It’s the end of March and winter still has us in a strange bitter grasp. I’m searching for parking on the Lower East Side, watching hail pellets get swiped from the dash. Ariela Hazan is waiting, warm inside an Italian pastry Café on the corner of 1st and 10th St. A stroke of luck, a few Italian Catholic parking prayers and soon I’m darting the hail. Watching the lightning light up the night sky, I take refugee in the corner booth where, cream puffs and tea are waiting! The music is loud and oddly “pumping” for the fancy décor. Ariela is positioned perfectly in the room. This is one of her talents, being solid, comfortable in any environment. A woman of incredible character, she can evoke an unbreakable toughness. But then, after a bite of delicious pastry, she collapses with an uncommonly sincere innocent glow. You’re not from around here, are you?
Ariela: I’m from Israel. A very small place…a very special place. It’s not a city and it’s not a town, it’s a school. I was born and raised in a boarding school for kids 14-18 that helps them to learn Hebrew and start a new life in Israel. My parents used to work there. Now they’re retired… After they finished the army, they meet there. They helped to create this place. My mom was a nurse there for 50 years. My Father was a one of the managers and also in charge of the security…
So I grew up in school. We were 20 families of staff… in a beautiful place on the mountains… a view to the Ocean… with a fence around it and guards, so there were no strangers coming in, we never locked the house, I barely put shoes on… I was just barefoot all day… going to the swimming pool and coming back… My childhood was very special…I didn’t know anything else. When people ask where I’m from… They’re surprised. They think it’s fascinating… Now I understand why…
SNH: There was recently a big fire there…
Ariela: Three months ago in December, my place was on fire, the whole school…
SNH: The whole school was lost?
Ariela: No, Almost half. All the trees were lost… a small forest of pine trees, they are all gone. My parents’ house is gone. It’s a real, real shock… I still have dreams about it…One of the dreams… I was coming back to visit and the trees have all grown back, like nothing had happen. My parents’ house is not there, but the trees…
SNH: Where did your parents come from originally?
Ariela: From Morocco (In the late 1950’s) they were also kids that came to Israel with no parents. My mother left home at age ten with her twin sister to go to Israel… just both of them
Ariela: Because everybody thought this country only for Jewish (people) could not be bad. They came from Morocco, it’s a Muslim country… to come to the Holy Land, this was a dream for every Jew…And back then you couldn’t just go from Morocco freely. They had to smuggle them in ships… they went to France. They stayed in France and waited for another ship to take them to Israel. It took two years of waiting in France, she left Morocco when she was ten and got to Israel when she was twelve.
SNH: Then where did they go?
Ariela: They went to a Kibbutz… her twin sister is still there in the same Kibbutz
SNH: Explain what a Kibbutz is…
Ariela: It’s a community that works together. They have factories…they grow a harvest…there’s no money they split everything equally…It doesn’t matter what you do, if you do the laundry, you do the laundry for everyone… there’s a dinning room for everyone to eat together
SNH: Your father is Moroccan as well?
Ariela: My father left Morocco when he was nine… He went first to Jerusalem through France as well. He was with a group of young kids and they are still in touch…From Jerusalem he went to the boarding school, the same where he worked until recently…its called Yemin Orde. Now, after the fire people know it…
SNH: So you had this wild, beautiful childhood and then, like everyone in Israel, you were required to serve in the military? Your Mom was a Nurse and you ended up as a medic? Were you already trained?
Ariela: My Mom was a paramedic in the army as well, and my older brother as well. When you go into the army there’s a questionnaire. They ask you what your family did …I think that influenced whoever decided what I was going to do in the army. (Laughing)
SNH: Did you enjoy this kind of work?
Ariela: Oh I loved it, I know a lot of people don’t like it; I love the army…I was coming from a really, really small place. I wanted to see something else. I wanted to see the rest of Israel. I didn’t know a lot of people. I didn’t know a lot of places. It was nice to be independent…not with my parents, to be alone…To be a soldier is to be grown up, I really waited for that. It’s tough in the beginning… To train and to study… They try to teach you a lot in a short time because you have only two years…
SNH: What did you do after the army?
