Arrivals: From Paris to Ra'anana

When he was a young man, Yoel Brahmy-Amar wanted to learn cooking, but his parents persuaded him to study medicine instead.

amar arriv 88 (photo credit: )
amar arriv 88
(photo credit: )
Paula and Yoel Brahmy-Amar Birthplace: Tunisia Ages: Paula-48; Yoel-52 Aliya date: July 7, 2004 Occupations: Restaurateurs Family status: Married with one teenage son When he was a young man, Yoel Brahmy-Amar wanted to learn cooking, but his parents persuaded him to study medicine instead. "It wasn't until 30 years later, after I had turned 50, that I realized my dream of opening my own restaurant," he says, as he sits with his wife, Paula, in La Trattoria, their Italian restaurant in Ra'anana. Although it is early morning, the delectable aroma of one of Yoel's special pasta sauces is already emanating from the kitchen. FAMILY HISTORY Yoel and Paula were both born in Tunisia. Yoel's maternal grandmother was Italian, and his mother frequently prepared Italian cuisine. He was two and Paula was six when their respective families moved to Paris, which is where the couple met in 1975, shortly before they took the entrance examination for medical school. They were married in 1988. After qualifying, they practiced as family doctors in Paris. Paula specialized in eating disorders, nutrition and psychology. Their son Dan was born in 1991. BEFORE ALIYA After 12 years, Yoel stopped practicing medicine and took over his mother's hi-fi and video business. "Although I had a successful career in medicine, I wanted to work in a completely different environment," he explains. "I had no technical knowledge, but I knew how to speak to people. I understood the importance of taking the time to find out exactly what customers were looking for." After the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, the couple began to consider aliya. "It made us think about the future for Jews in France, particularly for young people - and, of course, for our son," says Paula. UPON ARRIVAL The Brahmy-Amars arrived in July 2004 and went straight to a rented apartment in Ra'anana. Paula and Yoel went to ulpan in the city's absorption center, while Dan enrolled in a local high school. "Our six months at ulpan were the happiest of times for us," says Yoel. "Our teacher, Tzippy, was extraordinary. She retired soon after we finished ulpan, so if we had come on aliya any later, she wouldn't have taught us. She was more than a teacher; she was also a psychologist to her students." "And a mother," adds Paula. "We didn't think about work while we were at ulpan," Yoel continues. "We were serious students and we concentrated on learning Hebrew. But when we finished, we thought: 'What we will do now?'" They were happy initially to have a break. "We wanted to take time to integrate into our new life; to adapt to new people and a new mentality." Soon after, however, they went through a difficult patch. When they went to Paris for Pessah in 2005, they even began to plan their return to France. "From April to July of that year we talked constantly about staying, or not staying, in Israel," recalls Paula. "Those difficult few months actually brought us closer together as a family." In July 2005 they made their decision. "Dan felt it would be more difficult to go back to France than to stay in Israel," Yoel relates. "We decided to take a chance and carry on because we hadn't given our new life enough time to make it work. I said that if we did stay, I was going to pursue my dream of cooking professionally." WORK Yoel and Paula opened La Trattoria in November 2006. "We spent six long months poring over plans, working out every single detail of the design and layout," recalls Paula. Yoel traveled all over Israel in order to taste and select the highest quality cheese and vegetables. Although there was never any question of opening a non-kosher restaurant, kashrut is nonetheless a particularly satisfying element for Yoel. "I think there is a perception in Israel that if food is kosher, it is somehow less tasty. Food should be both kosher and tasty. It gives me such pleasure to see religious and secular people eating in here. It is an honor for me to know that I have done everything to ensure the kashrut. I chose to specialize in Italian cuisine because it is so rich and varied, with many dishes that do not include meat. I prepare fresh pizza, fresh pasta with a selection of sauces, and a variety of fish dishes." Another important element of his restaurant is the open kitchen. "It adds to the warm atmosphere. I like to interact with customers, and they can talk to me if they want to. I prepare everything with love, and it is fantastic to see people enjoying the food I have just made." LIVING ENVIRONMENT "We live in an apartment in Ra'anana, but the restaurant is our second home," says Paula. ROUTINE Yoel is at the restaurant from 7:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. Paula arrives later in the morning, at around 9:30. "I help wherever I'm needed. I give a lot of thought to the food we serve, making sure we include healthy main courses that aren't too high in calories." She has put her medical career on hold for the moment to work with Yoel. CIRCLE Yoel and Paula each have a brother living in Ra'anana. "We have our real family, and we have our restaurant family, with whom we enjoy a special relationship," says Paula. "We have stayed in touch with classmates from ulpan, and we have become friends with the parents of Dan's friends." LANGUAGE Paula can speak, read and write Hebrew at a high level. Yoel can speak Hebrew adequately. At the restaurant they are able to communicate with customers in Hebrew, French, English and Spanish. RELIGION "Being Jewish is about more than whether a person is religious or not," says Yoel. "It is about being part of a community; not just a religious community. Whenever I see secular and Orthodox Jews together, I think it is incredible. We all need tolerance, and then we can live together." IDENTITY Paula: "I still feel French, but I feel Israeli when I am in France." Yoel: "I feel ambivalent largely due to the language. I can express myself in French, of course, but here I suffer because I can't always share in what is going on around me." PLANS Yoel and Paula have rented the space next to La Trattoria where they will soon be opening a sushi bar. In the summer they plan to organize a variety of cultural events on the outdoor terrace that fronts both restaurants. To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: