In Jerusalem, a little off the top with a lot of love

Free haircuts just one perk of the new tent city utopia; “I want to support the people in what they’re doing,” says barber Or Zaken.

August 4, 2011 04:01
3 minute read.
The tent city at dusk.  (Melanie Lidman)

kitchen 465 3. (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)


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At the tent city in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, in between “the living room,” where a dozen religious students are holding a discussion about the history of socialism, and the man giving out pay-if-you-can cotton candy, there’s a growing pile of hair clippings.

Or Zaken, a Katamonim resident, normally cuts hair in a small barber shop at the Pat Junction. But for two days, Zaken has closed up his shop and directed all his regulars to the epicenter of the Jerusalem housing protest, Gan Hasus (Horse Park) in downtown Jerusalem, where he is offering free haircuts to the protesters.

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Editorial: The politics of housing

“I want to support the people in what they’re doing,” says the taciturn Zaken, shrugging his shoulders.

He’s estimated that in the past few days, he’s cut the hair of more than 50 demonstrators, in addition to at least 10 of his regular customers who visited him at his new makeshift location.

As the housing protest nears its third week, the sense of idealism and utopia, of a society able to be fueled by donations and good deeds rather than by money, has continued to grow. In Jerusalem, a kitchen serves three free meals a day, bands give free concerts at night, prominent university professors and experts drop in to give free lectures.

At the Gay Pride parade last week in Jerusalem, marchers insisted that this was Israel’s “summer of love,” a spontaneous explosion of alternative societies, where capitalism and isolation are felled by brotherly love and optimism.


“We want to show that everyone is together and to encourage people to come and give what they can,” says Zaken’s more talkative co-worker, Netanel Mizrahi, as he organized the customers into a line. “We came to show that everyone can give of their talents, no matter what they are, for free.”

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Zaken’s current customer is Amit Mantel, a 28-year-old with an unruly mop of curly hair, who finished his bachelor’s degree in environmental science at Tel Hai University and moved directly into the tent city in Kiryat Shmona. He had traveled to Jerusalem for the day to lobby members of Knesset, and succeeded in meeting with members of the Independence and Shas parties. When asked how it went, he shrugged. “I don’t think they were listening,” he said, as Zaken trimmed his sideburns.

Last week, Mantel was on Rothschild Boulevard with some friends from Tel Hai when they ran into celebrated Israeli TV presenter Guy Pines. “He said, ‘What, you’re not going to watch the finals of Kohav Nolad (‘A Star is Born,’ Israel’s version of American Idol)?’” Mantel shakes his head, prompting a quick “Stop fidgeting!” from Zaken.

“What a waste of intelligence!” Mantel says. “People are finally doing something for the country. There’s a real feeling that the nation is waking up, not just going to work, watching some reality TV, then going to bed.”

Zaken finishes and hands Mantel a mirror. Around them, demonstrators are grabbing pre-made signs and organizing for a march to the Knesset, the nightly activity, where they will be met by buses from tent cities around the country bringing people to protest Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new housing law, which they say does not include enough provisions for public housing.

Zaken eyes the line, which has grown to at least five people, including one of his regulars, a soldier, rushing off to base. Mantel surveys his reflection carefully, taking in the stubble on his chin. After three weeks of living in a tent, like many of the more passionate protesters, he’s starting to look a little rough around the edges; but the haircut is certainly a step in the right direction.

“I like it, man,” Mantel says. “But, brother, can you take a little more off the top?”

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