Someone Else’s Simcha A Toddler Enters the Jewish Fold With One Dramatic Haircut

Fireman Sam makes his debut at Kfar Chabad in a lively celebration of Jewish tradition.

Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim
Ron Ben-Tovim

Location: Kfar Chabad fire station

Time: 12 P.M.

In the neighborhood: A long road, lined with prickly-pear cactuses, leads to the village of Kfar Chabad, housing mostly Chabad ultra-Orthodox families and located just southeast of Tel Aviv. Atop a hill at the village’s center an imposing red brick structure basks in the harsh autumn sun, an exact replica of the Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Venue: The parking lot of the small local volunteer fire station, housing one aging, yet fully functional, fire truck and a small outside shed. Inside the shed, colorful decorations are strewn throughout, with child-sized firemen’s hats awaiting the many diminutive guests.

Simcha: Zvi Bardugo’s khalake or upsherin ceremony

Number of guests: 80

A brief history of time: Zvi Bardugo, 3, is the eldest and only son of Israel, 30, who runs an aerial photography business, and Rose, 27, who helps manage and market the family company, raised in a religious-Zionist home in Moshav Tzafria in central Israel. A huge fan of international children’s superstar Fireman Sam, young Zvi is happiest when the aforementioned fictional firefighter’s animated image is near.

Khalake: Like the bar mitzvah, a khalake is one of the many stations in a young Jewish person’s life, affixing religious importance to stages of, traditionally, a man’s development. While the bar mitzvah marks the moment in which the child, unburdened by the performance of mitzvot, becomes a man, obligated to perform all the duties of a Jewish person, the khalake marks an infant’s shift into childhood, and thus his introduction, albeit a more general and non-binding one, into the Jewish fold.

The ceremony, which often, but not always, takes place on Lag Ba’Omer, involves the first shearing of a child’s hair on his third birthday.

Israel: “Until the child’s three years old he doesn’t need to wear a yarmulke, and at three he starts wearing it, his Jewish education starts.”

Rites: Guests, adults and children alike, stream into the small, fenced-in space at the height of an especially hot post-summer day, greeted by a large poster of a smiling, still long-haired Zvi, leaning on the station’s lone fire truck.

White chairs and tables are arranged neatly on the asphalt floor, with the image of Fireman Sam appearing on everything from hats to napkins, and projected onto a nearby video screen.

Soon, the parents settle into the adult part of the parking lot, as the children swarm the small shrine to Fireman Sam. Briskly pacing in the hot sun, making sure everything is set, Israel carries Zvi around, with the tiny man of the hour dressed in beige dress pants and matching vest, along with a slightly oversized red bow tie, matching his coned Fireman Sam party hat.

Israel, discussing the station’s willingness to house the day’s events so as to make his son’s fireman dreams come true: “They were cool about it, especially since [Zvi] is so crazy about it. And it was a good excuse to introduce the local kids to the fire station.”

Soon enough the guests, most of the men donning yarmulkes, with a minority of the women wearing headscarves, gather round the now antsy young groom, as Israel and Rose set off what proves to be the slow process of diverting Zvi’s attention while family members cut portions of his hair.

At first, the going is tough, with mom Rose and then paternal and maternal grandfathers Moshe and Yoseph trying to get a good snip as Zvi cries and wildly swings his head (Yoseph, smiling: “Why are you crying? This isn’t your brit!”).

And as the bribes pour in, mostly in chocolate form, and then some toys (Israel: “Even chocolate isn’t enough to buy him off anymore”) the small clear plastic platter slowly fills with bundles of hair of all sizes, beside an impressive pile of sweets.

Finally, a shorn Zvi, smiling and content, sits among all the other children in the designated kids area, as a lively young woman begins performing and entertaining her young audience. One sure way to entertain everyone, young and old, is the MC’s impressive array of non-poisonous snakes, which she proceeds to encourage the children to pose with and touch.

After the snake fuss dies down – something which takes quite a while – Israel leads Zvi to the old fire truck, with the birthday boy grinning widely as, accompanied by professional and real firemen, he gets to sit behind the wheel and extinguish an imaginary fire with the truck’s fire hose.

Music: Easy-listening versions of international hits, and Israeli pop music.

Food: Bite-sized sandwiches, bagels and smears, mini-quiches, and assorted pastries.

Drink: Soft drinks and juices.

Word in the ear: Israel, on the prevalence of the khalake ceremony: “Some families make more of a deal of it, like us, and some let it pass more quietly, but the ceremony itself, the shearing at three years old, that’s a common thread among almost all traditional families.”

In my spiritual doggy bag: That a ceremony marking a religious rite of passage can also feel like, and be treated as, a nice, happy birthday.

Random quote: A guest, inspecting the wealth of Fireman Sam paraphernalia: “So, I take it Fireman Sam is something of a role model for Zvi?” Israel: “Your powers of deduction astound me.”

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