The queue (well, more of an amorphous, fast talking crowd) was already 30 girls long when my daughter Merav arrived at the Malcha shopping mall in Jerusalem. The girls – teenagers and young adults mostly – were from all kinds of different backgrounds, from completely secular to haredi. But they all had one thing in common: their long oh-so-Israeli hair was tied into a braid with rubber bands at the top and bottom. And soon that hair would be no more.
Merav and her compatriots were participating in Zichron Menachem’s annual hair donation program. In conjunction with beauty product manufacturer Pantene, the 3-day event, which took place a couple weeks back, makes it easy for girls (and I suppose boys too) to part with their locks for a good cause: donated hair will be used by Zichron Menachem to make wigs for children with cancer. The Jerusalem-based non-profit Zichron Menachem organization was founded in 1990 to provide a wide range of support to young cancer patients; wig making is just one of its activities.
The hair donation program is not an Israeli innovation. Pantene has been doing it since 2006 with its Beautiful Lengths program which is run in the U.S. in conjunction with the American Cancer Society. In Israel, the partnership is with Zichron Menachem. Locks of Love is another well-known hair donation program in North America.
During the event’s duration, hundreds of hairdressers around Israel donate their time – to paraphrase from the movie Field of Dreams, if the girls braid it, they will cut it…at no cost. Zichron Menachem provides self-addressed stamped envelopes in which to mail the hair. You can go to a stylist’s shop or, in order to create extra buzz, to the Malcha mall where the cutting was taking place in front of the Mashbir department store, all in a festive atmosphere designed to keep things lively…or maybe to keep the girls from losing their nerve. There was a free make up stand and video cameras turned the event into a mini-reality show as the girls paraded about with their pre and post-cut braids in their hands.
There are only a few rules: the braid must be at least 30 cm long (about 12 inches) and no dreadlocks allowed. Last year, 180 salons participated, collecting 4,587 hair donations. (Pantene has done a total of over 400,000 ponytails worldwide.) 14 additional hair donation events took place in Jewish communities abroad – in England and South Africa.
(Merav and her hairdresser Yochanan before and after the cut.)
Merav had been uneasy before even arriving at the mall – it’s been years since she cut her hair and, Samson-like, it gave her a certain strength and self-confidence. The typical Israeli balagan (disorderliness) of the mall didn’t put her at ease. Was there anywhere else she could go, that would be more calm and laid back? A Zichron Menachem worker gave her a list of salons; she called one. The owner, Yochanan, said he was done for the day, but he’d wait for her. It was for a good cause after all.
An hour later amidst plenty of giggly video and dramatic poses, the braid was off and Merav had an entirely new “do.” Pictures quickly went up on Facebook with overwhelming support from her friends. “Finally checked this one off my bucket list,” her post read. Merav’s grandmother shot back from the U.S. – “you’re too young for a bucket list!”
It takes about three complete ponytails to make a single wig for a child with cancer. The donated hair is cleansed and processed to remove any identifying marks from it, so there won’t be any photos of girls and their hair recipients. That makes donating hair even more the mitzvah. Merav – we are proud of you. (And, not that it matters, but you look great!)