In colloquial Hebrew, the word filipinit — a woman from the Philippines — is no longer a simple demonym; Filipinas have dominated the eldercare sector in Israel for so long that it has become a generic term for “caregiver.” In the New York Times Magazine, Ruth Margalit explores the stories of precariously employed women and the complicated bonds of co-dependence and isolation that form between them and the elderly for whom they provide care. Along the way, she revisits a recent episode that highlighted the fragile status of Filipinas in Israel: Rose Fostanes won the local version of The X Factor in 2014, only to be forced out of the country two years later, as soon as her visa expired.
In 2013, the Filipino community in Israel came under an unexpected spotlight when Rose Fostanes, a 46-year-old Filipino caregiver, auditioned for the Israeli version of the singing competition “The X Factor.” A short video clip aired before Fostanes’s performance, mentioning that she lived in South Tel Aviv with three other caregivers: “I love my job because I like to take care of old people,” Fostanes said. The clip drew knowing chuckles from the audience. Short and plump, in a green shirt and jeans, Fostanes represented the unlikely, diamond-in-the-rough heroine audiences love to embrace. Her rendition of Shirley Bassey’s “This Is My Life” became a national sensation; more than half of all Israeli households tuned in to watch her win the season’s finale. But the praise she received was tinged with condescension: She was shown offering to make a sandwich for the supermodel Bar Refaeli, the show’s host, and the judges kept saying how “proud” they were of her.
After the show ended, Fostanes was supposed to land a lucrative record contract, and she quit her job as caregiver. But her first single failed to sell, and her management company later dropped her. Last year, after a protracted legal battle over her visa status, she returned to the Philippines, where she now makes a living performing in small bars and clubs across Manila. “She got tired of chasing her dream,” a friend of hers, Winston Santos, told me.