Shmuel Nisanov (1921-2017) not only cut the hair of Israel’s political and military leaders, but became their friend and confidant as well.

Shmuel Nisanov with former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev (photo credit: COURTESY NISANOV FAMILY)
Shmuel Nisanov with former chief of staff Haim Bar-Lev
Former defense minister Moshe Dayan took his eye patch off when he had his hair cut by Shmuel Nisanov. “He’s the only person Dayan trusted that much,” Nisanov’s son, Eitan, tells The Jerusalem Report. “He used to cut David Ben-Gurion’s hair at the Dan Accadia hotel in Herzliya, and then drink a beer with him afterwards.”
Nisanov, the haircutter and confidant of Israeli leaders and IDF officers for over six decades, died in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital on May 29 at the age of 96 and was laid to rest in a well-attended funeral on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
“My father, whom everyone called Shmulik, was very handsome, charming and diligent,” says Eitan. “For decades, he cut the hair of prime ministers, presidents and generals, from Yaakov Dori [Israel’s first chief of staff], to Ezer Weizman, David Elazar, Haim Bar-Lev, Haim Laskov, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Teddy Kollek. “They considered him more than just their barber, and loved him as a friend and confidant.”
Nisanov was born in Ukraine to a prestigious Bukharan Jewish family. His grandfather, David Melo Nisan, was a respected businessman and ardent Zionist who purchased a building a century ago to house the poor in Jerusalem’s Bukharan Quarter.
After David’s son, Gavriel Nisanov, received a warning that their home was going to be burned down in an anti-Semitic pogrom, he took his five-year-old son, Shmulik, and four-year-old daughter, Esther, on a long journey through Russia to Palestine, leaving his wife and other family behind.
They moved to the building in Jerusalem’s Bukharan Quarter in 1926.
Growing up without a mother, Nisanov studied and worked hard, learned how to shave and cut hair, and opened a barbershop on Jaffa Road. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, Shmulik joined the army at the age of 17. He served in the Givati Brigade under Yisrael Tal and was wounded in the leg by two bullets during the War of Independence.
“His friend was also wounded, and told him to go and save himself,” says Eitan. “His friend later told me that my father refused, saying he did not leave wounded comrades in the field, and carried him to a safe place, saving his life.”
Nisanov was hospitalized in Tel Hashomer, where the commander of the military base there saw him shaving wounded soldiers and noticed his talents, asking the young man to shave and cut his hair. The commander was so impressed that he told Nisanov that when he got better, he should stay and be the barber for the base.
“Slowly, he built up a reputation and was transferred to military headquarters in the Kirya in Tel Aviv at the age of 20,” Eitan says. “That’s where he started to cut the hair of all the top brass. He became really famous, and was even given a special military car that he drove to work in, wearing civilian clothing. Over time, he gained the trust of Israel’s leaders and senior officers, and was appointed the boss of all the IDF barbers.”
At the age of 25, he married Zipporah Yehezkel Maximov, who was from a wellknown Jerusalem family, and had three sons – Eitan, Binyamin and David – and a daughter, Orly.
“My mother was a really good cook, and when I was growing up, we had all kinds of well-known politicians and important officers visiting our home,” Eitan says. “My mother died 11 months ago at the age of 86.
My parents had been married for over 70 years and they shared a very special love.”
Before special IDF missions, Eitan says, his father would be enlisted to put make up and camouflage on soldiers. “When I was growing up, he would disappear for days or weeks, and return home without telling us where he had been. We learned later that he disguised the chief of staff, Haim Bar-Lev, so that he didn’t even recognize himself.”
When Israel went to war, Nisanov was privy to its most classified secrets. “During the Six Day War, he not only cut the hair of all the officers, but sat with them and heard all about the military operations taking place directly from the generals themselves,” says Eitan.
Over the course of his career, Nisanov not only befriended senior IDF officers, such as Rafael (Raful) Eitan and Motta Gur, his son recalled, but he also became “an unofficial ambassador” and guide, who welcomed special guests from abroad, from generals to celebrities.
“When the American Jewish entertainer, Danny Kaye, came to Israel in 1956 to support the soldiers in the IDF, my father was the one who accompanied him,” Eitan says.
“I have a photograph of them together. My father had the image of a movie star himself. Everywhere he went, women and men would be drawn to him.”
Eitan recalls that one day, when he worked as a detective, he was dispatched to the home of then-prime minister Begin on Balfour Street.
“Suddenly I saw my father walk up to the prime minister’s residence with his James Bond briefcase containing his hairdressing tools,” Eitan says. “The policeman at the entrance refused to let him in. But then Begin arrived in his car, called out ‘Shmulik,’ got out the car and hugged him, and walked into the house with him. When Begin asked Nisanov if everything was OK, he said, ‘Yes, the policeman did his job well.’ Even after being insulted, he complimented the cop.”
Upon his retirement from his work in the Kirya after working for almost 50 years there, Nisanov and his wife moved back to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, opening a hairdressing salon for men and women in Ma’alot Dafna.
“All the who’s who came to the Nisanov Salon in Ma’alot Dafna,” Eitan says, “not only politicians and officers, but professors and attorneys. Even though he had two other barbers working for him, everyone wanted Shmulik to cut their hair. He worked and worked and worked, until just a few years ago, when it became too much for him.”
Several years ago, Shmulik Nisanov told Channel 1 that he was responsible for Ben-Gurion’s legendary hairdo.
“When his wife Paula died [in 1968], Ben-Gurion told me to cut his hair very short,” Nisanov says in the interview. ‘I said to him, Mr. Ben-Gurion, this is your trademark. People know you for your tufts of hair.’ Without it, you’d be bald!”
Nisanov, who was religiously observant and laid tefillin daily until the day he died, is survived by his four children and three grandchildren.