Back in the 60’s, the popular look for men was to have a greased head of hair. They used Vitalis or Lucky Tiger to keep their hair slicked back and looking good. In the early 70’s, Gillette changed all that with a product called “The Dry Look”. It was a hairspray for men that promised a cool, yet totally dry look. The advertising campaign they ran was tremendously successful and their slogan was quite catchy; “The Wet Head is Dead”. The tv ad was very direct; “You don’t have to use oil, creams or even water on your head… the wet head is dead! Long live the dry look!”
Why do I mention this, all of a sudden? Because 40 years later, I have come to the conclusion that the wet head is alive and well. I discovered this because I am presently in New York where, unlike Israel, men work on Friday. Since Shabbat starts very early these days, I noticed that many men come to shul Friday night with a “wet head”. I don’t blame these men who are forced to work Friday afternoon and race home on the last train before Shabbat. I used to be one of them. I remember the days of running full speed, straight into the shower on Erev Shabbat, then continuing my race to shul with a head still dripping. (I never minded the wet head but feared that I left some shampoo behind…) As I looked around the shul these last two weeks, I noticed many of these “wet heads” and I felt bad.
I felt bad because I know now, what I didn’t know back then, when I too was a “wet head”. I know now that it doesn’t have to be this way. The fighting with the boss to leave early Friday afternoon, the working on Chol Ha’Moed, the davening shacharit in the pitch dark just to make it to work on time, the uncomfortable feelings of eating an “airline kosher meal” at the annual convention, the search for a heter to shave during sefira and the nine days, the internal battle of wearing vs not wearing a kippa at work… All of these struggles – and I sympathize with every one because they are indeed struggles – can be completely avoided. How? By living in a country where Jews are not the minority.
America is a wonderful country and we need to thank Hashem for the fantastic blessings we have had here but let’s be totally honest; it’s not where we belong. As wonderful as things are, this is a non Jewish country and we will always be foreigners in this land. Yes, we have built Yeshivot here and Jewish communities have thrived but we are – and always will be – the guests and never the hosts. This is why Friday afternoons in the winter become very uncomfortable for Jewish professionals. It is the same reason why the most religious man feels he must shave during the nine days – or during the “shloshim” for a parent… because a guest must follow the rules.
Things in Israel are much different. As I have written many times, there are many areas that we still need to improve on, but for the Jewish professional working man and woman, you simply cannot beat working in Israel. All major companies work Sunday-Thursday, which means no work on Friday so, like Gillette said; “The Wet Head is Dead!” You come to shul Friday night with a nice, dry head of hair. But there’s more… much more. Most companies are closed the entire Sukkot and Pesach so you can enjoy the holiday the way it was designed to be (and not have the days deducted from your vacation time!). All hotels are kosher so the annual convention, even if held in Eilat, is no problem at all. You can sit and enjoy the food together with your co-workers and not feel isolated. Men will never have a problem with a kippa nor will women have problems with head coverings. There is never any work on Erev Yom Tov and you can take off work on Purim and Tisha b’Av. Nobody will question your “sefira beard” and by law, should you need to sit shiva, you will be given 7 days off – once again, not deducted from your vacation time.
This is what it means to live in a Jewish state. Is everybody frum all around us? No. But that’s not what I am referring to. My focus here is on a Jewish culture vs a non-Jewish culture. Like it or not, in the coming days, no matter where you are in America, you will hear Christmas songs. There’s no way around it. The newspapers will be filled with Christmas sales, you will see your neighbor’s house light up and you will probably bump into 5-6 Santa Clauses each day as you walk in Manhattan. That’s what happens when you live in New York.
In Israel, even in a secular city like Tel Aviv, you will not see any Santas. Rather, you will trip over stores selling jelly donuts (some may even have some jelly!!) and you will see store after store selling gifts for… Chanukah! Almost every store lights a menorah each night of Chanukah and every person you meet – even the ones most removed from Jewish observance – will wish you a “Chag Sameyach”!
Let’s stop living as guests in someone else’s home. Yes, the host has been very kind to us but we have overstayed our welcome. The time has come to thank the host and move out to our own place, with our own culture and traditions. No more being the weird guy who leaves early on Friday, doesn’t show up for work in September and eats airline food instead of rib steak. And no more coming to shul with hair that’s dripping wet. The wet head is dead! Long live Erev Shabbat in Israel! Come home now.