A Hair-raising Experience

The Orthodox Jewish equivalent of a woman’s wedding band is a head covering. What constitutes “a head covering”? That all depends upon who you ask…

From a babushka to a baseball cap; from a wig to a woolen hat; from a doily to a do-rag; all are acceptable options for at least some people…

I have personally chosen (and unchosen, and chosen again) to cover my hair. How I do so changes from day to day, week to week, according to my mood and my religious inclination. But cover it, I do.

I have a wide variety of options including a beautiful wig (or a “shaitel” in the Orthodox vernacular) that has seen better days. Not wanting to always be “the woman in the hat”, I decided it was high time that I purchase some new hair to wear on my hair. And so I embarked on my quest…

The first thing was to find out where to go. Of course I asked my friends with the prettiest wigs, falls and hairpieces. At least four had gone to a woman named Yafi, so Yafi was where I would go. I made my appointment and got directions to her Jerusalem home. I expected a little room of a small apartment, with a stack of boxed wigs, a mirror and a chair. What I found instead was a multi-room wig factory with so many pretty, young

bewigged women, I had a hard time figuring out who was working there and who were the customers.

I was asked to sit and wait, so I found a chair and examined all of the wigs worn by the multitude of women there, noting in particular the color, style and obviousness (Hey, I’m willing to wear one, that doesn’t mean I need to advertise it!)

Finally it was my turn. I explained what I wanted (beautiful, no one can tell) to Brachie, a beautiful young woman with a stunning long, dark wig. She told me my options, recommending these little mini-wigs (I call it a “shaitlet”) that blend into your own hair, then started writing down my order as she spoke. A bit flustered, I said, “Wait! I’m just shopping around! This is just an exploratory visit.”

To which this clever woman said, “Okay, but just so you know, if you order now it can be ready in a week.”

Bing! A week? I was tantalized. I deliberated in my mind, going back and forth between, But I haven’t try anything on! and, I will have it in time for my business trip! Desire

overruled sanity and I wrote a deposit check.

The moment I gave the go-ahead, I began to panic. What was I thinking? It’s so expensive! Maybe it won’t match my hair! Maybe it will look ridiculous! I began grilling all of my friends with these little shaitlets: “Is it comfortable? Is it easy? Is it low maintenance?”

Then I found out that actually most of them blow-dry and straighten their hair every time they wear them! I freaked. There was simply no chance that I would start bothering with all that nonsense!

I immediately called Brachie in a panic – “Is it going to be pin-straight requiring a 45 minute styling routine? Because if it is, then I don’t want it!”

“Don’t worry,” she assured me, “it will be wavy.”

Somehow a seed of doubt remained lodged in my brain and the remainder of the waiting time I was plagued with anxiety that this huge investment would be a disappointment at best, a disaster at worst.

Finally the big day arrived. I wore my contacts, and nice makeup thinking to put my best face forward during this hair-raising experience.

I arrived early and sat myself down to watch the frenzy of activity and wait as I added to this very article-in-progress.

Remarkably, someone with the same type of demi-wig was in one of the chairs having hers done. I asked her how she liked it, and she did. I could see for myself that it was very cute and blended nicely with her similar-to-mine wavy hair. She warned me though that it is very hard to keep the stylist focused on you, and to expect to be here all day. I hunkered down in my seat and prepared for a long day.

Meanwhile one of the stylists was unceremoniously shlepping around this cute, little blond demi-wig, snipping and sticking here and there. I hesitantly asked, “Is that mine?”

to which she shrugged, with barely a glance at me, and said, “Could be.” It was clearly of no interest to her!

Finally I saw it – it looked like they swept up the hair from the floor and turned it into a wig. I thought I would die. Yafi, the namesake and owner of the salon assured me that was not finished, and not to worry, it would be fine. She sat me down in the coveted salon-owner chair, and placed a smock around my neck. I kept my notepad out, hoping the constant reminder that an article would be written about this would assure a better outcome. You’re reading my sheitel insurance policy!

I settled down, looking in the massive mirror and watched as she placed the ratty-looking thing on my head. What was I thinking?!?!

She began to spritz and comb and snip, working her way around my head, and I began to see the beginnings of what just might become a fashionable style begin to emerge. Intrigued, I paid close attention, fascinated. Then she finished with phase I.

Apparently these things don’t come complete with all their hair. She sent my little

goldmine into the next room to have a little Russian woman add more hair.

The little Russian woman approached me with 5 swatches of blond hair and asked me which one I wanted to add. There was NO WAY I was going to be responsible for this decision! I told her to ask Brachie, the hair-chooser. She did well on the initial piece, I trusted her to do the rest.

Then I stood by and waited as the little Russian woman sewed strand by strand into my new acquisition. They told me 20 minutes. At that rate it would take 20 days!

After much sewing, adding, removing, fixing, cutting, starting, stopping – over four hours worth!! – I put it on and could not believe my eyes. It was really nice! Nicer than my own hair, in fact, not that that is saying much.

Yafi made it picture perfect – I examined my reflection in the mirror and thought, Hmm, something is not right. Then I shook my head hard, running my fingers through the freshly done do, messing it up a bit. There! Now it looked like me! Perfect!

I must say the sheitel has taken on a life of its own. My friend suggested that when I have too many work meetings , to split up –  some people will meet with me, and some with my sheitel!!

About the Author

Laura Ben-David is the author of numerous articles and the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has done public speaking about Israel and Aliyah all over the United States and Israel. Contact her at laura@aliyahbook.com or follow her tweets at http://www.twitter.com/laurabendavd