In the past several weeks, Israel’s Nepali community has hosted a flurry of
events to entertain and support its workers. Nepali artists performed at two of
the events put on by Namaste Entertainment, a Kathmandu-based organization that
aims to give migrant workers temporary relief from difficult circumstances while
promoting Nepali performers and culture abroad.
“It’s a well-known
saying: ‘Music is a medicine for all,’” begins Namaste Entertainment’s mission
statement, which goes on to discuss the stress and pain of working
Programs provide temporary “peace of mind” by making workers
“feel at home.” The organization also hopes that events will serve as a platform
for local Nepalese to meet and build a stronger community.
events manager of Namaste Entertainment, said, “We are trying to entertain
Nepalese workers, to give them strength.” His organization is also connected
with Kathmandu’s Disabled Rehabilitation Center (DRC). Profits from events
organized by Namaste Entertainment are donated to the DRC.
On a recent
Friday night, more than 200 Nepalis, and a handful of Israelis, attended a
Nepali dance competition held in South Tel Aviv.
The event, which took
place at the Ellen and Walworth Barbour Cultural and Youth Center in South Tel
Aviv, was sponsored by the Nepalese Workers’ Helping Forum Israel,
Kathmandu-based Sunrise Bank, and Om Indian Store – The Taste of India and
The first of its kind to be held in Israel, participants competed
for a cash prize of 700 shekels.
But the evening wasn’t just about dance.
Standing outside the auditorium, co-organizer Ritu Giri explained that the event
served the dual purpose of bringing the Nepali community together and providing
an outlet for the stress of demanding work.
“All the people here are
caregivers,” Giri remarks. “We are working 24 hours with our employers… We need
a little time to enjoy [ourselves].”
Idit Lebovitch, caregiver’s
coordinator at Kav La’Oved, explains that the Nepali community faces unique
challenges. Unlike Filipinos and Indians, Nepalese speak little English,
leaving them ripe for exploitation.
Before new government regulations
effectively ended the flying visa scam in 2009, Nepali workers were
disproportionately victimized – losing thousands of dollars in mediation fees
for jobs that didn’t exist. Although flying visas are no longer a problem, the
language barrier continues to be a handicap. Issues with employers often go
unreported. And cultural taboos also prevent Nepali workers from seeking help
when they need it.
Comprising less than 19 percent of Israel’s 60,000
legal caregivers, the Nepalese make up one of the smallest groups of migrant
workers. The community is almost exclusively female and they tend to work for
LEBOVITCH ADDS that because Arab families tend to be
bigger and often include several generations in the home, caregivers face
additional demands. “Usually [working for an Arab employer] means working for
the entire family,” she explains.
Inside, the audience awaited the
dancers. Women – some in saris, most in Western clothes – sat in tight clusters,
chatting and snapping photos of each other. Sofia, a caregiver Metro
interviewed for a previous story, gave this writer a warm welcome. She served as an impromptu translator, giving
a taste of the gossip, culture and music that filled the
“I have a lot of stories to tell you,” Sofia began. “How hard it
is to be away from my family, from my son.” She clutched her hand to her chest
as though she might massage her heart through her lowcut, bright-red
Sofia, 27 and divorced, also has concerns in Israel. She leaned her
head in conspiratorially as she discussed her love life.
the show, the co-organizers lit oil candles. “This is part of our culture,”
Sofia said, her chin tipped in pride, explaining that it invokes a blessing for
Pointing to the banner that served as a backdrop, she
added, “This is the lord of dance.”
The image depicted the Hindu god
Shiva perched on one foot, wrists turned mid-flick. Encircled by flames, the
deity was also flanked by Israeli and Nepali flags.
THERE WERE other
touches of home. Tourist posters of Nepal were taped to the wall next to the
stage. A Hindu country with a large Buddhist minority, the panoramic scenes
included Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and a UNESCO world heritage
site. The crowd stood, hands over hearts, to recite the national
The MC joked that he was going to give a lecture, and the crowd
screamed, “No!” Nonetheless, a lengthy roster of speakers followed. Sofia
combed a friend’s hair. As this writer observed the audience’s inattentiveness,
not so different from her own, she noted several women wearing necklaces bearing
the Star of David.
At last, the dancing.
“0-Saani,” a widely
popular Nepali pop song, blasted over the speakers as the first participant
popped onto the stage. Wearing red high-top sneakers, white short shorts, and a
black ‘80s-style T-shirt, she bounced about – hip-hop spiked with Eastern moves.
As she swiveled her hips, the crowd shouted.
When the act ended, the two
judges critiqued the dancer a la American Idol
The next act was
traditional, Sofia commented. The participant, a slight woman with delicate
arms, wore a jeweled gown. Sky blue and specked with rhinestones, it glimmered
as she flitted about on stage, her bangles tinkling.
Over the audience’s
cheering, Sofia offered a summary of the song’s lyrics: “Where there is love,
there is enjoyment,” she said. As the dancer tapped her fingers, Sofia added,
“She is counting the days until [her lover] comes.”
The dancer held her
hand out before her face, as though she were looking into a mirror. “She wants
to look nice for him,” Sofia said.
The crowd’s enthusiasm swelled again
as the next participant emerged from the wings. The high-energy number – full of
generous, sweeping movements – was augmented by the dancer’s vibrant, red velvet
top. The dancer’s skirt was made up of silk panels, alternating purple flowers
on a black background with blue petals set against red. Her bare feet were
rimmed with vermillion powder. She had large red circles on the tops of her feet
and backs of her hands.
Sofia whispered that the markings were for luck.
If she was a married woman, she would also put a streak of red powder on her
For another traditional act, the audience sang along and
clapped, showing their preference for the songs and dances most firmly rooted in
their memories. “Our heart wants to fly like a bird,” Sofia translated as she
smiled. Despite the irrepressibly upbeat atmosphere, there are a few troubled
Amarita Suwal, the mother of a 14-month-old son, remarked, “We
will have to go soon,” referring to the imminent deportation of some 400
children, along with their parents, undocumented migrant workers. Suwal lives
here with her husband and their Israeli-born child, Amiram. “I gave him a Hebrew
name,” she said.
A registered nurse and college graduate, Suwal arrived
in Israel five years ago to work as a caregiver. In English peppered with
Hebrew, she explained that she lost her legal status –and her job – after she
had her son. One of the Nepali community’s few mothers with children in Israel,
Suwal said, “I feel so lucky that I gave birth to him, that’s the most important
While Suwal and her husband would like to stay in Israel for
their son’s sake, Suwal seemed a bit homesick as she spoke to Metro.
stay in Tel Aviv, all the time we’re with Israeli people,” Suwal said. She
gestured toward the stage. “This is Nepali taste. This is the typical
Nepali dance, typical Nepali culture. We feel like we are at home.”