Ariela: When I was in high school I started to paint…there’s an artist village right next to the school where I grew up… If you want to buy property there you have to be an artist…I started baby-sitting there… the woman’s friend had a workshop for prints… We got original paintings by artists, that were pretty famous and we did reproductions. They were numbered and signed and then sold in galleries. First I was…mixing the colors. Then, the owner gave me a chance to try to separate the colors. He liked it, I was doing this for six years. It was a nine to five job painting all day.
SNH: Was that the last job you had before you decided to come to America?
Ariela: … I was working at a hotel, a really famous, good spa hotel. I was a lifeguard in the swimming pool (laughing) for six month…from there I had a cousin in New York saying, why won’t you come here? So after six months I came to New York, I was 28
SNH: You came directly to New York?
Ariela: …I never lived in Tel Aviv or any other city besides New York…
SNH: So what was the most shocking thing about the city, good or bad?
Ariela: Good… a lot of people from all over the world, that’s shocking, I met people from everywhere…countries I never knew existed. Bad? Shocking? I don’t know… I found the East Village… so I love it. It’s still tiny…I don’t know everybody but I know a lot of people… It’s kind of home to me now, I made my own village inside New York. It’s a city and a village… I love it!
SNH: In your photo shoot you really look like a princess of a village to me! You’re very earthy, down to earth, because you’re so skilled, but then there’s something a little urban and edgy you wouldn’t like to let go of too soon…
Ariela: (Laughing) that’s a compliment
SNH: You worked as makeup artist…
Ariela: That was hard
SNH: Do you still paint?
Ariela: Now I don’t have time
SNH: I can imagine because your real village within the village is Café Mogador where you are manager…
Have you ever been to Morocco?
Ariela: Yes I went to see where my parents grew up, the culture, the houses are still there. My Mom remembered her neighborhood the synagogue, the bakery. There was a big oven where all the neighbors would bring the bread, they didn’t have ovens, they made the dough and brought it to the big oven. My Father showed us the house where he grew up.
SNH: Is there still a large Jewish community in Morocco?
Ariela: No there’s now about 3000, I still have family there… Both my Mother and Father’s moms are from Mogador
SNH: So it’s just meant to be that you found Café Mogador here…
Ariela: I remembered when I first found out about this restaurant, I called home…MOM THERE’S A RESTAURANT CALLED MOGADOR! I was so excited…April 15, the date they opened is my birthday…I feel really connected to this family. I feel like we are family. Me and the owner, Rifka, since day one we have a strong connection…
SNH: Something ancient maybe
Ariela: Rifka says, for sure, all Jewish in Mogador are connected.
SNH: So you were a medic in the army, you manage an incredibly busy restaurant… what makes you thrive in such stressful environments?
Ariela: …It was too quiet when I was a kid. There was no stress at all. It was even a little bit boring at times… Maybe I need some action to make up for it…
SNH: What images of women did you have to grow up with in such a small pocket of the world? What were your first impressions?
Ariela: My mom, she’s an energizer bunny. My parents were always working. Imagine a huge boarding school… you were always available. Kids were knocking on the door at 2 am.
SNH: Life and work were tied together
Ariela: It’s together. It’s not separate. We lived inside of work
SNH: This is like a restaurant. It’s a family, like a home…
Ariela: Yes and I’m always available. Laughter
SNH: Strength and wisdom seem to come second nature to you and you’re still a little bit of a girly girl…it’s so nice to see how easily those traits live together.
Ariela: There’re a lot of strong women in Israel, a lot… We were the third country to have a female prime minister … maybe this had an effect (on me) too…We all go to the army, We can’t be girly girls too much. You have to deal with the army. It’s a little tough you, you have to be strong, or else someone will eat you, have to protect yourself, people can take advantage if they see someone weak… not me.
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