hair · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Wearing this to shul

Going to a new community is never easy when you’re a Jew of color. There’s this paranoid (but not paranoid) feeling that everyone is staring at you. You twiddle your thumbs during services and wait for the questions that come after:

“Where are you from?” and “Where are you REALLY from?” and “Are you a convert?” I know people who have stopped going to synagogue because they can’t take it anymore.

Sometimes, rarely, those questions don’t come. A community is just…welcoming and it’s an incredible heady feeling!
So heady that it doesn’t even get ruined when some random woman says “Hi” and then leans over to shake your hand and fakes left to put her hand in your hair without asking. Um, hello, personal space?
But then it helps if after you get mandhandled a lovely woman, a fellow Jew of color, rushes over after services to gush over that the immense beauty of your kinky ‘fro and how much it reminds her of her daughter’s beautiful hair. I can’t even get these kind of compliments from my grandmother.
And by the way, I don’t care how cute and “exotic” you think my hair is…I am not an exotic monkey at a petting zoo: “DON’T TOUCH THE HAIR!”

11 thoughts on “Wearing this to shul

  1. I have found that people with straight hair are especially fascinated by curly hair. A friend of mine in high school used to “sproing” my curls…. It was ok with me because we were good friends but if a total stranger had tried it? Oh no. Not going to happen.

    Now that I cover my hair, no one really plays with it but now I'm in the realm of “You're 9 months pregnant, your tummy has become public domain”. A random teenager actually touched my belly in JC Penney last weekend while I was out shopping with my husband. It was definitely a weird feeling…


  2. Nothing weird about it…people need to learn about boundaries! Whenever I discuss someone groping the hair sticking out of my head coverings, a woman who has been pregnant will weigh in on the belly groping! Your tummy, no part of your body, should be anyone's domain but yours.

    I'm not saying that this hair groping has been restricted just to the Orthodox Jewish community. It's happened on the bus, at the gym, and numerous other times with other strangers.

    As you noted, it's different when people ASK (I'll probably say NO) or when it's a friend of yours (depends on how you're asking).


  3. People touch my hair all the time. It's not curly, nor is it interesting in any way. It's just hair.

    But it's an abnormal hairdo, which means people want to touch it. Including little old men.

    I'm not complaining 🙂 If anything, it amuses the hell out of me.


  4. I think we can all agree that wearing “an abnormal hairdo” that attracts attention is not the same as wearing your hair the way it grows out of your head. It is sad that the person who groped my hair probably equates both in the same category. Maybe someone's issues with boundaries can become amusing fodder for one's blog (duh) but at the time, it's not really very funny. It's more like a root canal or…well, stuff I can't say on the blog. Even the people who watched as it happened felt like THEIR privacy had been invaded.


  5. Aliza,

    I have to agree, its definitely a boundary thing if people are touching your hair without asking. In general, it's not cool to touch any body part of another person without their permission.

    BUT, I have to say that i know why people do it. People are curious about things. For you, your hair is normal – you've had the same hair all your life. But for people without hair like that, it becomes really interesting. “It looks different, i wonder what it would FEEL like??”. Not saying that people should grope, but they'll definitely be curious.

    I actually had this conversation with a black friend of mine who had long dreads. (I'm white). and she was saying the same thing as you…how people just touch her hair without permission. In my head the whole time, i thought: “i wish i can feel it! Im so curious!”


  6. When my hair is very long, I tend to wear it in a single braid down my back.(I grow it down to my waist, donate a foot to “Locks of Love” which earns me a free haircut, and repeat, in about two year cycles.) I've had male minyan friends give my braid a little tug during services! It has usually been men whom I know pretty well—it would make me feel much more uncomfortable if they were people I didn't know. I think that they think of it as being playful, so I try to see it as a sign of affection by men who are just a bit immature (they are usually in their 50's). It makes me think about the girls of past eras who got their braids dunked into ink wells. I don't remember that a woman has ever tugged on my braid, so maybe its a disadvantage of my minyan not having a mechitza!

    I have also had the experience of people petting my soft, very fuzzy handknit sweater. But again, people I know, not strangers.

    I also remember the first time that I touched curly hair when my co-worker asked me to help her with a back zipper or something. I guess I had never thought to touch someone's hair just because it was curly. My co-worker is white and 3/4 Italian, I think. Her long hair curled in corkscrews about 1″ diameter, and she complained that when hairdressers didn't understand curly hair she ended up looking like a poodle. My hair is fine and VERY straight. I was surprised that her hair felt so different from mine, since when I had curled my own hair with rollers or a curling iron it still had the same texture. And even the time when I was a child and bad home perm gave me ringlets, my hair didn't feel like naturally curly hair (which has an oval rather than circular cross-section).


  7. I'd never been to this synagogue before. I'd never even met this person. Thankfully someone dragged her away right away after seeing her pet (really dig her hands in) my hair.

    I guess being Orthodox (since men and women don't touch), I can't really relate to men tugging on a women's hair at synagogue. I remember having my braids pulled growing up but that was in grade school. We are out of grade school, people, it's time to grow up.


  8. oh man….this brings back memories.
    for a while i thought i was a walking petting zoo.

    even at work sometimes i get asked ” what products do i use” to get my curls soft. UM…products? you mean DNA. duh!

    when i blowfry ( which i hardly ever do except ever 6 months to see how long my hair is) everyone assumes i relaxed it. and when i say no, all i did was use a brush and a blowdryer…in comes the INVASION OF THE HANDS to touch.

    im quick to remind them that the oils and guck in ones hands can cause frizzies. so please…dont touch!


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