Behind “The Chair,” or Why I Am Learning Hairdressing

In mid-June 2015 after thirty years of grieving and mourning and completing the latest version of a grief memoir, I wanted to do something superficial and light, so I signed up for a course in hairdressing. During the last four years of writing, I had roamed the depths of my kishkes, alone, searching old dark caves of memory and emotion. Now I was ready for light. Hair seemed to be the connecting tissue between my inner world and the present, where others roamed in light, uncluttered by the past.

Tomer Reshef is a well-known stylist in Tel Aviv who outgrew her hair salon on Rothschild Blvd. eight years ago and founded the cool and Feng shui-designed Tomer v’Sheli salon on Levontin Street, off Allenby. There I learn the basic Tomer Reshef techniques of cutting hair with Tomer herself. On Mondays from nine to five I join a class with five other “girls,” a term Tomer uses when she wants to get our attention—Banot! Banot!—despite my telling her I am no longer a girl.

Who is in the class? Three women in their twenties who work at the salon washing hair and managing the reception desk. (Two of these women roll their own cigarettes.); a woman in her 30’s who has her own private salon at home; a woman in her 40’s who has already taken one course in hairdressing; and me, aged 70 with no cutting experience other than trimming David’s hair and that of  my three-year-old granddaughter.

Tomer sings and teaches

Tomer sings  teaches and cuts

Why have I put myself in this ridiculous situation? Everyone speaks a rapid Hebrew full of hip slang. Instead of saying Hi, for instance, they say Hi-oosh. I do not get their jokes. I do not smoke with Tomer and her girls out on the porch of our classroom. I do not know any of the celebs whose hair styles my cohorts adore. I do not go to the beach, run into the sea and dry my hair in the sun. (Skin cancer! Skin cancer!) For an assignment on a celeb whose LOOK  we like, I googled “short hair celeb” and brought a piece of black and white printed paper with photos from the internet. I felt like a dinosaur next to my cohorts’  easy use of accessing color photos on their cellphones. I do not sing along to the songs on Tomer’s endless playlists. In fact, I ask her to turn down the music because I can’t hear my “clients.”

Jamie Lee Curtis - celeb with short hair

Jamie Lee Curtis – short hair celeb

Having never adjusted to multi-focals, I don’t know which of my three pairs of glasses to use when I cut hair. Those for long distance, office, or reading? None seem to be just right. I’ll be damned if I have to learn how to switch between all three pairs, in addition to grasping the comb with my left thumb while my right hand maneuvers the scissors into perfect artistic snips. Trying to relax, I curse the natural sunlight and the Feng shui lighting that are always changing angles and blinding either me, the client, or the mirror.

How can I be a hairdresser if I can’t hear or see? Is this the world I sought after writing a grief memoir? Have I always dreamt of being a hairdresser the way some little girls dream of becoming a princess?

No. I had no such dreams, but I do like holding scissors and cutting hair.  And I like playing the role of the hairdresser, even though I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, I can bullshit my way through asking the client sitting in The Chair, Well, what are you looking for today? How can I change your life–obliterate your depression,  defeat your alcoholism, fix your unhappy marriage, assuage state-of-the nation angst, kill your boss, ignite the sex drive, give you new life?

I can open the discussion and listen. Then I can move my fingers, all ten of them that are still pre-arthritic, up the client’s head from the back of the upper neck and lift his or her hair away from the head, making the slightest change by pressing here or pulling there. I can play with the client’s hair and Voila! suddenly she is a new woman, he a new man.

It’s fun to play with hair and after the comedy of errors of my haircuts,  Tomer stands by my side, holding my scissors to cut and shape and make sure the customer leaves happy. From Tomer I learn how complex and not at all superficial  it is to cut  hair in a particular style that brings out the beauty in each person.

For certainly there is beauty in each person, at least in each person who comes up to the third floor for Tomer v’Sheli.   I have positioned myself behind The Chair in an effort to help them find that beauty—not in a 6-year psychotherapy ride or a 10-week writing course or a week-end breathing retreat in the woods, but in an hour or 3 at the beauty salon, the place where you sit and look in the mirror as much as you want and talk about your hair while someone massages your scalp and looks at your head from all sides and may dare to sigh, Wow, you are really beautiful.

Maybe I’m doing the course to learn how to see  beauty in every person, not only those who sit in The Chair.

Or maybe I’m doing it because hairdressing demands standing, unlike writing that demands sitting.

–because hairdressing  demands working with my hands on hair, unlike writing that demands working with my hands on a plastic keyboard.

–because hairdressing is interactive and is full of fun, while writing a grief memoir is lonely and full of pain.

Or maybe I’m doing it because I’m losing my vocabulary and I foresee needing a new profession in the near future . But here I go again, diving deep, searching for why’s.

The Why doesn’t matter anymore.  What matters is that after decades of leaping into the unknown past in my head, I am now finding the courage to leap into the unknown present on the heads of others. Over the next few months  I expect to  discover if  I am a late bloomer, a natural born hairdresser, who discovers her calling at seventy, or if–it hurts me to say it–just a regular old bullshit artist taking a break from writing.


This is Ro’i, after his haircut.  He can’t believe how fabulous he looks  and how much fun he had sitting for 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you like his haircut, go tell him at  Anastasia Vegan Restaurant,  54  Frishman St. in Tel Aviv.  Don’t be shy.  Ask him, nonchalantly, of course, “Who cut your hair? It’s . . .  .”

About Judy Labensohn

I'm a writer and teacher of writing.
This entry was posted in Identity, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Behind “The Chair,” or Why I Am Learning Hairdressing

  1. Marvelous Judy. Good luck in your new endeavor.

    You know, while I’m still deep in my own memoir — A Cat, A Dog and The Jewish Question — I sometimes fantisize about studying cosmetology, becoming a make-up artist, specializing in reconstructive cosmetology, helping burn and accident victims regain their self respect, be able to go out in the world again. Strange, isn’t it, what happens when one reaches 70…

    Love you.


    • Do it Laura. Sounds like you have a specific goal, which is wonderful. You can do this. We can go visit the burn and accident victims together – I’ll do the haircut and you do the rest. Where do they teach this??
      We do not have a lifetime to fantasize about doing such things. We must act now. Email me where the class takes place and when it begins. xox


  2. Jackie Sand says:

    A wonderful piece of writing, Judy- I am in awe of your courage to undertake this adventure!


  3. Stephan Schenker says:

    Hi Judy! You msde me smike sn awful lot reading your purce. You certainly have guts!

    How are you? 


    Sent from Samsung Mobile


  4. saritaperel says:

    You bring out the beauty in everyone.just like you helped me bring out the best in my writing..and I have always found the beauty in your writing, in you..and now in your haircutting. I LOVE YOU..and your wonderful writing


  5. estherhecht says:

    I love that you are constantly reinventing yourself just as you are reinventing your clients. Kol hakavod!


  6. Marianne says:

    Judy, You outdid yourself on this one. The tears of laughter are rollong down my face! Look forward to your next life adventure😂 Marianne

    Sent from my iPhone



  7. Judy Dvorak Gray says:

    Kol Hakavod! I love the way you are willing to leave your comfort zone and dive in to new adventures and the unknown. I imagine that the biggest challenge is that, unlike in writing, there is no second draft or revision when you’re cutting someone’s hair! Wishing you success and lots of fun!


  8. Wonderful work with scissors and words. You’ve got me grinning, as usual.


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