Q: WHEN IS A HAIRCUT NOT JUST A HAIRCUT?

 

A: WHEN A THREE-YEAR-OLD ORTHODOX JEWISH BOY GETS HIS HAIR CUT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Ari Schmukler at age 2, now one year older and ready for his first haircut. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

On March 1, 2017, Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler invited the Las Cruces Chabad Jewish community to witness and participate in the first haircut ceremony of their son, Ari. The event is called an Upshernish (shearing).

Many of you know that multicultural rites of passage, customs and beliefs delight me. And although I had written about this ceremony as observed in Israel, I had never had a first hand observer’s experience before this.

Witnessing and participating in the ceremony were Chenchie’s parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun who flew in from New York. Rabbi Bery and Chenchie’s four other children, Cherna, Mayer, Leba, Leah were the other key players enjoying the event.

Rabbi Bery and Chenchie Schmukler with her parents, Rabbi Eli and Shaina Tiefenbrun with the grandchildren, Cherna (in arms), Mayer, Leba, Leah, and Ari.

 

Ari patiently sat on a chair as his father and grandfather offered words of congratulations. Then the congregation lined up to have a turn to cut a lock of Ari’s hair.

 

 

Ari Schmukler patiently sitting while a congregant cuts a lock of his hair. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

After cutting a lock of hair, the person placed it in a plastic container and then deposited a quarter in the yellow Tsedaka (charity) container. Eventually, most of the hair was cut except for the peot (side locks).

 

The yellow tsedaka container. Here hair cutters deposit quarters for charity. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

Chenchie is a fantastic party organizer. She made cookies in the shape of scissors, in the shape of the aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the first letter of Ari’s name. She created a donut wall where the children happily removed the donuts and provided a colorful and abundant feast for all in attendance.

Cookies in the shapes of the aleph, scissors, and the numeral three. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

The 3rd birthday haircutting ceremony announces the beginning of the child’s Jewish education. He now wears a kippah or yarmulke (skull cap) and tzizit (fringed undergarment). An easel held the Hebrew alphabet that had drops of honey dabbed on it emphasizing the sweetness of learning. Overall, the celebration stresses the importance of charity and the responsibility of learning.

The Hebrew alphabet to demonstrate that Ari will now begin his Jewish education. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2017.

There is a rationale for having this ceremony at age three. The child becomes analogous to a tree that is prohibited from being cut until it is three, lest the fruit be underdeveloped. But if the tree is left untouched for three years, the fruit becomes sweet. Humans, too, should not be touched for the first three years. After that, they are ready to move on to the next stage of life.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not an Orthodox Jew. However, sensing that her son’s first haircut was significant, she took him to her maternal grandfather, Jacob Friesh, who had been a barber in England. He proudly gave Mark, his first great-grandson, the first haircut.

Colliding with Reality

Grade School age, taken on Talmadge Street. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Grade School age, 1930s, taken on Talmadge Street, in Los Angeles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

 

 

When my wheelchair attendant at El Paso airport introduced himself as, “Moses,” I mused, “Aha! He will lead us to the Promised Land,” but not exactly.

 

 

 

I was headed to the University of California in Berkeley for the 75th anniversary of the Western States Folklore Society. My dear friend and colleague, Mariah, generously volunteered to accompany me, aware that traveling alone had become much too challenging.

Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Early 1950s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

I thought I had properly planned ahead finding out which hotel or housing facility would be closest to the sessions. The University Faculty Club seemed the most promising with so-called accommodations for the handicapped. However, to avoid the inside stairs we had to go outside and down a steep path made perilous by the constant rain. Can you imagine my negotiating a cane in one hand and an umbrella in the other while trying not to slip just to reach the breakfast dining room?

 

Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

Contemplating dim sum in Oakland, CA, 2016. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016

I also struggled with the hilly wet campus terrain sloshing from building to building for different sessions. And when I finally reached my destination, I ran into another problem. In my Las Cruces home, I take a nap everyday for about two hours. My body would not allow me to break that habit, so when I sat in afternoon sessions,I automatically fell asleep.How embarrassing! I missed hearing many great papers, or so they tell me.

Most of my colleagues from the UCLA Folklore Program were not present, some of them already dead. What compensated for that loss, however, was meeting a new crop of enthusiastic graduate students.That made up for everything.

So what was my take-away from this experience? I will no longer attend academic meetings. In addition, I have just purchased the next step in mobility devices, a rollator that will allow me to sit down when walking becomes too tiring and painful.

Still, I had a wonderful time including a quasi-romantic encounter at LAX with a bizarre beau, a coroner.

Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Replica of my first tricycle, 1930s. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

 

Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy's bike that I named, "Rocket." © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

Replica of my first two-wheeler at age 12. (Full disclosure), my dad got me a used boy’s bike that I named, “Rocket.” © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

A rollator that should improve my mobility. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2016.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, who despite her age and physical disabilities still looks forward to more adventures that don’t include academic meetings.

