by Phil Jacobs
If you walk by Nancy Mehlman on the streets of Silver Spring and she seems to be sizing up your hair, it’s because she is doing just that.
Mehlman, a wife and mother of four children, arranges for haircuts and collects the hair that she then sends to Zichron Menachem, an Israeli organization working with children with cancer and their families.
As it is written on the Zichron Menachem website: “Close your eyes for just a minute and picture waking up in the morning and finding locks of your hair spread across the pillow. You finger them in confusion, fear. You run to the mirror and gasp in horror; ugly bald spots where there were once glossy locks of hair. It begins with small shiny spots and thinning hair, but all too soon, your head is totally smooth. Not a single hair on your head. Your new look is anything but attractive. You never realized how gorgeous hair can be, how it enhances your features. Without your hair, you feel naked. Exposed. So different. You are ashamed to go outside. You don’t want people seeing you like this, and certainly not your friends. But staying home and shielding yourself from the world is no better.
“You read this and shudder, whispering silent thanks that your hair is still intact, safely attached to your head. It is still long, beautiful. It still adorns your features. Most important, it grows. It never stops growing.”
The Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy PTO has had a hair drive since 2005. It was first connected with the organization Locks of Love, but later changed to the Israel-based Zichron Menachem.
This year, three area hair salons have volunteered time to wash, cut and dry hair. On the day of Lag B’Omer, the one day during the counting of the omer where one is permitted to get a haircut, In Salon did 13 cuts and took in four donations. Earlier this week, Norma’s Hair Design went to MJBHA just to do haircuts. Also Progressions Salon hosted a final drive collecting some 27 haircuts.
Mehlman said she is looking at sending at least 40 bunches of braids from the Jewish community to Israel. She is even expecting to take an additional 38 donations from the Latino community.
Mehlman is doing this in the memory of her late mother, Dorothy Lee Israel, who died of cancer in 2003. She said that it takes her about three years to grow 10 inches of hair, the minimum that can be sent to Zichron Menachem.
Most of the donations she receives aren’t necessarily from MJBHA students. She has gotten the word out to various day schools and shuls. Even though it is sponsored by the Berman Academy PTO, anyone is welcome to participate.
“I’m doing this because when my mom was sick and having radiation, she lost her hair,” said Mehlman. “It was really upsetting to her. She was 72 years old. But imagine how much more upsetting this is to a child. I think if she knew that I was doing this, she’d be very happy.”
The hair is put through a cleaning process once it reaches Israel, said Mehlman. It is then fashioned into a wig to match as best as possible the child’s former hair and style. The only hair that can’t be accepted is from dreadlocks, and no gray hair is permitted.
“I’m very forward about asking people to donate,” she said. “I’ll tell a person if I see they have great hair.” Mehlman added that she completely understood if people were afraid to cut 10 inches from their hair. Mehlman has also gotten the word out to people who are having an upsherin or a first hair cut for a boy turning 3. Sometimes a child’s hair at the upsherin is waist long.
There really isn’t any end to the hair drive, so those who want to donate can email [email protected]
For Mehlman, it’s all about getting the hair to Israel for the children afflicted with cancer.
She put it best.
“If you get your hair cut, you can still run your hands through your hair. Now we can let the child who gets a wig also reach up and feel hair, too.”