| Musings |

I Hair You

Then comes that Friday night. The night that I don’t make it in time….


KISLEV 5778 (2018)

MY hand is raised, poised to knock, and then phew — I remember. My hair! I definitely can’t let Zeidy see me with my hair down. Ponytail holder on my wrist to the rescue; I twist my dark-brown curls into a low bun. That’s better. Now I can go inside.

Zeidy is sitting in the kitchen, a large sefer in front of him and a glass of hot water near it. He looks up at me, smiles in greeting, and nods approvingly. I let out a breath. Made it. But mixed with the relief — is that a twinge of guilt?

It’s funny; I get this way only with Zeidy. My teachers and principals have been reprimanding me for years about my hair. It’s not tzniyusdig, it’s not dignified, it’s not appropriate to leave your hair loose like that… but I like my hair down. That’s just me. And seriously, I’m in 12th grade already. So I ignore their shaking heads and disappointed looks and let my hair fly freely.

Until I get to Zeidy’s house. Zeidy reprimands me with humor, with understanding, with so, so much love.

Pnei Shabbos nekablah… pony Shabbos nekablah.”

He shares it like a treasure. His gentle words talk to me — me, the part of me that knows I can do better. When I’m with Zeidy, my defiance transforms into the picture of obedience. Until I leave, of course… because what Zeidy doesn’t see can’t disappoint him, right?

Then comes that Friday night. The night that I don’t make it in time….

We’re cutting vegetables for a salad, my mother and I — we’ve been preparing and eating the Shabbos meals at my grandparents for as long as I can remember — when there’s the sound of heavy footsteps, one after the other. The door swings open and Zeidy is standing framed in the doorway.

“Gut Shabbos!” my mother and I chorus heartily.

But Zeidy’s looking straight at me, an expression on his face that can only be defined as a mixture of softness and curiosity and searching. He’s looking at me; his eyes are focused, his face intent. He doesn’t need to say anything for my hands to jump to my hair.

Oh no oh no… I totally forgot… sooo disrespectful of me….

My cheeks burn and there’s a long moment of silence.

“Where’s my yiras Shamayim?” he asks finally, his voice wistful. I stare back in confusion.

“It says in seforim that a sign that a person has yiras Shamayim is that his words are listened to.”

I grapple at my pony holder and shove my hair into it, trying to defend him to himself.

“You have yiras Shamayim! I— I just forgot. I’m sorry.”

Zeidy shakes his head gently and shuffles to the dining room.

“Where’s my yiras Shamayim?” I hear him repeating, and the knowledge that Zeidy is so disappointed — it turns my stomach over.

I can’t let him down again. I have to be faster next time….


ELUL 5779 (2019)

Seminary in Eretz Yisrael, here I come! I’m thrilled and nervous and excited and terrified.

Of course, I can’t leave without saying goodbye to Bubby and Zeidy.

I go over with my mother — my hair neatly pulled back, of course — and Zeidy gives me a dollar that he got years ago from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. What a gift. What a treasure….

Then he gives me another dollar.

“For your chassan,” he explains.

My mother and I both recoil.

“Zeidy, you’ll give it to him!”

Zeidy just smiles and puts his hands over my head.

Yevarechecha Hashem v’yishmerecha….”

His voice cracks. We all fight back tears. I’ll be back for Pesach in six months, but it feels like an eternity….

We leave Bubby and Zeidy’s house and as usual, I tug at my pony to pull it out.

“Mommy, I really don’t like this,” I can’t help but say, “I have such a bad feeling.”

And I don’t even know myself what I’m referring to. Is it seminary or Zeidy that’s giving me this feeling in the pit of my stomach?


ADAR 5780 (2020)

I have to get home. I must get home.

Loud music booms from the main room and echoes off the Tzfas hills. Purim is in two weeks, and my sem-mates are completely in the spirit. But I’m sitting outside and crying on the phone.

My mother tries to reason with me, to know why, what’s going on, but it’s not something I can explain.

“I want to be in Bubby and Zeidy’s house for Purim,” I repeat again and again, as stubborn and irrational as a toddler.

Two days before Purim, I realize I’m not going anywhere, and I make reluctant plans for the happiest day of the year. I actually end up enjoying myself.

And then I get what I wished for. Except that it’s not at all what I wished for. I’m in the airport with hundreds of students, all clamoring to beat the lockdown and fly back to the US before airports are shut down.

I’m home at long last, with the family I missed so much. I join their strict quarantine — no going anywhere to say hi to anyone — because they all seem to have… what’s that virus called again?

And I’m saying Tehillim, because Zeidy was just taken to the hospital. A week later, Bubby is there, too.

We’re awkwardly settling into a breathless, horrible routine. Frantic phone calls to the hospital, Tehillim, worrying, Tehillim, grasping for information, more Tehillim… I’ve never felt the words more strongly in my life.

Zeidy regains consciousness. Hodu laShem ki tov! Then Bubby is brought out of her induced coma, and with gasping breaths they say shehecheyanu.

Bubby comes home right before Pesach. A mini-hospital is set up at my aunt’s house, but she’s with family and she’ll be okay. Zeidy wants to get out of that hospital, too, so badly, but there’s a setback; his lungs have been terribly affected. My aunt is the one who informs him. He’s silent for a long moment and then lets out a sigh.

Gam zu letovah….”

Zeidy’s levayah is a week after Pesach. Turns out that six months was an eternity too long.

Zeidy was a beloved community rav, and hundreds of people come out of their homes in respect as the levayah passes by, but only a handful of family members are able to come along to the kevurah. It’s drizzling, and my glasses are wet. I take them off, but it doesn’t help much; I’m crying so hard I can still barely see anything.

When it’s all over, I get back in the car and untangle my mask from the wet hair plastered to my face.

My hair.

I put it up when Zeidy was around. To make Zeidy happy.

I almost choke over my thoughts, over that huge, Zeidy-sized hole in my heart.

The car gives a jolt forward and starts moving. My fingers begin to fiddle with the thick black pony holder on my wrist.

My shiny, medium-length, dark-brown hair that falls freely over my shoulders is practically my identity. But Zeidy’s gaze is burned into me, soft, curious, searching, and loving with such pure intensity that it nearly knocks me over. I press my head onto the back of the leather seat in front of me and force myself to take a deep breath.

Zeidy, now you see me wherever I am…. This one’s for you.

And then I put up my hair and keep it like that.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 884)

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