The alienation of 'Foreign Worker'

Playwright Rachel Gil wants her stage debut to make people 'think twice' about a group many Israelis tend to overlook.

foreign workers play 248.88 (photo credit: Yossi Zavkar)
foreign workers play 248.88
(photo credit: Yossi Zavkar)
First-time playwright Rachel Gil knows that the Open Stage Festival at Beit Lessin is a great opportunity for her to get her work known. Her play, Foreign Worker, in which a Filipina caregiver is accused of infanticide, will be performed six times during the festival. With only a few days left before her first play debuts, Gil says she's filled with "happiness and worry, hope and fear." In an early morning phone conversation from her home in Even Yehuda she tells The Jerusalem Post that she's "not exactly sure how it's going to look on stage. I'm not afraid of the critics but I do want the play to be accepted well." The piece is based on a true story but the outcome is very different from the real-life events. In the play, Rosie is a foreign worker who cares for an elderly Israeli woman. According to the law here, a child born to a foreign worker must be sent to the mother's home country within a month of its birth, otherwise both the baby and the mother become illegal. The plot tells of the Israeli family and how they deal with the absence of the foreign worker and the murder of her baby. "I feel the story is very strong and very Israeli," says Gil. "There's no tradition of caring for the elderly in Israel. A lot of Israelis use foreign workers to help with their parents and so I think it's a very emotional story that people can identify with. There are a lot of issues here." While Gil, 55, took care of her father till his final days by herself, it was a similar event that triggered the writing of Foreign Worker. Her ex-husband's family hired a Filipina to help with the granny, and shortly afterwards found out she was pregnant. The real life story ended on a much happier note than the one in the play. If there's one thing she hopes audiences will take home with them, it's an understanding of the plight of foreign workers. "For families I have no message. I hope people will look at the foreign workers and think twice; nothing is for granted. They wouldn't be here if we didn't need them. It is unfair to treat them as if they were transparent," she says. Gil says her play has already garnered a lot of interest from workers' rights and human rights groups and she herself can hardly believe it's actually taking the stage. "I sent my play by mail and it was accepted. Where else would I have gotten such a chance? Beit Lessin owes me nothing. The festival helps those who are new; it's an opportunity that you can't get anywhere else," says. UNTIL THE age of 40 Gil worked as an engineer. But inside, she says, she always knew her real love was for literature and the arts. "I came from a home where a person needed to have a profession, and literature or going to Bezalel wasn't an option. It took a long time for me to accept that I could make a change and do what I wanted to do," says Gil, who splits her time between Florida and Israel. "I couldn't live with the hole in my heart that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do." After making the career switch, as well as divorcing and remarrying, she penned three novels that all garnered good reviews. Foreign Worker is her first play. This year the Open Stage Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event will be marked with a tribute to the star of the play, actress Zahrira Harifai, for her contribution to the festival over the years. In addition to Foreign Worker, there are two other full-length plays and nine staged readings. Above all, the Open Stage Festival is known for the exposure it gives to new playwrights. Among the plays which had their first spotlight at the festival are Hadar Galron's Mikveh (2004 Production of the Year at the Israeli Theater Academy Awards) and Reshef Levy's The Indian Patient (2005 Playwright of the Year). Gil says she can only hope her play continues on the same path. The Open Stage Festival runs September 3-5 and 11-12 at the Beit Lessin Theater in Tel Aviv.