Tag Archives: jewish

Haircuts and Lag Ba’Omer

Background: Informant is a 51 year old Israeli American. They grew up in Israel and hold a lot of Israeli culture within them. They immigrated to the Chicago area of the United States in the late 90s. They live in a largely Jewish area where access to Jewish religious services and resources are plentiful. 

Informant: Jews from… I don’t know if it’s European I think it’s Hassidim. Like, religious Jews. They don’t cut their hair because of the payas. You know what I mean? To leave payas? They do it in Lag Ba’Omer. So in Lag Ba’Omer all the kiddos, the babies like up to age 3 are coming and they get their haircut. It’s called, Ushkilin or something like that? And that’s it. 

Me: But like, why? Why do they wait to cut their hair?

Informant: It’s a tradition! Yeah, but I wasn’t too much into it. First it looks cute and second it’s in the religion. It’s a tradition to… I don’t know if it has anything like, health related or a purpose? Or you cut the hair because they are now a toddler? 

Reflection: This tradition was interesting to hear about because it involves the preservation of young kids hair in Jewish tradition. I found it funny how my informant described the tradition, as they inserted some of their own opinions into the description. They were also a bit hazy on the specifics but what is important is they knew the tradition and followed it themselves. It shows how sometimes we follow traditions blindly, without knowing why, just because we feel comfort in them. This piece also shows a ritual celebration called Lag Ba’Omer, where the cutting of the boy’s hair is done. This is to mark a change from being a baby and becoming a child.

For a mother’s experience with this ritual, look here:

“First-haircut, common at Lag B’Omer, can be mom’s rite of passage, too.” Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, 31 March 2008, https://www.jewishchronicle.org/2008/03/31/first-haircut-common-at-lag-bomer-can-be-moms-rite-of-passage-too/. Accessed 29 April 2022.

Foreskin Burial

Background: Informant is a 19 year old, Jewish American college student from New Hampshire. They shared this story about their family and how it relates to their Jewish tradition and culture. The informant has been through Jewish education and experiences the holidays every year.

Informant: So, in Jewish mysticism and some spiritual mysticism more broadly, there’s a tradition in which foreskin of a child, of a newborn is buried next to a forefather. So, when my cousin gave birth to her child not really sure… second cousin once removed I believe? They flew from Florida to Massachusetts to bury the foreskin next to my grandfather. It had something to do with the wellbeing of the child and honoring the forefather.

Me: Can you tell me a little bit about the Jewish tradition of circumcision? What does it symbolize?

Informant: The bris is 8 days after a boy is born, male assigned at birth, if you will. It has a relationship to the lilith which is a separate story, but it’s one of the ways to protect from the lilith. Their foreskin’s cut off, not really sure why. I actually have no idea why. I just know it’s a tradition. 

Reflection: This tradition was really fun to hear as it’s obviously a kind of bizarre idea to those who aren’t within the culture. However, it was so enjoyable to hear the informant give their account of the tradition, and you could hear in the tone of their voice how they felt. This experience gives us an idea of how multiple cultures can exist within one person. In this example, the informant had a bit of shame surrounding the tradition as it would be frowned upon in Western culture. However, there is also a sense of pride in their culture as they describe it’s significance.

Magic Horse Legend Variation

TEXT: “One day a rabbi went to visit a small stable owner. He saw one of horses and liked it very much. He asked him if he could have the horse as a gift. The owner replied that that was his favorite horse and was able to the work of three horses combined, so he said no. The rabbi left and upon his leaving the horse dropped dead right then and there.”

INFORMANT DESCRIPTION: Male, 83, Polish, Jewish

CONTEXT: This legend has many variations, some other are called The Magic Horse. But this man told me that this variation has a different purpose and message. He said he learned it from his dad who was trying to make him understand that God works in mysterious ways. He wanted him to be charitable but also loyal to his religion. The man says he never liked the legend because he doubted that it ever happened and didn’t like the message it gives. He said it made him feel like he could not say no to his rabbi or something bad would happen to him. But he understands the charitable aspect of the legend and will always remember it. He says that other variations of the legend are also interesting and have many different meanings. 

THOUGHTS: I thought this was a very interesting legend that definitely had some aspect of charity but also duty to the religion. I find it a bit exaggerated but I also think it isn’t supposed to be so literal. Really just about sharing and being able to give things up for the benefit of others.

LINKS TO OTHER VERSIONS: https://culture.pl/en/article/hasidic-tales-7-intriguing-polish-jewish-legends

“Wear it in Good Health”

 The informant explains how a common Jewish expression came into existence and the importance of it within the community.

L: Why do the Jews say “wear it in good health?” 

M: Okay, so that’s something– um, basically every adult in my life, whenever I got a new pair of shoes, would tell me to “wear them in good health”. And for years, I just thought that was a thing that people said, until I moved away from south Florida and was made aware, no that’s just Jewish people. 

So, I asked my one grandmother who’s still alive about it and she told me it’s because, like, growing up in New York– or not even New York — growing up as a Jewish person in the 40s and 50s, like, there was always this sense that you could just die. So, when someone tells you to wear something in good health it’s both like a command to tell you that you need to be healthy, but it’s also, like, a wish for your well being. Because, like, there’s a culture of worrying about people. 

Like, there’s a stereotype of the Jewish grandmother who’s always worried. Those things sort of come from the same place. They’re sort of like, a wish for your health — like, don’t do something stupid!

Thoughts:

Upon further research, this Yiddish saying is directly related to the saying “Use it in good health”. “Use it in good health” is simply a version of “wear it in good health” that has become popularized throughout the United States.

It’s interesting how much Yiddish vocabulary has made it into the American vernacular. Words like “schmuck”, “bagel”, “glitch”, and “klutz” are just a small selection of words that have crossed over from Yiddish into American English. It’s no surprise that Yiddish sayings have followed with the Yiddish words themselves.

Jewish Home Remedy for Colds

L: You said that you had. . . the home remedy that your dad has for colds?

M: That one’s not super complicated. It’s mostly just, uh, it’s something that his — That [my ancestor], taught my grandpa, who taught my dad, who taught me. Basically, like, you lie down, you give a person with the cold a whole buncha Vicks Vapor Rub on their chest. And you make warm milk with honey and lavender. So it’s like, the combination of both of those things is supposed to make you feel better. 

It always makes me feel better because its a nice warm drink with honey in it. The Vicks Vapor Rub clears your nose. Like, even if it doesn’t cure the cold, it makes you feel a lot better. 

Thoughts:

A lot of remedies for colds revolve around comfort and consuming a warm liquid. For instance, there is the American tradition of making chicken noodle soup, which warms the throat and the steam from the soup helps clear congested sinuses. This Jewish drink recipe does the same thing. The Vicks Vapor Rub helps clear the sinuses and the warm drink helps soothe a sore throat. The goal of both of these is not to cure the sickness, but rather to alleviate it and to comfort the sick.