When I was young I, like almost every other girl, read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Many years have passed since then but there are still some scenes from the novel I remember clearly. One of them is how Jo sold her hair for twenty-five dollars, quite a sum then, to help finance her mother’s journey to her sick father. What made even more of an impression on me was Jo crying in bed later that evening, not because her father was ill, but because she missed her hair. I also had a cry or two about my hair as I was growing up. Now, though, I know that hair almost always grows back.
In Judaism there’s a Jewish custom to wait until a boy is three years-old to give him his first haircut. The reasoning behind this tradition is that man is compared to a tree. It’s forbidden to pick the fruit of a tree until after it has grown for three years. Likewise, a little boy’s hair is left uncut until his third birthday. Then it’s usually cut at a gathering of family and friends with everyone taking a snip of the child’s hair and giving him a blessing. Following the haircut the boy receives a kepah, his first pair of tzitzit, and begins to learn the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, commencing his Jewish education. Of course, as with any Jewish ritual, there are refreshments.
All of this was not a practice in our family. My sons had their first haircut usually before they were a year old. They, in turn, though, adopted the custom and I have been to some lovely haircutting parties. As the grandmother I never had to deal with brushing out tangles and snarls, checking for lice and eggs, or washing out sand and dirt. I could just enjoy the celebrations. And I did.
Most of my grandsons came to their haircutting parties with their hair in a simple ponytail. One of them, however, had a most interesting hairstyle with over a dozen braids joined to his scalp. Instead of taking a snip of his hair we each cut a braid. Those braids were gathered in a bag and donated to Zichron Menachem, an Israeli association for the support of children with cancer and their families. It offers professional supportive counseling, runs a day center and camps, funds a guest house, maintains a staff of volunteers to watch children in the hospital, and more.
Another function of Zichron Menachem is to fashion wigs for children undergoing chemotherapy. They receive all kinds of hair donations, mostly from selfless teenage girls. This one grandson had such long, lovely hair that we thought his hair could be used, also. However it was only 24 centimeters long and Zichron Menachem requires 28. That didn’t mean that grandson could not help out a cancer patient, though.
Just like in Jo’s days there’s a market for beautiful, healthy hair. Zichron Menachem sold my grandson’s long, black locks to help finance their many projects. At age three this grandson not only took his fist step towards learning Torah. He also began a path of doing good deeds. May he continue for many, many years.