino Live in Caregiver

Many Filipinos, especially the devout Catholics, have the earnest dream of embarking on a pilgrimage to Israel and visiting the Holy Land. But for the past decade or so, scores are likewise setting their sights on this Middle Eastern country (or European, as some Israelis might contest), raising money to buy cheap tickets to Tel Aviv and planning to work as caregivers. In fact, the Jewish State is now considered home, albeit temporary, to about 50,000 Filipino caregivers. What makes Israel a magnet to many Overseas Pinoy Workers?

Faring better in Israel
Compared to the Filipino workers located in other Middle East countries such as Jordan and United Arab Emirates, those working in Israel are a fortunate lot as what they earn is actually found on the better end of the salary spectrum. Caregivers in Israel are getting at least 650 dollars, which is more than four times the salary normally received by Filipino workers in Jordan. Likewise, foreign workers are pretty much protected here by the Israeli labor laws. There are also a number of local Israeli organizations in place acting as rights watchdogs for foreign workers.

In a league above all others
Filipinos are much sought-after by the Israelis as caregivers, more than their Nepalese or Indian counterparts. This is not surprising as the Pinoys are well-known in Israel for their outstanding work ethics and wholehearted dedication to their job. Their interest to the caring for elderly employers is never ephemeral. Instead, they are known to be fully devoted to their Israeli charges, even so that they are ready to expend so much emotional investment on them. Maria, a middle-aged Filipina from Cagayan, has found herself in a mother-daughter like relationship with her 86 year old Jewish ward and is now worried about leaving her ailing “Ima” (mother) when her final two years of legal stay in Israel has lapsed.

Undocumented Caregivers
Having mentioned legal, it is sad to note that while many of our “kababayans” do look forward to the end of their five-year contract, others opt to extend their stay despite not having a valid visa. Instead, they find new employers who are willing to take them in; a practice that has become commonplace. “No high-paying work in the Philippines awaits me,” is a standard one-liner for those who refuse to give up their “Israeli dream.” For those who decide to stay illegally, life can turn miserable as they have no choice but to stay within the confines of their employers’ homes and avoid going out lest they get caught by the Israeli immigration police.

Embracing the Israeli way of life

Most Filipino workers are quick to like and adapt to the Jewish culture, unique and complicated as it may be. Well, don’t we to all others? What about culture shock? Of course, it exists but is easily overtaken by a quick immersion to the host country’s way of living. Indeed, the Pinoy OFWs are like the pliant bamboo, swaying and bowing to the direction of the blowing wind. Never breaking but are in fact resilient.

Nothing else but chicken?
Filipinos learn to adapt many new things Israeli such as Jewish food. Imagine having chicken for breakfast, and lunch, and yes, chicken for the evening meal. Well, maybe some beef thrown in for few days of the week. Interestingly, some caregivers’ religious charges live on a strict kind of Jewish diet and so they have no choice but to turn themselves into avid chicken or beef lovers overnight. Maria, in jest, told me she is afraid we might eventually grow wings; too bad she cannot use them to fly her back home for a vacation and save on 1,200 dollar worth of cheap tickets to Tel Aviv.

And remember shawarma, once a food hit although fleeting, in Manila? It is also a usual lunch or dinner food fare for many Filipinos in Israel. So do a great variety of vegetable and spice salads, olives, falafel (yummy deep-fried chickpea balls) and kebab (grilled spicy beef on skewers). Fortunately pork is available for anyone whose craving for it persists. Filipinos get their regular pork supply from Russian meat stores. Rice, on the other hand, is widely sold and so is not a problem for those who insist on having it instead of the Jewish bread or pita.

No such thing as Jewish Christmas
Do you know that the Christmas is virtually non-existent in Israel? Filipino first-timers in Israel are simply left wondering when told that if they want to celebrate Christmas, they can go to Bethlehem for the Midnight Mass and perhaps enjoy some semblance of the Yuletide spirit with the town’s Christmas trees, Santa Claus, silver, red and gold trimmings and other decorations that you would not otherwise see in the rest of Israel, except perhaps in Jaffa where Arab-Christians abound. What an irony. Israel is supposedly Christ’s birthplace right?

For those who decide to give up hearing the Bethlehem Christmas Mass, they have to content themselves with Christmas Eve parties in their Tel Aviv or Jerusalem flat, enjoying potluck meals of the usual Filipino Yuletide fare. Likewise, the various Filipino communities have their own annual Christmas (and New Year) get-together. Indeed for Filipinos abroad, Christmas never goes by without celebrating the occasion, even in Jewish Israel.

Empowered Pinoys in Israel
Just recently, a new Israeli labor law has increased the minimum wage for foreign workers to 850 dollars. And while there has been some resistance to this new wage increase from some Israeli quarters, at least now the Filipino live in caregiver now enjoy such salary increase by having more dollars to keep and save and likewise bigger remittance amounts to send to her family back home. Filipinos hail the shekels as they enjoy the strong purchasing power of this Israeli currency; basic necessities, signature clothes and even cars (refurbished) and jewelries can be easily owned.

Indeed, many Filipinos caregivers go in Israel to they create their own version of the American Dream – the Israeli dream, the shape and form of which are molded with their perseverance, consistent hard work and solid faith to improve their lot – and doing their best to make it a reality. More and more Pinoys discover Israel to be a place where working for a bright future is possible, so long as they do their caregiver job to their utmost best.


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