A hair-raising mitzvah project on Lag B’Omer

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The weather was perfect for the crowd gathering at the Sis & Ted Fischer Chapel/Pavilion at B’nai Amoona for the Locks of Love Lag B’Omer celebration. Ladue Middle School sixth grader Samantha Weil, daughter of Maxine and Roark Weil, had been planning, organizing and recruiting for the program for over a year. She was clearly excited on the day of the event which exceeded her expectations.

“When I initially spoke with Rabbi Rose about this project last year, I was hoping to have six people show up to have their hair cut,” said Samantha. “Today we have 26 people signed up. It is an honor to live in this Jewish community which does so many mitzvot.”

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Locks of Love incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1997. It provides custom made, vacuum-fitted hair prostheses from donated hair for children under age 18 suffering from permanent or long-term hair loss. The prostheses have a vacuum seal, which can only be broken for removal by the wearer. It gives children wearing them a lot more security than synthetic wigs which may use tape of glue to secure them in place. They can wear the prostheses while swimming, participating in sports and showering. It takes up to 10 ponytails of donated hair to make one prostheses.

Samantha has been having her hair cut for Locks of Love her entire life, starting with her first hair cut in the first grade. She was inspired to participate in the program when close family friend Barbie Barnholtz, who babysat Samantha when she was young, had her hair cut for the organization. Locks of Love was a natural choice when Samantha started to plan a mitzvah project for her Bat Mitzvah this coming Labor Day weekend.

“Samantha has always been a mitzvah doer, at home, at school, on vacation,” her mother Maxine said.

One secret to the success of the program was give people as much notice as possible about the project: to give them time to grow their hair and to refrain from having it cut. Samantha distributed 1,000 flyers in June and July 2006 through B’nai Amoona synagogue mailings, passing them out to friends, classmates and at camp. Word of mouth also helped, with friends telling friends up until the day of the event.

Of course, not everybody has long enough hair to donate to Locks of Love and Samantha’s program encouraged people to come out to celebrate Lag B’Omer as well. Tables were covered with pink and white tablecloths. A display board featured the name of all the pre-registered participants, information on Locks of Love and Lag B’Omer. There was a donation jar available for financial contributions for the organization. There were plenty of refreshments including 600 cookies baked by Samantha and her friends.

Arriving participants from ages six to 72 were greeted by Samantha and received a name tag and a t-shirt designed for the event. On the front of the hot pink shirt was the Locks of Love logo and on the back was printed “Hair Care Crew, We Give With Love to Locks of Love.” An anonymous donor donated the t-shirts.

Samantha and her best friend Samantha Shanker were the first to have their hair cut. Hair stylists Holly Balk and Olga Iserovich donated their time for the event. It was Shanker’s second time to donate her hair for Locks of Love and Samantha’s fifth time.

“I did it last year at this time,” Shanker said. “I got started because I heard about the program from Samantha and thought it was a great idea.”

Both girls acknowledged the first time they got their hair cut it was a little scary and a little emotional, but it “makes you feel good to know you’re doing real good.”

“I don’t know of a better example of a joining of a Jewish tradition and a contemporary need,” Rabbi Bernard Lipnick said as he explained the history and traditions surrounding Lag B’Omer to the participants and guests.

The youngest participant Alanna Grossman is a kindergarten student at Green Trails Elementary School. Her mom Marla first heard of the program when a friend of Alanna’s, Demi Fine, had her hair cut last year. Mom and daughter went on-line to learn about the program.

“I’m excited and happy,” Alanna said when asked about getting her hair cut.

The most senior participant, Harriet Lipnick, proudly turning 73 in August, was also looking forward to the experience.

“There wasn’t such a thing as Locks of Love when I was growing up,” Harriet said. “I am looking forward to the participating in this for the first time.”

Everyone clapped as the first ponytails came off and the girls held them up for photographs.

“I’m so proud of her,” Samantha’s grandmother Rita Goldman said. “She worked so hard to get this project organized and put together for such a worthwhile cause.”

For more information visit www.locksoflove.org.

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