October 22, 2019

Donating Hair to Jewish Kids With Cancer

Hairdresser Iliana Duenas cutting Kayla Rubenstein’s hair. Photo by Michelle Naim.

Watch out, Los Angeles, there are young Jewish women taking the streets by storm with their fabulous short haircuts — and they feel great about it. 

On June 12 at Larchmont Hair & Nails, 30 women with hair 12 inches or longer received a free haircut at an event hosted by Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov/Ohr Eliyahu and Zichron Menachem, to which the hair from the event was donated. Zichron Menachem is a Jerusalem-based organization that makes wigs for children and young people with cancer and has offices around the world that accept hair donations. 

When Jenny Gurvitz-Mandelbaum moved to Los Angeles from London in 2013, her 8-year-old daughter was in the middle of growing out her hair to donate at Zichron Menachem’s U.K. event. “She was devastated,” Gurvitz-Mandelbaum told the Journal. So, as PTA president at Yeshiva Ohr Eliyahu day school in the Fairfax district, Gurvitz-Mandelbaum sought to bring the haircutting party to L.A. This is the third time she has coordinated the event, bringing in daughters and mothers from all over the local community. 

Rifka Meyer, a hair salon owner in London who is heavily involved with Zichron Menachem, plans to move to Los Angeles in the future, so she flew in to participate in the Larchmont event. “Hair is such an important part of us as people,” she said. “When they say it’s your crowning glory, it really is.” 

Meyer shared the story of a “beautiful, beautiful” and very sick young woman who walked into her salon in London with three wigs in poor condition and a request to make them good as new.  Meyer began washing and styling the wigs but knowing that they were all in various stages of disrepair, she asked the young woman if she had ever heard about Zichron Menachem and its work. After hearing about it, the woman said, “[This is] such a good idea; let me give one of these wigs to someone else who needs it. I don’t need three.” 

Meyer explained to her that Zichron Menachem would pay for a new wig to be made especially for her. She took the woman’s measurements and asked her about the length and style of the wig she wanted. A week later, with the client’s mother sitting next to her, Meyer put the wig on her head. “There was not a dry eye in the salon,” she said. 

The next day, the young woman’s sister came into her salon “with hair down to her bottom — ginger, wavy hair, the most drop-dead gorgeous hair you’ve ever seen,” Meyer said, and told Meyer she wanted to donate it. A week later, Meyer recalled, “A woman comes into the salon who’s recently been diagnosed [with cancer. She had] ginger, wavy long hair [and said], ‘I’m going to lose all my hair and I need to make a wig.’ ” 

At the Larchmont event, there were five hairstylists and four nail technicians who donated their time to cut hair and give manicures and pedicures to anyone donating their hair. Owner Ellen Bishai booked out the entire salon for the party. 

Rifka Meyer and Jenny Gurvitz- Mandelbaum. Photos by Michelle Naim

Iliana Duenas has been working at Larchmont Hair & Nails for only two months. She said she’s been doing hair for the Jewish community for years and this was her chance to give back to it. “The difference is that when I’m working behind a chair with a client, it’s just [for] that person,” she said. “Doing this kind of event … it’s just totally different. It’s [like] giving to another second or third person.” 

Kayla Rubenstein, a 10th-grader at Bais Yaakov High School, was excited to donate her hair. Even though it was the night before her final exams, she said she had been waiting a long time for this day. “I feel like if you’re in a position to give to somebody, why shouldn’t you, and if you’re going to contribute to someone else’s happiness and make them feel more like themselves if they’re going through a hard time, then why not?” 

It was her second time donating hair to Zichron Menachem. The last time she cut her hair was when she was in eighth grade. “I don’t have to know or feel connected to somebody [to give them] a part of myself,” she said. 

For future haircutting events, contact rivkawigsla@gmail.com.


Michelle Naim is a senior studying English with a concentration in journalism at Stern College for Women in Manhattan and a Jewish Journal summer intern.