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Cutting Edge

Chananel Shapiro

Jewish barbers see lines snaking around the block the week before Pesach, and then suddenly all is quiet until the Lag B’omer rush. Stories from the other side of the chair before the whizzing of the haircutting machines starts again

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


 Photos: Pinchas Emanuel

I Don’t Waste Their Time

Name: Eliyahu Chen

Location: Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem


After completing my army service, I studied hair styling at one of the leading schools, worked in a fancy salon, and became very successful. That was over 25 years ago, though, but after I became a baal teshuvah in 2005, I realized how different this profession is in the in the chareidi sector.

I did my first “chareidi’ ” haircut when I was studying at the Ohr Yakar yeshivah for baalei teshuvah in Tzefat, cutting my friends’ hair for free. Later, when I moved to Jerusalem, I started working at Eliran Yedid’s barbershop in the Rav Shefa mall. I have a lot of hakarat hatov to all those people along the way to took the time to teach me all the nuances and subtleties I’d have to know in order to transition my profession to the chareidi sector.

One of the things that impressed me about this community is the polite manners and self-discipline. I’m still moved when I see yeshivah bochurim speaking divrei Torah while waiting in line. But I got a lot more than a refined clientele. One of my clients, who became a good friend, told me about a kollel for balabatim that had opened up in the neighborhood. I was pretty new to this and had never heard of such a thing before, but meeting working people who set times for Torah study was a game changer for me, and I’ve since become a regular member of the kollel.

Sometimes parents ask me to speak to their teenage boys who are struggling — they know I’ve lived on the other side of the fence and can give their boys some perspective. Some days I stay in the shop long after closing time talking to bochurim, because they need a listening, nonjudgmental ear. Look, I’m not saying I’m some big psychologist, but as soon as a bochur sits in the barber’s chair, he feels comfortable confiding in me — and I try to be a good listener. Many bochurim come in to get their hair cut before a date, and some will open up to me, telling me about their fears and doubts. They don’t even need to hear my response — sometimes it’s enough just to get things off their chest.

When I first opened up in the neighborhood, the rabbanim and roshei yeshivah told me they were happy I’d come because now the bochurim wouldn’t have to waste time traveling far to get a haircut. Originally, customers came in on a first-come first-served basis, but then, I instituted a system of appointments so that people wouldn’t have to waste time waiting in line. And if you’ve ever wondered why you never meet rabbanim and other well-known personalities at the barber, there’s a reason: Either they ask for the last appointment because it’s a bit uncomfortable for them to bump into their talmidim, or they ask me to make a house call. I’m happy to do it. There’s nothing like being able to be of service to our spiritual leaders, keeping the heads of our nation in good shape.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 760)

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