observant family, we do not live in a religious area, and I would feel too self-conscious. I visited two sheitel boutiques — one fancy, one less so — and in both I was made to feel very much at ease. My desire for my sheitel or fall (a hairpiece which doesn’t cover the whole head, often worn with a wide band) to look as much like the hair underneath as possible was immediately understood. I went to the first place with my sister — I felt nervous and very much appreciated her support.
Yes, it does take some getting used to, and there are definitely days when I come home and am only too happy to take my fall or sheitel off my head. But there are others when I am barely aware that I am wearing one at all. I have received compliments on both of my new looks, from people who think I have simply had a change of style to others who are aware that it is not my real hair (I am not alone in being an avid sheitel-watcher!). Best of all, I have been the recipient of some really encouraging comments, too, a lot of women of all levels of observance telling me “Good for you.” And while I am not doing this for anyone else, it is lovely to have their support and encouragement.
I recognise that thoughts of my children and the world in which they are growing up have played a huge part in my decision. I have two girls and a boy. I began to look ahead to my son’s bar mitzvah (he is only four, so it is some way off yet!) and I realised that the woman I saw myself as being then would be covering her hair.
However, and more importantly, it is in large part for and because of my girls that I am doing this. It is a reaction against the world around us, and my means of trying to protect them from the corrosive effects of overexposure. I want so dearly for them to realise that their true beauty comes from inside, and has very little to do with the physical. They are growing up in a world where they are, and will continue to be, assaulted by sexualised images of women, images that convey to them the idea that their true worth is in how they look and not in how they behave. And I am appalled, and fearful, and also very aware that I will have very little control over how they wish to dress and behave as they get older and more independent. All I can do is dress and behave in the way that I think is right, because this way I am giving them a choice. It may not be how some of the people around them look, but it won’t be alien to them either. And if I dress more modestly, then I have more credibility when I say that I want them to dress more modestly, too.
There is no doubt that the act of hair covering brings with it a lot of questions, and many very observant women of my acquaintance do not do it for many reasons, not just a lack of readiness: because they do not fully agree with it or see the point of it, or they feel that it is somehow a throwback to an earlier time when women lived less independent and visible lives.
And yes, I do understand a lot of those misgivings. However, I have also, over the years, begun to appreciate that sometimes it is necessary to take a leap of faith. I have always been very struck by the way that when the Children of Israel received the Torah at Mount Sinai they accepted it saying “na’asei v’nishma” — we will do and we will hear. In other words, first we will do what Hashem asks, then we will understand. And so I have found. For example, when I started to observe Shabbat properly, I saw it as a restriction. I had to take it on, I had to live it, in order to really understand the beauty and purpose of Shabbat, and to realise that, far from restricting me, it frees me.
I am sure that there will be good sheitel days and bad sheitel days, just as there are with my real hair. But already, just a few months in, I am holding my head higher, feeling a confidence I didn’t know I had. As someone said to me recently, there is something very powerful about doing something not because you necessarily want to, but because you know it is right.
And when my daughter looks at me and says, “Mummy, your sheitel looks so pretty”, my heart swells, and I am hopeful that by seeing me do, she will begin to understand.
Before becoming a full-time mother, Sara Elias was chief sub-editor on a food magazine. She now volunteers in the community.
BREAKING YOUR leg in Israel, 18 months after making aliyah, when your only form of communication is hand signals, is totally inadvisable. I didn’t even break it doing anything exciting. No sky-diving for me. I was actually getting out the car. It’s not difficult. I’ve done it loads of times before. But this time, I lost my balance, wobbled and frantically tried to grab something to hold onto. But there was only air.
My husband’s head appeared from behind the car. He didn’t find it strange to see me lying in the road. (I’m often to be found lying down — it’s a favourite position of mine — especially on a sofa). But he could see that my leg was a funny shape. And the fact that I was shouting: “Leg! Hurting! Could be broken!” might have also given the game away.
Upon arrival at the hospital it appeared that I really couldn’t walk. My body is not as sculpted and toned as it once was and as a result I did not have the required muscular ability to hop, even whilst clinging onto Husband. A wheelchair was needed. Husband succeeded in finding one that had seen better days — it only had three wheels — and off we went to the emergency room where it transpired I had broken my leg “very well indeed”, “in quite a unique way.” I felt I should get a prize.
My prize was, it transpired, a major operation. I would be out of action for six months. Euphoric thoughts sped through my mind — exactly how many episodes of Game of Thrones could I watch in six months? If I ate one tub of Ben & Jerry’s icecream every day, how many flavours could I get through? How many packets of Cadbury Giant Buttons could I bribe friends to bring back from the UK?
But then reality set in.
On the first day, they told me to fast in preparation for my operation. I’d done Yom Kippur a few times successfully (does a cup of tea really count?) so I was optimistic, I could do this. But by 8pm my sugar levels were dangerously low.
Through a mixture of Russian, Arabic and Ivrit (none of which I can speak) I discovered that the doctor had left for the day. Not good news.
But I was cool. It would be tomorrow.
But it wasn’t tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow. I was becoming institutionalised.
This was my routine. Lights on at 5am. Wheel self down corridor to communal shower. Dress self in
It is a reaction against the world around us
Covered up: Sara Elias