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A Visit to the Barbershop on Lag Ba’Omer

A reporter takes a trip to Lower Manhattan on the day many observant Jews are finally allowed to get a haircut again

Jesse Bernstein
May 26, 2016
Image courtesy of the author
Image courtesy of the author
Image courtesy of the author
Image courtesy of the author

The barber shop at 11 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, run by a skillful group of Bukharian Jews, was absolutely poppin’ by mid-morning today. The ship was tight—it had to be, especially on Lag Ba’Omer, the holiday that interrupts the counting of the Omer, the 49-day mourning period that runs from the second day of Passover until the day before Shavuot.

On Lag Ba’Omer, many observant Jews get haircuts, which are restricted, along with weddings and listening to live or recorded music, during the Omer. And though there isn’t space for a chuppah or a stage in the lobby of 11 Broadway, its barbers are good for a quick, quality trim. Then, it’s on to the next; they’re efficient, the exact opposite of the DMV adjacent to the shop where the time spent (wasted?) is counted in hours, not minutes.

When I arrived to check out the scene, the barbers immediately informed me that they were too busy to speak with me. They told me that to even sit in a waiting chair would be an imposition, and shooed me away like a stray cat. I could’ve gambled and gotten a cut, of course, but my hair adds an extra inch to my height that I desperately need. And when I tried to stand near the door, I was told: “You stand [there], people think we have a long line, they leave, you see, yes?” I was unceremoniously expelled from the shop.

Looking in, from the outside
Looking in, from the outside

So I stood out in the lobby, looking across at the unending stream of Hasidic men (the Orthodox Union is located in the same building) who were ushered in and out of the barbershop chairs to get their hairs cut. I looked like a Peeping Tom with a taste for the hirsute.

Man after man poked his head in. Each, typically, checked on the wait time, and, after being given a satisfactory number, patiently scrolled through their phones. Then they were called, hung their jackets on a tiny gold hook, and got a cut. In and out in, say, five minutes.

The walls of the shop were adorned with badly dated sample cuts—frosted tips and porn ‘staches, anyone?—but there’s no denying that whoever enters the tiny shop leaves freshly cut and satisfied: not a single man left without happily rubbing his own head. Afterward they hustle to the next destinations, which I observed was often the kosher sushi café that sells California rolls alongside babka and bagels, on the other side of the shop. The lobby of 11 Broadway, it seemed, was the one-stop shop for a Lag Ba’Omer cut-and-lunch. The barbers, for their part, worked with exactitude and intensity, quickly and quietly, rarely resorting to pleasantries, which is odd for a barbershop where it’s usually all about the talk. At times, snippets of machine-gun Russian were exchanged. But it was all business.

Before I left, Levi, one of the barbers, came out to talk to me. “Hey, man, no hard feelings, yes?” Before I could get a word in edgewise, he continued. “Very busy this morning, and with today, you know,” he said as he fluttered his hand. “It’s gonna be Jews, goyim, ach, y’know?”

I did. But as I started to respond, he noticed three more customers with unruly dos had gotten in line. Then he slapped me on the shoulder and hustled into the store, ready to get back to work.

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.