Ever since I landed in Israel on Sunday, I’ve been getting odd looks, especially from attractive twentysomething waitresses (I’ll admit there may be a sampling bias). At first I thought I had a horrible facial deformity, or that I looked like a tourist, or really pregnant. Then at the wedding, I accidentally locked eyes with a hefty Hassidic rabbi, and he reached right for my head with both hairy hands. I though he was gonna plant a wet one on me, but he just cupped my cheeks, smiled like a car salesman, and asked me my name. Then it clicked. The beard.
As I’m sure you know, religious (orthodox) Jews grow beards as part of their religious obligations. One of the first signs that a secular Jewish man has been ‘born-again’ (apart from a colorful wardrobe of yarmulkes) is the cultivation of a ferile lobster-bib style beard. As a result, very few secular Jews in Israel grow beards. Young men aged 18-35 tend especially to avoid them. That could be it. Maybe I look like I’m one shabbas shy of a second bris.
So, it’s coming off. Slowly. This morning I pared the beard down to an ovoid patch composed of mustache, chin beard and the connective bridges around the mouth. It doesn’t look as bad as it sounds. I need to get an electric trimmer or a straight razor if I want to finish it off, getting this far with a safety razor was like brushing my teeth with a dental drill.
My grandmother, in an effort to convince me to shave the rest, tells me that beards are for men with low self-confidence. I explained the subtle interplay between facial hair, long hair and rebellious/rugged individualism within the modern American subculture, but to no avail. She launched into a Kiplingesque yarn about how Turkish men grow mustaches because in the middle ages, Turkey was full of baldfaced eunuchs who served the royal family, and all the other men had to grow mustaches to prove that they still had the goods in the romance department. “Now that’s a good reason to grow facial hair.” She’s just full of these gems.