It is an age-old Jewish custom to allow a baby boy’s hair to grow untouched until he is 3 years old. So, during a family Shabbat last week at Conservative Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, parent Jonathan Abramson, 38, celebrated the birthday milestone by cutting a blonde-streaked lock from Asher’s long hair, marking the moment he turned from babyhood to boyhood.
The custom of upsherin is popular in haredi Orthodox Jewish communities and rarely performed in Conservative circles, said Rabbi David Kalender, who talked about the ritual with preschool families.
Kalender offered his take on the rationale and the tradition. He also had the children repeat after him that they would not go home and try to cut their own hair.
“It’s not part of our regular community custom and it’s certainly not required by Jewish law,” Kalender said. “This is simply a ritual that this family had seen in other parts of their own family and said, ‘Hey, could we do that?’ And the answer was ‘sure.’ I was happy to help.”
“We all look for opportunities to celebrate our children,” said Kalender, whose role was to explain this to the other children in the preschool and to adults if they had any questions. “There really isn’t formal liturgy behind it.”
Asher’s blonde hair was one-third the way down his back and pulled into a ponytail. That day, he wore an Israel Independence Day shirt made at the preschool.
The upsherin “was more of a cultural event to acknowledge his transition from babyhood into young boyhood,” said Asher’s mom, Chana-Rivka Abramson, 36.
“It was very emotional. We were thinking that 10 years from now he’ll be a bar mitzvah.”
Asher practiced watching his father get a haircut two weeks earlier.
“It’s generally been sort of a male-to-male bonding opportunity the way the father holds the baby during a bris, to go through this tradition together so I can support him, said Jonathan.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. All eyes were on Asher,” he said. “I was worried that I was going to screw up my part.”
Jonathan joked that the rationale for the upsherin was two-thirds cultural and one-third laziness. “We just hadn’t gotten his hair cut yet,” he said.
Asher sat still for the upsherin. “He was a little shy because the whole preschool was watching him,” Chana-Rivka said. “But he did great.”
“The ceremony was short and simple, but really lovely,” said preschool director Cindi Drake.“There was something about seeing the mom and the dad. It clearly meant something to them. The look on the father’s face when he held up the piece of hair was delightful. This was really a joyous, happy occasion.” ■