Have you ever been to an upsherin, a hair-cutting ceremony?
I had never been to one until I was invited by my gentleman friend, Sy, to attend one in honor of his great-grandson, Gabriel, given by his grandparents, Steve and Robin Kerzer. Even Sy, an Orthodox Jew, had not heard of it. Both of us knew it was the custom not to cut a boy’s hair until he was three years old, but we had no idea what was involved. It was common to hear “Oy, he looks just like a little girl” until the parents of the poor child must have been ready to plotz. To make such a party was definitely new to us, not to mention its expense. Invitations had been sent to numerous people. Out-of-town guests, including Sy’s two physician sons from Rhode Island, came in for the simcha. And what a simcha it was.
We drove with Sy’s sister and brother-in-law to the Young Israel of Emerald Isles for the Sunday event. We arrived on time to a cacophony of voices. There must have been more than 200 people in attendance, most of them gathered around the buffet table – ready to snatch a hearty nosh. A table close to the entrance was piled high with colorfully wrapped gifts for Gabby, the day’s guest of honor. I added to the stack with gifts for him and his two-year-old brother. I spotted the latter sleeping peacefully in his stroller, oblivious to his surroundings. Good for him, I thought, as I observed the other children running wildly in the hall – as little children will do.
After mazel tovs and other greetings were expressed, we settled at a table as far away from the noise as possible. There, we were joined by some family members and had the pleasure of receiving a kiss from Gabby, who indeed looked like a little girl with his long red curls. Only he was wearing tzitzis.
Included in the delicious food offerings was an enormous chocolate-covered birthday and hair-cutting cake. It was decorated with a huge pair of scissors made out of white icing.
I began to wonder where the barber was when the rabbi rose to speak. Through the noise, I learned that everyone would receive a lock of Gabby’s hair. How could that be, I thought – so many people, so little hair. But when Yossi, Gabby’s father, spoke, it all became clear.
“Everyone who wants a lock of Gabby’s hair [should] come and help with the cutting,” he announced. It appeared that the guests were the barbers.
Sy and I were honored to take the podium first, where Gabby was sitting calmly on his mother Farah’s lap. With a small pair of scissors, we both clipped off a lock of the ginger curls. That was our fond souvenir.
In his younger days, Sy had bright red wavy hair. His four sons, several grandchildren and, so far, his one great-grandchild inherited it. It was like a reincarnation of what he looked like at that age. It made for a strange sensation. And when he held the strands of red locks between his now snow-white hair he laughed and said, “The old and the new.”
As we prepared to head home, the happy parents’ parting words were: “Same time next year.”
It would be Zachary’s turn.Myrna Gordon Skurnick
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