Back in the ‘60s, it was popular for men have a greased head of hair. They used Vitalis or Lucky Tiger to keep their hair slicked back and looking good. In the early ‘70s, Gillette changed all that with a product called The Dry Look. It was a hairspray for men that promised a cool, yet totally dry look.
The advertising campaign it ran was tremendously successful and its slogan was quite catchy: “The Wet Head is Dead.” The TV ad was very direct: “You don’t have to use oil, creams, or even water on your head… the wet head is dead! Long live the dry look!”
Why do I mention all this? Because 40 years later I have come to the conclusion that the wet head is alive and well. I discovered this because I am presently in New York where, unlike Israel, men work on Friday. Since Shabbat starts very early these days, I notice that many men come to shul Friday night with a “wet head.”
I don’t blame these men who are forced to work Friday afternoon and race home on the last train before Shabbat. I used to be one of them. I remember the days of running full speed straight into the shower on Erev Shabbat, then continuing my race to shul with a head still dripping. As I looked around shul these last two weeks, I noticed many of these “wet heads” and felt bad. I felt bad because I know now what I didn’t know back then. I know now that it doesn’t have to be this way.
Fighting with the boss to leave early Friday afternoon, working on Chol HaMoed, davening Shacharit in the pitch dark just to make it to work on time, feeling uncomfortable eating an “airline kosher meal” at a convention, searching for a heter to shave during sefira and the Nine Days, waging an internal battle over whether to wear or not wear a kippa at work – all these struggles can be completely avoided. How? By living in a country where Jews are not the minority.
America is a wonderful country and we need to thank Hashem for the fantastic blessings we have here, but let’s be totally honest: It’s not where we belong. As wonderful as things are, this is a non-Jewish country and we will always be foreigners in this land. Yes, we have built yeshivot here and Jewish communities have thrived, but we are – and always will be – guests, never hosts.
That is why Friday afternoons in the winter are very uncomfortable for Jewish professionals. It is also why the most religious Jew feels he must shave during the Nine Days –because a guest must follow the rules.
Things in Israel are much different. As I have written many times, there are many areas where improvement is desperately needed, but for the Jewish professional, you simply cannot beat working in Israel. All major companies are open Sunday-Thursday, which means no work on Friday. So, like Gillette said, “The Wet Head is Dead!” You come to shul Friday night with a nice dry head of hair.
But there’s more – much more. Most companies are closed the entire Sukkot and Pesach, so you can enjoy the holiday the way it was designed to be (and not have days deducted from your vacation time!). All hotels are kosher, so conventions, even if held in Eilat, pose no problem at all. You can sit and enjoy the food together with your co-workers and not feel isolated.
Men will never have a problem with a kippa nor will women have problems with head coverings. There is never any work on Erev Yom Tov and you can take off work on Purim and Tisha B’Av. Nobody will question your “sefira beard” and, by law, should you need to sit shiva, you will be given seven days off – once again, without them being deducted from your vacation time.
This is what it means to live in a Jewish state. Is everybody frum? No. But the culture is Jewish. Like it or not, in the coming days, no matter where you are in America, you will hear Christmas songs. There’s no way around it. The newspapers will be filled with Christmas sales, you will see your neighbor’s house light up, and you will probably bump into five Santa Clauses every day as you walk in Manhattan.
In Israel, even in a secular city like Tel Aviv, you will not see any Santas. Rather, you will trip over stores selling jelly donuts (some may even have some jelly!), and you will see store after store selling gifts for… Chanukah! Almost every store lights a menorah each night of Chanukah, and every person you meet – even the ones most removed from Jewish observance – will wish you a “Chag Same’ach!”
Let’s stop living as guests in someone else’s home. Yes, the host has been very kind to us, but we have overstayed our welcome. The time has come to thank the host and move out to our own place, with our own culture and traditions. No more being the weird guy who leaves early on Friday, doesn’t show up for work in September, and eats airline food instead of rib steak. And no more coming to shul with hair that’s dripping wet. The wet head is dead! Long live Erev Shabbat in Israel! Come home now.