George Floyd is not the only subject of the brick wall sprawling mural. The work by Gold also features a dedication to the military, which Gold himself served in. (Photo by Maya Meade)
Local businesses and passersby line Front Street in Marietta during a cool, late summer afternoon. Looking into the windows of each establishment gives one the sense of small-town sensibility, from boutiques to an American flag gallery. Nestled in between the neighboring buildings is TLV, a restaurant owned by Ari Gold. Gold is not only a restaurant owner, but a lightning rod for social justice.
The restaurant radiates a cozy atmosphere as one walks through its door. Sunlight streams in from the bay windows, highlighting the light brick walls and murals spray-painted above the tables. Each table is separated by airy curtains. Adorned on the wall by the entrance is an Israeli-American flag, serving as a reminder of Gold’s heritage.
Gold was born and raised in Israel for 25 years, both of his parents doctors. He first planted his roots in America in New York City, then moved to Pakistan, West Virginia, in 2013. Gold was exposed to Marietta during a local event. Upon seeing an empty restaurant building, he made the snap decision to buy it.
“I was entertaining myself with the idea of having a restaurant,” Gold says. “I knocked on the door and I asked the guy in there how much he wanted for the building. An hour later, I bought the building.”
Less than two months after purchasing the building, TLV was running. The restaurant has established itself by featuring an international menu, wine from Israel and a bakery with unique treats. Gold hires anyone, regardless of their past.
Gold makes a point to open the door to people with criminal records or those with drug abuse problems, despite other business owners choosing to turn them away.
“People with criminal history come to me and tell me, ‘They see our background check and they don’t want to hire us,” Gold says. “Why do I care about something you did five years ago? You served your time, you got out. Does that make you less of a person? No, it does not. You are as equal as me.”
Gold considers himself a leader, rather than a boss. This mantra is spread across his social media accounts, where he has developed a sizable following as he brings awareness to social issues through a small-town lens. As someone who served in the military, Gold says he “operated as a united unit” with his soldiers. He applies this experience to his current life.
“A boss is somebody who stands on the table and points toward where it needs to move,” Gold says. “A leader would be the one in front of the table, pulling it, when everybody else is helping him push.”
Gold’s grandmother was his only family member to survive Auschwitz. After learning about the injustice his family had faced, Gold knew that he could never sit quietly in the face of hateful behavior, no matter what it may cost. A mural of George Floyd that Gold had spray-painted on the side of his restaurant building was met with mixed reaction. He lost almost half of his customers. People have thrown bricks through his windows. However, Gold holds his moral compass tight.
“People call it activism,” Gold says. “I do not. People tell me, you are a ‘radical left,’ or you are a ‘radical right.’ I am not a radical. I am not left or right. It is about remembering that any difference somebody has does not make them less of a human.”
Gold uses social media to keep his community informed on what is happening within local government, making it easier for those who follow him to digest the news. He began going to council meetings, accompanied by his wife, to avoid feeling powerless.
Recently, a decision was made that one can no longer speak in public forums unless a 48-hour notice is given prior. It was the end to a 235 year-long practice. Gold arrived at a city council meeting – blindfolded, mouth covered and hands bound – in protest.
The Facebook post of his protest has amassed over two hundred reactions, as with many of his other posts. People began to patron TLV, not only to enjoy a meal, but to inquire Gold about issues within Marietta and other surrounding communities that they have noticed. Gold pushes for more transparency in local government so that the public stays informed and resolution is reached.
Gold’s motivation to help others stems from having experienced forms of racist ignorance himself.
“People would come to the restaurant, hear my accent, turn around and walk away,” Gold says. “After what happened in Kabul, when they exploited and killed thirteen soldiers, people called me, sending messages to apologize for what happened in Kabul. I am a Jew from Israel.”
Gold and his wife were the organizers of the first pride parade in Marietta. This is a stark contrast from the KKK rallies that used to overtake the town. In 1923, hundreds of the “invisible empire” took a photo in Armory Square, where TLV is now located. Gold hopes to take a photo next year in the square to highlight the diversity that has changed the homogeneous makeup of the town.
Gold says members of the queer community have come to him and shared their experiences of discrimination. During his time in West Virginia, people came to him concerned about the policy that employers could potentially discriminate against them based on their sexual orientation.
For those who do not know where to start in trying to speak up for themselves and enact change in their community, Gold has some advice.
“By thinking about it, by acting, by using social media, using committee meetings, you saved somebody else’s life from being bullied in the same way,” Gold says. “That is a gigantic win for you … you have eliminated an opportunity for it to have [happened] again to somebody else.”