celebrations, customs/rituals, folklore, parties

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.

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