While She Cares for Israeli Elderly, Her Kids Are Raised by Their Grandma in the Philippines

Working in Israel has allowed Veronica to support her children back at home - at the cost of seeing them growing up; Yeva, an observant Jew from Brooklyn, feels safer in Israel: 'In New York, they don't think something could really happen.'

Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam
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Veronica Hiteroza.
Veronica Hiteroza.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Liat Elkayam
Liat Elkayam

Veronica Hiteroza, 37, from Tel Aviv; flying to Manila, Philippines

Hello, can I ask why you’re going?

To visit my family in Dagupan City, in the province of Pangasinan.

Do you live in Israel?

I’ve been living here for nine years. I work in Tel Aviv, with an elderly man.

How elderly?

Around 90-plus. He’s very independent. Of course, it’s easier to look after someone who eats by himself and walks by himself, who is still strong and can take food from the refrigerator. In my opinion, it’s most difficult looking after people with Alzheimer’s. I had people like that. Some of them slapped me or shouted at me. It’s difficult, because they don’t know what’s happening with them, and it’s hard to help them.

Have you looked after people who weren’t independent?

When I first arrived, I looked after a person who was over 100. More exactly, my sister looked after him and I was her back-up. But the problem was different – at that time I couldn’t yet speak Hebrew.

What happened to him?

He died of a heart attack after a few years. Then a different family took me, and after them another family.

Are you afraid of death?

The employers I had died in hospitals. That was alright, because there are doctors, but if something happens in the house, I worry. An ambulance comes, police, questions – that’s what happened to Filipino friends who work here, and they told me how it is.

Sounds very stressful. Is it convenient for you to look after elderly people?

It’s okay for me to look after men, but obviously it’s easier to look after women. Simply because they are women. In any case, I treat them all like my grandfather or grandmother.

Is your sister still working here as a caregiver?

Yes. She arrived two years before me.

Do you see each other often?

We work in different areas, but we share the same apartment and we are together every weekend.

Why only on weekends?

During the week we sleep in our employers’ homes.

Where is the apartment?

In Neve Sha’anan [in south Tel Aviv]. It’s a bit scary there, but it’s alright. We’re there just once a week. And we don’t have much choice.

What do you do when you’re there?

On weekends we eat tasty Philippine food, like adobo, which is pork and chicken in soy sauce, and pancit, which is noodles, and we do a lot of karaoke.

What songs do you sing?

From the Philippines, and also Beyonce.

Do you like living here?

Israel is about 10 times as expensive as the Philippines, but I told myself that as long as it’s possible, and as long as I can get a visa, I will stay. But I don’t think I will be here always. I have two daughters in the Philippines and I can’t bring them to Israel. If I could, I would stay.

Are they completely forbidden to come here?

The government here does not allow it. Children can only come to visit, for up to three months, but only if the employer invites them.

How old are your daughters?

The older one is 14 and the younger one is 10.

Are you married?

Yes I am still married. My husband lives in the Philippines. The girls are being raised by my mother. But in the Philippines, we do not make money, we can’t take care of the children. It’s very hard for us. At least today I can see them and talk to them every day [by phone] – once I had no way to see the children, there were only letters.

Do you visit them often?

I visit the Philippines every year.

What has changed there?

Before, the family lived in a small house, now our life is a lot better because of the money I send. Everything has changed so much for them. Once they were little girls in elementary school, now one of them is in high school.

Do they understand why mother is far away?

They don’t complain. Their father is there, and I explained to them that it’s for their future. This is the only way I can provide everything they need. This way they can go to a private school.

Who looks after the elderly in the Philippines?

It depends. Rich people can go to a decent old-age home, but poor people like us can’t, so in general the family looks after the old people – the son, the daughter or the grandchildren – but sometimes no one.

Akavia Miller and Yeva Dymova.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Akavia Miller, 21, and Yeva Dymova, 23, from Brooklyn; arriving from New York

Hello, is this your first visit to Israel?

Yeva: I’ve been here loads of times, and in fact we met in Israel.

Really? When, where, how?

Yeva: Many years ago, on the No. 74 bus in Har Nof [an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood] in Jerusalem. We have a mutual friend and we ran into each other, and then again on the same bus line.

Sounds romantic.

Yeva: Well, the first time we met, I was visiting my boyfriend, who lived here then.

Akavia: She loves Jerusalem. (They laugh)

Yeva: I lived here for a year and a half, went to a religious school and visited a few times. Two summers later, we met for the third time. But this time on purpose and not on a bus. Akavia was in the army – before that he looked like a boy to me.

When were you discharged?

Akavia: Three months ago. I immediately went to visit her in Brooklyn, and I’ve been there since. This is my first trip back.

Yeva: My mother is coming to Israel next week for the first time, and I wanted to be here when she arrives. She thinks I’m crazy for coming here over and over, and tells me, “You’ve already seen everything.” But I like being here.

Is she uptight because of the security situation?

Yeva: I think it’s safer here than in New York. There are security people everywhere. There’s about the same chance that something will happen, the only difference is that in New York they don’t think that something can really happen.

Akavia, are you Israeli or American?

Akavia: I was born in Israel and grew up in Har Nof, but my parents are originally American. My father is from Chicago and my mother is from Boston; they met in New York. They already had one child when they immigrated to Israel. Now we are five. Mom became religiously observant in her twenties and felt she must live here.

Are you ultra-Orthodox?

Akavia: My family is Haredi. I attended a yeshiva, and I still observe Shabbat, but I became less Haredi at about 15-16. I did army service in the Haredi unit of the Nahal Brigade.

Was your family in favor?

Akavia: I have many army buddies whose families threw them out of the house for serving in the army, but my parents were perfectly fine. Maybe because they made aliyah, they see the value of safeguarding Israel.

Yeva: It’s funny, because with me it’s just the opposite. My parents are atheists and I am a religiously observant woman who keeps the Sabbath and keeps kosher. My family is completely Jewish, but from the Soviet Union, so they believe in communism, not God.

Were your parents also migrants?

Yeva: I am, too. I am originally from Ukraine. I was born there and was very young when we moved to the U.S. But I don’t remember anything from then.

How did your parents get along with the transitions?

Akavia: My parents went back to the States and then returned to Israel. It was difficult and complex.

Yeva: My parents told me stories. The transition was hard for them, and I still think that it’s easier to make aliyah than just to migrate. It’s different when Jews make aliyah to Israel. I think it’s maybe easier when there’s something with meaning behind it. And there is also support here. In America there’s no family, no friends. Here everyone is almost like a friend.

Where do you think you will live?

Akavia: I want to live abroad, but for a short time. I think we will end up here.

Yeva: Now it’s appropriate to be there, because we want to go to school. In fact, thanks to my parents’ move, all possibilities are open to me. But in the end I will want to live in Israel.

Are you going to school now?

Yeva: At the moment I am working in a school for girls with special needs. It’s fun, I am looking after a sweet girl and I accompany her everywhere. It’s called being a “shadow”... She is 12 and I sit with her in the sixth grade every day. I have to say that I am learning more, much more, than in college.

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