Disclaimer: I’m a Stranger Here Myself
I’m at Supersol’s deli counter waiting for the Russian lady to finish slicing my Tal Ha’Emek cheese – very tasty stuff: Swiss-esque flavor with a rubbery texture – when an aged gentleman clearly not getting enough circulation what with his tweed overcoat and cashmere glove ensemble on a 75-degree day, pulls up beside me in a wheelchair. Pushing him is a slight, mid-40’s woman with dark hair and dark eyes.
She: What do you want?
He: Nothing. I don’t want anything
She: But you said you wanted herring
He: Why are you bothering me? When did I say I want herring?
She: Nu? Ach! We get all the way over here and now you change your mind! I’m going to go crazy!
..and so on and so forth. Listening to these two go at I’m chuckling inside. Not because the exchange is unusual in these parts; This one was tame. More like: Since when did George Costanza’s parents move to the Middle East, learn to bicker in Hebrew and infiltrate the bodies of a crotchety, ex-European and a petite Filipina?
Ten years of not being here, the gradual influx of Asians has eluded me. These are people coming from Thailand and the Philippines via government or privately sponsored programs they pay to hook into. They stay, work and send earnings to family back home or settle in search of an improved standard of living.
They’re working in agriculture replacing kibbutznikim and moshavniks who have opted out for private sector jobs and they attend to the country’s elderly population, frequently as private home care aides. On any given day at the Work Visa Department of Israel’s Interior Ministry, a handful of Southeast Asians can be found in line beside employers clutching paperwork on their behalf, quietly listening to procedure and protocol explained in English.
Based on the VERY LITTLE I’ve read, they have been cheated and exploited throughout the years but Watchdog organization intervention and standardization of work permit procedures has led to some stabilization.
I am NOT going into depth on this one because the issues are vast: equal rights, equal pay, displaced, Palestinian laborers, sub-standard living conditions, absent health insurance and benefits, etc.
Mine is the perch of observation: On a tachles (bottom line) basis, the Asian population here has clearly integrated into and influenced society. Thai teenagers animatedly chat in Hebrew on the bus, Filipine men and women occupying park benches read books to their elderly charges or prop them up as they stroll the park, Thai and Chinese children are enrolled in nursery schools and kindergardens, couples converse in Tagalog over espresso at trendy cafes and numerous shops selling such items as galangal and lemon grass make preparation of an authentic, Tom Kha Gai a practical endeavor.
I’m pleased and tickled each time I hear someone of Pacific Rim origin utter a Hebrew phrase. It’s sort of a “does not compute” moment akin to first hearing the rumored name of NBC’s Egypt-based producer: Abdullah Schleifer….I wonder if he’s still around.