For the Christmas spirit, Israelis look to their Filipino caregivers
Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said. To view all the entries in this series, click here.
In most of Israel, December 25 is just another day. Banks and stores are open, people go to work (when it doesn’t fall on Shabbat, as it does this year), and nary a Christmas tree is to be seen.
As for Christmas lights, you’re more likely to see them strung in a sukkah than decorating the streets or one of the scraggly little Arizona cypress trees the Jerusalem municipality hands out at Jaffa Gate before hag hamolad (“holiday of the birth”), which Israelis also refer to as Krreeestmahs.
Outside the predominantly Christian areas and those that feature prominently in the Jesus narrative, like Bethlehem and Nazareth, there lies a pocket of red suits and tinsel that is crowded with Christmas shoppers. But those shoppers aren’t the Christian Arabs you might expect in what is, after all, the cradle of Christianity; they’re the migrant workers who flock to what has become the de facto Filipino section of Tel Aviv’s cavernous and labyrinthine central bus station, which doubles as a down-market mall.
The migrants from the Philippines are generally women working as caregivers for the elderly, and they have become so closely identified with the job that the term Filipiniyot, or Filipinas, has become virtually interchangeable with “caregiver.”
At least some Filipiniyot seem to have made themselves at home in the Jewish kitchen. According to “Ziv,” the screen name of one woman posting on a message board, her own grandmother’s fantastic latkes may actually have been eclipsed by those made by the “Filipinit” who now lives with the grandmother.
Eating comes up more than one might expect in online discussions of Filipinyot. Religious Web surfers posed questions on at least four different “Ask the Rabbi” sites regarding whether they were allowed to eat food cooked by a Filipina or drink wine she had touched, in light of religious restrictions on food prepared (and wine touched) by non-Jews. (The answer: It depends. Of course.)
Sometimes the Filipinit in question isn’t even from the Philippines. In one halakhic query, the questioner specifically states that the caregiver is from Nepal, but the headline refers to a “Filipina maid.”
Taken together, the questions highlight one facet of what it means, at least for some, to be Jewish in a Jewish state. As Jewish American celebrities like Matisyahu, Jon Stewart, and Adam Sandler bring the Hanukkah underdog to the Christmas-celebrating masses, many Israeli Jews have little notion of what exactly “the Christmas spirit” might be and have had limited contact with the goyim—at least until the day comes when grandma needs a Filipinit.
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