Take off your hat to Yaacov Peterseil

Yaacov Peterseil, 73 - from Woodmere, Long Island to Jerusalem, 1986

Yaacov Peterseil (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yaacov Peterseil
(photo credit: Courtesy)
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone tells you he’s a hatter? The Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? But Yaacov Peterseil is far from mad – he’s the successful owner of SherlockS, the only hat store in Israel that services both men and women.

Peterseil was born in 1946 in Salzburg, Austria in a displaced persons camp, and immigrated with his parents to the USA in 1949. He worked in a dizzying array of jobs – as a copywriter, journalism instructor, rabbi, speech writer for B’nai B’rith, owner of a children’s book and party store – the largest such establishment in New York at the time. He is married to Tamar – a family and sex therapist – and they have nine children (seven already married) and miraculously, they are all currently living in Israel.

Versatility is the best description of Peterseil. Since making aliyah some 34 years ago, Yaacov has worked as the head of PR for his mentor, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin; manager at Simcha Publishing; director of sales at Contento Publishing and president of Pitspopany Publishing for 16 years until 2009. But he never forgot his upbringing in a style-oriented family where he worked for his father, heading a division of his wholesale women’s clothing business.

He became a hatter when he got an alarming diagnosis from a dermatologist that he had pre-cancerous nodules on his forehead and was warned he must wear a hat both winter and summer. He didn’t fully absorb the warning until, within a year, the growths reappeared. His realization that skin cancer was deadly serious led to him to wearing a hat in all circumstances. Tiring of publishing, but with nine children to support, he couldn’t retire. Going into the high-end hat business seemed a logical choice, especially since he could help other who might be negatively affected by the sun’s harmful UV rays. He began by selling hats from his home, then in a shopping mall and now (until the lockdown) in the heart of the city.

His shop, in which he was working several hours a day, is something of a rarity. Among the many different hat styles, there is still the deerstalker (imported from England), as well as fedoras, boaters, Panamas, trilby and many more. In winter, he offers his customers coffee and a muffin, and discounts if they need a hat for a simcha. Recently he had a monthlong sale for bald people, called “Naked Crown.” He got some weird responses, including from one offended woman who commented: “Does everything have to be sexual these days?” Another asked him if he had a bald head fetish, but he assured him that the only bald head he loved was his own.

Working with the public can be a challenge and a pleasure. One customer returned a hat after washing it in a clothes washer, and Victor, another longtime customer, bought 11 hats.

His large and achieving family are an aliya success story. I think it would be appropriate to say:

Health and good friends and a fabulous hat – What could life offer that’s better than that?