 

 

“When You Get to the Word ‘Jesus,’ Just Sing ‘Hm, Hm”

Those were the instructions my mother gave me after I told her that I had been chosen to be a sixth grade Christmas caroler. She felt that I would be betraying my Jewish heritage if I sang the name of “Jesus.” I didn’t agree with her, so I didn’t obey.

Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Anonymous group of Christmas carolers. Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

For me, music trumps all, and I’m not talking about Donald. Other Jews don’t have a problem paying tribute to the birth of Jesus. Look at Irving Berlin. He composed the iconic two tunes associated with Christian holidays: “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade.” High-profile Jewish vocalists have joyfully sung Christian holiday songs, such as Barbra Streisand with one album of Christmas melodies and Neil Diamond with three different Christmas albums.

In 1994, the First World Sacred Music Festival occurred in Los Angeles and was a spectacular event. Because Los Angeles has so many different religions, the event lasted for two weeks in many sacred as well as public venues. However, the most exciting program occurred at the Hollywood Bowl. First of all, the Dalai Lama blessed this gathering of almost 18,000 audience members. To protect him, all of us had to pass through metal detectors before being seated.

After his blessing, the performances ensued. Because there were so many musical acts, the concert began at 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and ended at 10:00 p.m. As each group sang, the excitement heightened until we reached the last act, a renowned choir from the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.

The pianist slowly played some chords and then intoned: “You may have AT & T, but sometimes your call doesn’t go through.” She played some arpeggios and continued. “You may have Sprint, but they, too, have problems and sometimes you can’t get through.” After playing more chords and arpeggios, she dramatically mentioned more phone carriers, all with connection flaws, leading to the climax: “But there is one person who will always be there to answer your call, and his name is…” In the spirit of the moment the entire audience shouted, “JESUS!” Then the choir began and we rocked on throughout their set until we left the Bowl on a high note.

By singing the name “Jesus,” did that negate my religious or spiritual beliefs? Did it change who I am? I don’t believe so. For me, the music transcended the words.

Is it bad/evil/or disloyal to sing the name of another one’s God?

I have never felt so, but I speak only for myself.

Oops! I have much more to write about, but it’s time to leave for my Las Cruces Ukuleles rehearsal for our four upcoming Christmas concerts. And when we get to the word “Jesus” I will have no problem belting out his name.

The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

The author in her Las Cruces Ukes performance costume. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who delights in music of all kinds, religious and secular, Western and Eastern.

 

 

 

The Flamingos Have Landed!

I have a dear neighbor and friend, Roxana Gillett, who has been very kind to me. Accordingly, I phoned and asked her what she was going to do for her 70th birthday. “We don’t do birthdays,” she stated flatly.

Surprised, I responded, “Well, I do. And I’m going to take you to Le Rendezvous French restaurant for lunch.” Seemingly pleased, she accepted the invitation. However, inviting her to lunch was merely a ruse. I wanted to take her away from her house so that my cronies could plant 12 plastic pink flamingos in her front yard.

The flamingos have landed. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

The flamingos have landed!
© Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

I had seen pink flamingos landing elsewhere in the neighborhood and thought it was so delightfully incongruous to see them planted next to cacti and other desert landscape.

Usually flamingo garden infestations occur as the result of a fund raising scheme by a church or a high school sports team. Unfortunately when I called around, I discovered that currently no one was doing this.

However, while purchasing some garden supplies at a big box store, I noticed a container of plastic pink flamingos on sale, so months ago I bought a dozen and stashed them in my closet. Since then, I have had so much fun figuring out how to pull off the prank.

At the appointed hour on Roxana’s birthday, I drove her to the restaurant while at the same time, friends and neighbors took over the task of planting the flamingos. Even before I arrived at our destination, I received a text: Mission Accomplished!

Our lunch was delightful, especially the Cream of Mushroom soup, and later, when we pulled up in front of Roxana’s house, she seemed disoriented – and who wouldn’t be, seeing a dozen pink flamingos standing in her front yard?

Additionally, my friend, Mariah, made this sign that hung from the neck of a flamingo:

Sign by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Sign by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Roxana with sign. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Roxana with sign. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Complicit neighbors, Don and Ila McCoy, welcomed Roxana with pink bubbly served in purple glasses along with strawberry pink cupcakes that created an instant birthday party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pink Bubbly with purple glasses. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Pink Bubbly in purple glasses. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

 

Strawberry-flavored cupcakes. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Strawberry cupcakes. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Cheers! © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

Cheers! © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015. (left to right) Darwin Gillett, Ila McCoy, Don McCoy, Roxana Gillett, Norine Dresser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So now, when the party is over, what does one do with a dozen pink flamingos?

Roxana transplanted them to my back yard, and every morning when I glance out in the backyard, their new presence gives me a good laugh. By the way, if anyone would like to borrow them for a special occasion, let me know.

Roxana transplanting the birds to my backyard. © Norine Dresser photo collectio, 2015

Roxana transplanting the birds to my backyard. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

The flamingos have migrated to my backyard. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

The flamingos have migrated to my backyard. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who loves planning birthday surprises for friends and relatives.