Israel’s Invisible Filipino Work Force

By Ruth Magralit/
The building behind the Central Bus Station in South Tel Aviv is peculiar, the Filipinos who rent the second floor told me one evening in April. You barely hear any Hebrew spoken there. On Friday night, as you climb its winding staircase, the doors of the apartments are ajar, and a cacophony of sounds fills the street: from the Nepalese on the ground floor, the Chinese on the third floor and the Africans — Eritrean, the women are pretty sure — on the fourth floor. And during the week? The women grow quiet, hesitant. They don’t know what happens then. They are only ever in the apartment on the weekend, during their one day off. The rest of the time they live with their employers, who are, for the most part, elderly and frail and in need of constant assistance.

Twenty-one women and four men share the small one-bedroom apartment. Most of them are renting it on the sly: The visa of a foreign caregiver in Israel mandates that she (it’s almost always a she) live with her employer, except in rare instances, such as if the employer resides in a nursing home. The apartment is plain and clean. The first things you notice are the beds, arranged like Tetris pieces in the narrow space, with tidily folded piles of clothes peeking from weekend bags resting on them. The living room functions as a second bedroom and all-around entertainment center. A karaoke machine from the Philippines is plugged in to the television, projecting idyllic vistas of home into the airless room. Rice fields. Rugged mountaintops. On the walls are a picture of the Virgin Mary and one of melting clocks — a reproduction of Salvador Dalí’s “The Persistence of Memory.”

The women filter into the apartment at different hours of the day. Then they head to the Filipino market in Neve Sha’anan, farther up the road, or to the one inside the Central Bus Station: The owner is Israeli and sells anything from stuffed banana leaves to cassava and pork skewers.

On the menu that night: shrimp cooked with a little Sprite and sticky rice. The Filipinos of the second floor miss this kind of food.


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