Mimi Kaizler 521.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Any woman who has ever bought a special hat in Israel probably knows Mimi
Kaizler of Mimi’s Hats. She has been in the hat business more or less since she
arrived in Israel and settled in Ra’anana.
What few of her regular
customers know is that she has a background as a corporate vice-president in a
private industry company, and this is what she had intended to do here when she
made aliya with her husband, Daniel, and three small children from New York in
Hats were the last thing on her mind.
“I worked all my life
after studying for a bachelor’s in business at Baruch College [at the City
University of New York],” she says.
“I started from scratch and worked my
way up the corporate ladder. When we arrived in Israel I started going for job
interviews in hitech companies and I got accepted to many positions but the
salaries were so bad I couldn’t even consider taking the jobs. I had a
three-year-old and a one-year-old and it didn’t make sense to work for what I
was being offered and pay a babysitter more.”
Even today, 17 years later,
she doesn’t think a woman can work a 10-hour day as an executive, doing the same
job as a man for less money, and pay for someone to take her place in the
But the corporate world’s loss was the hatwearer’s gain. Not at
first though. She just stayed home with the baby, missing the business world and
wanting to go back to New York.
“If not for the children, I would have
gone back,” she says.
She went to synagogue every Shabbat, wearing one of
her American hats, and friends started to notice them and ask questions – where
did she get it, why can’t we get high-fashion hats here in Israel? Slowly, the
realization dawned on her that here was a business she could run from
She began to import hats and started to do shows in people’s
houses. In 1996 she opened a store in Jerusalem, run by a sales manager, while
in Ra’anana she sold hats from her basement.
“I began to understand that
there was a demand for really high-end headgear and for a woman making an event
like a wedding or a bar mitzva, the sky was the limit,” she recalls. “I began to
import the really top names in American hat couture like Patricia Underwood and
Saks Fifth Avenue. Then I started to fill specific requests for clients,
supplying a hat which I had in stock in another color.”
This led to some
harrowing experiences, like being unable to release an item from customs and
actually turning up with it at the wedding hall on the night of the
Kaizler has endless patience and never loses her cool, even if a
potential customer tries on every hat in the place.
“I enjoy dressing a
woman who wants to look good,” she says.
Two years ago, her friend Chaya
Mansdorf approached her about selling good costume jewelry and the two went into
“We import high-end gold-plated, sterling silver or crystal
jewelry which are often copies of Cartier and other top designers, and we find
they are very popular with clients who can well afford real diamonds but prefer
to leave them in the safe and wear our copies,” she says.
The new venture
is catching on quickly.
Some women mix their real diamonds with the faux
and maintain that no one can tell the difference. Sometimes a customer will come
in to buy jewelry, see the hats and say she wishes she could wear one but she
doesn’t want to look as though she is Orthodox.
Kaizler acknowledges that
most hat-wearers these days do so for religious reasons.
For a time she
had a fling at another business venture, selling second-hand clothes along with
the hats. Some of the items were top designer labels but clients didn’t
appreciate that they were paying for a name so the project didn’t take
She also dabbles in shidduch-making and is a volunteer matchmaker on
the Internet website Saw You at Sinai.
“I’ve been doing it since I was 18
years old as a hobby and charity thing,” she says. “I’ve so far had three
successful marriages, a fourth on the way and no divorces yet.”
Daniel through a set-up, but that’s not the reason she tries to match people
“I just have a soft spot for people who need to meet each other,” she
says. “It’s no use waiting for your partner to arrive on a white horse – it
isn’t going to happen that way.”
Today, Daniel works as an events planner
and the children have all grown into happy and productive Israelis. The older
daughter has a degree in psychology, the second is in national service and the
son who was a oneyear- old baby when they made aliya is in a pre-army
Although the beginning was hard, she believes it was
a good decision to stay and raise the children here.
“I stayed because of
them and I’m very glad I did,” she says.