Israel Stories

Friday, September 02, 2005

… shall not cut the corners of your hair

… shall not cut the corners of your hair

As I sat having my pre-Pesach, pre Omer haircut, when my barber started to tell me about a recent client.

During his army service, my barber, Ron, was stationed with the Northern command where he befriended a Druze soldier. After there mandatory three year conscription was up they stayed in contact and visited each other whenever possible. Ron lives in Bet Shemesh and his family has been there since the 60’s when it was no more than a small immigrant back water. His Druze friend, I think his name was Salim, advised him to stay put because one day Bet Shemesh would grow into a large city. They decided at some point to train as barbers and went into partnership, Salim opening his shop in Majdal Shams at the foot of Mount Hermon, and Ron opening his shop in Bet Shemesh.

Through Salim’s connections, in the days and years prior to the intefada, many Arabs would visit Rons shop coming into Bet Shemesh to work, from Bethlehem, Hebron and the neighboring villages. Salim had two close friends who lived in East Jerusalem, one an Muslim Arab and the other a Catholic Arab. Both these men would frequent Rons shop either for business or just pleasure sitting on the steps outside drinking coffee or tea and ‘schmoozing’.

When the intefada started Rons customers almost halved. He had a hard time attracting new customers. There was a tremendous stigma attached to Rons establishment. He was friends with the enemy and every time a bus was blown op or a suicide bomber detonated himself in a club or bar fewer customers came to his shop. His walls were daubed with graffiti and even his windows were smashed.

As time went on, though, people’s attitudes changed and thanks to some loyal customers and good PR Ron was back in business. He was very philosophical about the damage to his shop and understood that feelings were running very, very high.

During the last four years Ron had only seen Salim twice. Even though Salim was a Druze, fought for Israel and in some ways was more patriotic than some of the Jewish doves, he was also under tremendous peer pressure to keep a low profile.

Last week Salim turned up on Rons doorstep with a very strange request. A good friend of his in Jerusalem had just lost a son. They wanted to give the son a proper Catholic burial and needed to prepare the body correctly. Ron of course new the catholic from the ‘old’days and was shocked to hear that his young son had died. The friend’s grandmother, the matriarch of the family, had insisted that Ron cut the boys hair. She wouldn’t let anybody else near the boy. Ron went to east Jerusalem and in very broken Hebrew listened as the grandmother explained that there was a tradition in their family that a Jewish barber should prepare their hair before burial. They new how to cut hair properly. Very nice, thought Ron, but what do you men properly. The grandmother rose and asked him how he cuts the hair of the ultra-orthodox Jews. What do they insist is never touched.? Instantly Ron understood, don’t shave or cut the hair on the sides of the head. Don’t cut his pe’irs (sidelocks). Ron was very taken aback by this tradition. The whole thing was decidedly very odd and demanded more explanation.

The date was sometime around 1920. A young British officer had befriended an Arab family living near Latrun about 20 kilometers west of Jerusalem. In secret and against all regulations, both army and religious, this officer began to date one of the daughters from this family. It was not long before they had a child, a baby boy. The girl disappeared with child. She was taken in by a catholic family while the baby was adopted by a Jewish couple. The soldier never heard from either again.

As the years went by the baby grew and, when he was considered old enough, was told that he was adopted and his roots are reluctantly revealed to him. As soon as the boy had the opportunity he set out to discover his real mother. Never veering from his adopted faith he searched in vain until one day he heard of a Catholic mission that gave shelter and protected Arab girls who in other circumstances would have met with a terrible fate. It was not long before he was reunited with his real mother, now married and living in East Jerusalem.

As Ron looked he realized that the boys mother was in fact the Grandmother standing before him. So fierce was her attachment to her son that she had introduced many Jewish customs into the household. They bought Matza on Pesach, lit a candle on Chanukah and never ate non-kosher animals. Salims Catholic friend was the boys half brother, who was now burying his own, 9 year old, son.

Ron was visibly shaken as he finished telling me what happened. So many questions were bursting in my head. I think that in an age where religious intolerance is accepted in so many societies this Jewish, Muslim, Catholic family serves as a lesson to us all.


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