Tichel Tales: Chapter 3| January 4, 2017
"M a take a look at this!” Nine-year-old Racheli pulls me over to the couch. Her little finger touches a picture of Rebbetzin Elyashiv in the book Rebbetzin Kanievsky: A Legendary Mother to All.
“Look at this tichel she’s wearing. It’s sooo big” she says pointing to a picture of a lady in a high tichel adorned with a gem. “And here’s a pic of Rebbetzin Levin wife of Rav Aryeh and she’s also wearing a tichel.”
“Wow” I say as I join her on the couch. “Imagine that. Such choshuve ladies wearing tichels. There’s another” I say rising from the couch to show her a book with tichel-clad Rebbetzin Auerbach.
I haven’t made too much progress with Dassi on the tichel front so I’m happy that at least one daughter seems interested. “Racheli” I say “it’s not just the chassidim or the Sephardim or the dati-leumi women who wear tichels. Wives of roshei yeshivah wear them too.”
Although I’d been inspired by these holy women my decision to wear tichels wasn’t easy. If it hadn’t been for the support of my dear friend continued learning on the subject and the positive feedback I’ve received I’m not sure I would’ve had the strength to do it.
A year ago my new friend in the neighborhood Shoshana called me. “Gabby I’m having a Peninim meeting in my house Sunday night. Would you like to come?” she asked.
“Tzniyus isn’t my problem” I told her. I have many nisyonos but they don’t include wanting to wear short skirts or the latest fashions.
“It’s not about clothing” she explained. “It’s about developing yourself and your relationship with Hashem. I think you’ll like it.”
I didn’t want to go but I found it hard to say no. So a cold December evening found me in her den with five other women along with books a CD player and flavored seltzer. Shoshana was wearing a beautiful tichel that night.
As the presentation began the speaker said that tzniyus frees us from the burden of people-pleasing and helps us gain self-respect. My ears perked up. So this wasn’t all about clothing. We moved on to the reading. “When one is at peace with herself she does what she knows is right without looking over her shoulder to see what others think. That is the middah of tzniyus.”
The insight hit me powerfully.
The next week I went without Shoshana’s prodding. That night the subject was head coverings. I read for the first time that there were some poskim who were opposed to sheitels. It made me think: If the tichel was the traditional head covering of the Jewish woman maybe there was some good reason for that?
“Well, I sure spend a lot of time, energy, and money on my movie-star sheitel making sure it looks good and I look good,” I said. “I definitely relate to the fact that focusing on my looks takes me far from developing my inner sense of self. Has this fixation made me too externally directed?” I wondered aloud.
Liat spoke up. “I feel the same way. Over the years, my sheitel has gotten longer and longer and if I don’t look trendy and with-it, I can’t leave the house. That’s ridiculous. If I’m just trying to cover my hair, why am I so focused on needing to look good for others?”
Everyone shared their insecurities with needing to look “right” for others and how that was taking them away from the middah of tzniyus. I left that night with my head churning. Maybe I should cut my sheitel? Maybe I should dye my natural part black? Maybe I should dye the hair all one color?
Later that week, I told Shoshana I was having second thoughts about wearing my sheitel. “But I don’t want to wear a less natural-looking sheitel. After all, I don’t want to look like I’m from the shtetl.”
After a long pause, she said, “Let’s go shopping, try on some different head coverings, and see if you like any.”
“Retail therapy? Sounds great.”
Shoshana and I started with caps and hats, but they were too casual for me. I resisted the tichels, because to me, they gave off an image of bohemian, artsy, BT, or Israeli. I just wanted to look like a regular frum lady who sends her kids to yeshivish schools. Yet I was also drawn to tichels because I liked that they were the traditional garb of Jewish women. As I sifted through the piles, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the pretty fabrics and designs.
Then I realized that I could develop my own tichel style, as long as all my hair was covered. I didn’t have to look like one of the rebbetzins in the books; I could find my own style.
At the first tichel sale I went to with Shoshana, I walked out with 20 tichels of all different styles, a volumizer, and some decorative headbands. I learned that the volumizers are crucial to keeping all your hair inside the tichel.
Shoshana came over a couple of times and showed me different wraps, I watched some videos, and what at first seemed like tichel origami quickly became a working part of my mind.
When I was finally ready to present my tichels to the world, I was surprised at how well they were received. One day, Shoshana and I went out for coffee. We were both wearing elegant, sedate-colored tichels in grays and blues. The African-American waitress sported a large, knitted red, yellow, and green cap. “Wow,” she exclaimed. “You ladies just look so spiritual, so dignified, like you got it going on. Can you show me how to tie them scarves like that?”
Several months later, I was on a flight to Miami, and my pastel tichel with purple and green flowers was all the rage. When I entered the plane, the flight attendant’s eyes lit up. “I love your scarf!” she said.
Later during the flight, two other women admired it. As we exited the plane, one of them said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I was listening to you with your children during the flight. And you’re such a good mother.” I couldn’t help but think the tichel made a kiddush Hashem.
“How can these tichels be tzanuah if everyone notices them?” I asked Shoshana one day at the park with our kids.
“Looking different is not the same as looking immodest,” she told me. “It’s okay to stand out if you’re dressed modestly.”
I began to see what she meant when I started wearing tichels to work. Men had a completely different reaction to tichels than women. Perhaps they noticed them, but they weren’t interested in them.
A young single guy in my office came up to me one day and said, “Mrs. Roth, what’s with the beehive? Interesting look.” And John, who’s in his 60s and a grandfather, bows and calls me, “Your Highness” around the office. At first I thought he was making fun of me, but then I realized he meant it out of respect.
And then there was the time I found myself standing next to a Muslim woman adjusting her hijab in front of a public restroom mirror. I was so glad I didn’t have a sheitel on. I didn’t want to feel “outdone” in modesty by her. She kept checking me out. I stayed focused, retying my tichel, making sure it was on tight and every hair was covered. I walked out of the bathroom with my tichel held high.
Soon after, Shoshana said, “I think you’re ready to join the tichel club.”
“There’s a club?” I asked.
“Well, it’s not an official club, but there are about 30 of us who gather each Rosh Chodesh to learn about the mitzvah of kisui saaros, to give each other chizuk, and eat good food,” she said. “We share our triumphs and our struggles. It’s a really nice group of women.”
“Who’s in it?” I asked suspiciously.
She smiled and said, “You’ll just have to come and see for yourself….”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 524)
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