Ari’el Stachel is one-of-a-kind: He’s a Yemeni, Ashkenazi, American, Israeli actor. He identifies as a proud Middle Eastern person. He’s Jewish. He’s from California.
Stachel first stole our hearts in The Band’s Visit. He won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a musical, and in his tearful acceptance speech, he talked about the power of Middle Eastern representation. (We’ll get to that.) Now, the Jewish actor is playing Detective Hasim Khaldun on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, so we figured we should finally give you 18 things to know about Ari’el Stachel:
1. Stachel was born in 1991 and raised in Berkeley, California to a Yemeni Jewish dad and an Ashkenazi Jewish mom.
2. His paternal grandparents fled Yemen for Israel.
“My father’s parents came to Israel in the 1950s, and my dad was born in an immigrant absorption tent city near the town of Hadera. When he was 24, he followed a woman he’d met on a kibbutz to the U.S. and ended up in California, where he met my mom while they were Israeli folk dancing. He was the only one in his family to leave Israel,” Stachel explained.
3. His parents divorced when he was young, and he took his mom’s last name, saying, “It was just one of the many ways I avoided my identity.”
4. He celebrated his bar mitzvah not in California, but Israel. “I was in Israel during the last week of my 13th year, and my uncle, who is more religious, was dismayed. He set up a Yemeni bar mitzvah for me four days before I turned 14.”
5. He attended Berkeley High, and then at 15, transferred to Oakland School for the Arts. During his senior year of high school, he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof:
— Ari'el Stachel (@arielstachel) November 30, 2017
6. He studied drama at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and graduated in 2013. “What I really love about [the] program is the high focus on diversity, and I think that bringing that global, more diverse experience made [Tisch Drama students] just more curious, as artists and human beings,” he said.
7. Stachel auditioned for The Band’s Visit seven times. He eventually landed the role of Haled, a flirty Egyptian musician.
8. After getting cast in the musical, he and other co-stars traveled to Israel. “We went for research purposes but also to engage with the community. In our show the place is called Beit Hatikva, and in real life it’s called Yeruham,” Stachel recalls. “We took this bus and we had the original filmmaker and director there with us. That point where the band is lined up in the desert is exactly where we stopped, and we looked out at the desert. I kid you not: that experience has anchored me through every single show because any time I think about the fact that eleven hundred people are watching me, I remember that there’s this desert. Every time I’m looking out, I have a very clear picture. It’s not just a picture, though. It’s sense memory. I know how it feels. It was a spiritual experience and it really connected me to my ancestors.”
9. He was nominated for a Drama Desk Award and a Lucille Lortel Award for his role in The Band’s Visit, and he won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a musical.
10. Stachel’s Tony acceptance speech was truly everything:
Both my parents are here tonight.
I have avoided so many events with them, because for so many years of my life I pretended I was not a Middle Eastern person. And after 9/11 it was very, very difficult for me. And so I concealed, and I missed so many special events with them. And they’re looking at me right now, and I can’t believe it.
I’m just so thankful to Orin Wolf, John, and John, for being courageous for telling a small story about Arabs and Israelis getting along at a time when we need that more than ever!
I am part of a cast of actors who never believed that they’d be able to portray their own races. And we are doing that! And not only that, we’re getting messages from kids all over the Middle East, thanking us and telling us how transformative our representation is for them.
This is the craziest moment of my life.
I want any kid who is watching to know that your biggest obstacle may turn into your purpose.
Here he is with his parents and his Tony:
11. The Band’s Visit, Stachel explained, has helped him connect with his Middle Eastern heritage: “The role allows me to exist as myself, proudly, as a Middle Eastern person. For eight or 10 years of my life, I couldn’t tell people I was of Yemeni descent without breaking into a cold sweat. Now, because of the visibility of this role, because people are accepting us with open arms, I can be myself. I get to wear this baseball cap [offstage] which says ‘shalom, salaam, and peace.’ I feel like I straddle all these identities.”
(His co-star Sharone Sayegh, who is of Iraqi-Israeli descent, echoed this, speaking on the power of representation in the show.)
12. On August 6, 2018, the Mayor of Berkeley (his hometown!) declared the day “Ari’el Stachel Day.”
13. He started acting under the name Ari Stachel before going by Ari’el Stachel. He’s appeared on television, in minor roles on Blue Bloods and Jessica Jones.
14. He’s now playing Sergeant Hasim Khaldum on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit!
In one scene, he speaks Hebrew, saying “We need to talk, brother.”
Having @arielstachel speak Hebrew on network television without having to defend it, translate it, and simply just EXIST as a half-Muslim, half-Jewish man is just ::chef’s kiss:: #SVU #SVU21 #IDeserveSomeLovingToo @nbcsvu
— Po’Brecita 🖤💁🏻♀️ (@MonetSimone) February 14, 2020
15. Stachel wrote on Insta ahead of his first appearance: “I’m especially grateful that they’ve incorporated elements of my culture to this role, but also let me be American. No accent. Just a guy who happens to be brown 🙌🏽🙏🏽”
A lot of details about the fictional Sgt. Khaldum are real, like growing up and passing for Black, being ashamed of his Arab identity after 9/11, speaking Hebrew fluently, and more.
So honored be in the squad!! https://t.co/Y6QGGJzbkP
— Ari'el Stachel (@arielstachel) February 14, 2020
Thankful to @warrenleightTV for bringing me onboard and writing such a dynamic and complex character – one that draws on my cultural heritage but also allows me be American – a true gift for a Middle Eastern actor. https://t.co/hbn0zrTu8I
— Ari'el Stachel (@arielstachel) February 14, 2020
16. He’s going to be in Zola, the Twitter-thread-turned-movie, as Sean, Zola’s fiancé.
18. This is the single video on his YouTube channel:
Header Image of Ari’el Stachel by Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.