I visit my barber in Jerusalem’s German Colony every six weeks and leave 20 minutes later with less money, less hair, and some reasons why Benjamin Netanyahu is the savior of the Jews. A simple procedure.
But one morning last April, things got intimate.
“You have a bald spot,” my barber informed me.
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
“My brother, I’m your barber. I know your hair, and why are you arguing with me? You’ve never once looked at the back of your head. Don’t believe me? Here, look in my mirror.”
I was never very good looking. The captain of my high school’s basketball team told me that I had the body and personality of the dads at Beth Shalom synagogue in Potomac, Maryland. But though a slightly built curmudgeon, I could rely on thick, light brown hair to tell others I was youthful inside. Now my youthfulness, I learned from my barber’s mirror, was on its way out. At 25 years old, I was officially aging.
Nature had messed me over before, but never with such serious religious consequences. For a traditional Jew mindful of God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply, I was already late to the wedding canopy. Getting there is difficult enough with my hair at full strength. “It is harder to make a marriage than it is to split the Red Sea,” the Talmud said. That was 1,500 years before bespectacled Jewish boys who call their mothers every day had to compete with the Abercrombie & Fitch salespeople that nice Jewish girls see at the mall. I could already hear one of the girls’ mothers talking with a matchmaker: “He sounds lovely, but does he have a good head?” I used to think the answer would concern my brain, not the hair that keeps it warm.
My barber has a strong incentive to keep my hair robust, so I asked him how to get it back. He sold me a special shampoo, and a conditioner, and some third thing. I dutifully used them for a month. Didn’t help.
Time was moving, my bald spot was growing, and I had no evidence that God was sending a bride my way. For a month I tried and failed to find the right woman––one friend tried to set me up with a young lady training to be a life coach––and then the Lord decided to help me out. In June, I visited a Jerusalem hotel to see some acquaintances and saw a very pretty stranger in the lobby. She had sleek dark hair and glasses––what a sibling of mine calls “the serious librarian look”––and no engagement or wedding rings.
I gathered that she was part of my friends’ travel group, so I introduced myself and asked if she was Orthodox. She said it was “complicated.” I told her I was writing a book for Jews like that. She asked for the argument, responded to a few points, and offered to comment on the draft of a chapter. For me, it was love at first edit.
She went back to the United States, we texted for a month, and in August, when I was back in America, we got coffee on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My boring chatter notwithstanding, she got across her hope to raise knowledgeable Jewish kids––the real deal. But we barely knew each other, and when I left New York, we were still very much just friends.
I went south to visit my family in Maryland. While there, I talked nonstop about this woman. And I confessed to my father that meeting someone like this, just as I was going bald, seemed ill-fated. My chances with her were bad in any case, and close to zero with this desolate little oval on top of my head. I told him about the ineffective hair products.
“You took medical counsel from your barber?” he asked. He did not sound like a proud dad.
“Of course,” I replied. “He cuts my hair.”
“Cole, this is not medieval Spain. Barbers do not have special healing powers. May I advise that you visit a dermatologist?”
My old man had a point. Later that week I found myself in the office of a doctor who gave me a special gel and some pills. I was skeptical, but she had an M.D., and I didn’t have any better ideas. Since then I have been swallowing each day one milligram of finasteride, which has restored some of my hair by reducing some hormone called dihydrotestosterone. (I tried to figure out why less of that should mean more hair, but then I saw the word “prostate” on the WebMD page and slammed my laptop shut.)
Alas, the reactivated follicles didn’t thrill me as I’d hoped. A few weeks later, I was back in Israel and still single. I missed that brilliant woman, and a friend told me that my fear of her laughing at me if I asked her out meant that I should go ahead and do it. So I ate some chocolate ice cream, checked that no one I sit near in synagogue was nearby, dialed her number and asked if I could come back to America and take her on an actual date.
She said yes, and the balding didn’t matter anymore. I could deal with thinning hair, with wrinkles, with a loss of quickness, muscle, intellect, and life itself if she were dealing with the same thing in the same house. Besides, I’ll blame my declining body on how exhausting her––er, our—future children are. Things are going well. Our best talks are about parenting. “Cole, we will discuss your draconian ideas on this subject later,” she chuckled at my insistence that no board games beside chess be permitted to any kids we might have.
Some people are excited by romance. To be honest, I just want to speak Hebrew and read Emily Dickinson and plant flowers with children as bright as their mom and then yell at them to practice the oboe where I don’t have to hear it. If I can have that, then the balding can stay––but only under the yarmulke.
Cole S. Aronson resides in Eli, Israel, and is writing a defense of traditional Judaism.