The Odyssey of My First Israeli Haircut
JNS.org – Never having gotten my hair cut in Israel before, I was mildly concerned about finding a good place for a cut and some highlights. I scoured the Facebook group “Secret Jerusalem,” where Anglos turn to the online community of Jerusalem to ask any questions they have about life in Jerusalem.
After some back and forth with a few recommended hair salons, I came across Eyal Harel Hair Studio, conveniently located at the top of the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall. Trained at the Vidal Sassoon Institute in London, Eyal was my choice, based on the photos of some very cutting-edge (no pun intended) hairstyles on his Facebook page. I called him, asking about the price for a cut and color for two girls. After some negotiation, he told me, “You know what? I don’t want this to be about the money. We will find a price you like, come in tomorrow and we will discuss before I begin.”
So the next day, my roommate and I left for the hair salon, which started out like any normal hair appointment. We sat down on the couch and were offered coffee. As Eyal finished with some other clients, we contemplated grabbing lunch before we began — it was about 12 p.m. when we arrived and we were told that the appointment might take about two hours. But before we could make a decision, by 12:30 Eyal had us in his chairs. We explained in “Hebrish” (a mix of Hebrew and English) what we wanted. After continuing to negotiate the price, Eyal said, “How about this — I want you to be happy. The hair is more important than the money. Why don’t I cut and color, and at the end, you tell me how much you want to pay. Once I touch your hair, you will be my customer forever, I promise.” With that confidence, we agreed and he began by 12:45.
As he started cutting away, I admitted my nervousness to him.
“I haven’t gotten my hair cut here in Israel before,” I said.
“Don’t worry,” Eyal responded, “you’re not ‘here’ anymore.”
I smiled, as my apprehension melted away.
Eyal danced around our heads with his scissors and his comb. His movements truly looked like a dance, and it was fun to watch. It was obvious he loved his job and had a talent for it.
Then, with his assistant, he put in the highlights and foil. After waiting for some time, the foil was taken out and the hair was dried to reveal a fresh style. By the time my roommate’s hair was also finished, around 2:45 p.m., it was just the three of us in his studio. We asked Eyal about life in Israel and Jerusalem. He said that although his heart is in London, “from where hair grows,” he would never move out of Jerusalem, where he was born and raised. His business is here, as are his family and the customers whom he loves.
My roommate asked if he works on Shabbat. “No, no, not on Shabbat! Shabbat isn’t for work,” he insisted. Although he isn’t religious, like many Israelis, he clearly respects the spirit of Shabbat, a sentiment with which we fully identified.
We talked more about his family, Jews from Kurdistan and France, and then about trending hairstyles, joking that the next time we come for an appointment, we’ll have to get some colorful hair dye. “Do it now!” he said. We laughed, and he said, “No, I’m serious! Let’s do a streak of it!” Already having a “TII: This Is Israel” moment, I surprised even myself when I blurted out, “I’ll do it!” So I picked out a color, a wine-y red, and he applied it to a streak in my bangs. My roommate, more timid about the addition of color, got a small colored strand, which is actually quite difficult to notice.
As the color set, the Shabbat alarm sounded, the buzzer heard throughout Jerusalem that tells everyone that Shabbat has begun. Eyal remarked, “I’ve never stayed this late here! Are you guys hungry?” We nodded, as by this time, it was after 4 p.m. and we hadn’t had lunch. “Every Friday, my mom makes for me her kubbeh from Kurdistan,” he said, as he pulled out a hot pot full of delicious looking kubbeh (semolina dumplings with flavorful meat filling), beets, and broth.
As we savored the kubbeh, Eyal took out the foil from my colorful hair strand, and it turned out to be a little more pink than I expected. Actually, the color was very similar to the deep pink color that the kubbeh was dyed from the beets!
As we talked and laughed some more, he handed us two bowls, one spoon, and a bag full of challah, inviting us to dig into the kubbeh and sop up the juices with the challah. “In my culture,” he explained, “we rip the challah, without tarboot (culture)!”
But in reality, this was the most culturally significant hair appointment I have ever experienced in my life.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.