LITHIA, FL — Running her fingers through her middle child’s long, curly locks for the last time, Tzippy Rubashkin said she had mixed feelings about her 3-year-old’s first haircut.
Called the upsherinish ceremony, the first haircut represents a milestone in the Orthodox Jewish faith. Rubashkin said she will miss the long brown locks she used to capture in a bun and attempt to hold in place beneath a cap, though a few errant curls usually managed to escape.
“But I definitely won’t miss people mistaking my son for a girl,” she said, chuckling.
As part of his Jewish tradition, Schmuli Rubashkin, the son of Tzippy and Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin, founder of the Chabad of Brandon Jewish fellowship in Valrico, did not have his hair cut before his third birthday.
Mendel Rubashkin said that age 3 marks a significant turning point in the life of an Orthodox Jewish boy.
“Although a child’s character is being molded from birth, he doesn’t really form an identity of his own and isn’t ready for a formal education until the age of 3,” Mendel Rubashkin said.
He said a boy is compared to a tree, and, according to the Torah, fruit should not be harvested from a tree for the first three years so the roots have time to nourish the fruit.
Although novel to Brandon, the upsherinish ceremony is a long-standing custom in the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish communities in Portugal, Spain and Germany and is cause for major celebration, Rubashkin said. The milestone goes hand in hand with another custom that takes place on a child’s third birthday: areinfirinish, the beginning of formal education.
Family and friends from as far away as New York attended Schmuli’s upsherinish ceremony May 22 at the Palmetto Club in FishHawk Ranch, where guests were invited to trim a lock of Schmuli’s hair during a ritual that dates to the 16th century.
For his part, Schmuli had been preparing for months. He memorized the Hebrew alphabet and recited morning blessings, grace after meals and the Shema, a daily prayer, before going to bed. The upsherinish began as Schmuli’s father carried him to the service wrapped in a tallit, or prayer shawl.
“I think this is too big for me,” the good-humored boy said in a muffled voice from beneath the shawl.
Freed from the shawl and standing on a chair in front of the crowd, Schmuli then recited the Hebrew alphabet.
“Aleph, bet, gimel,” he said confidently, swinging his arm with each letter.
That was followed by a ceremony in which other children tossed candy at Schmuli and he, in turn, distributed bags of candy to them in a custom meant to “show them that learning is sweet and rewarding,” Rubashkin said.
Finally, Schmuli received a blessing from his father’s cousin Rabbi Mendy Rosenfeld of Lake Worth, who was given the honor of cutting the first lock of hair. Other family members did the same, including Schmuli’s grandmothers, Chanie Deitsch and Bella Rubashkin, and his sister Mirel, 5.
Then Schmuli waited patiently while everyone at the party took a turn cutting his hair. Each time a lock was snipped, Schmuli placed coins his family had been collecting at home in a charity box beside him. He hadn’t yet specified a charity to receive the coins.
Tzippy Rubashkin said Schmuli’s new look was a bit choppy but assured the boy they would have it taken care of at a hair salon.
Schmuli didn’t mind.
After the hourlong ceremony, he was eager to be out of the limelight and get back to playing with his friends.
“Can I get off now?” he asked from his perch on top of the chair.
Rabbi Mendy Rosenfeld, cousin of Schmuli’s father, Rabbi Mendel Rubashkin, has the honor of cutting the first lock of Schmuli’s hair during the Upsherinish ritual followed in succession by great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings, until everyone at the party has had a chance to snip a curl.