Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Don't It Make My Red Hair Brown

Nice little old blue-haired lady: "You have such beautiful red hair!"
6 Year Old Me: "My hair is brown!"
Nice little old blue-haired lady turns to my mother, who nods vigorously up and down and sighs, "It's brown." Nice little old blue-haired lady thinks we are both nuts and walks away confused.

This scene played itself out more times than I can recall (substitute any number of other people for nice little old blue-haired lady) throughout my childhood. I had beautiful red hair. And I was in denial. Who wanted to be a redhead? Ronald McDonald was a redhead, Raggedy Anne and Andy were redheads, Pippi Longstocking was a redhead, and that obnoxious kid on The Partridge Family reruns, Danny Bonnaducci. But not people I knew. Not any Jewish people outside my own family.

Certainly as a kid, with my red hair, blue eyes and milky white skin, I felt somehow less Jewish than all the curly black-haired, dark-eyed kids around me. As one of only three redheads (one of whom was my brother) in my entire elementary school, I was an anomaly. It was my otherness within the larger otherness of being a Jew. Some insisted that I must be Irish or Scottish. Who ever heard of a Jew with red hair (and blue eyes, no less)?

That neither my parents (both jet black!) nor grandparents had red hair did not help matters. Where did it come from? Techinically, there was one great-grandparent on either side who had red hair, and which, skipping over two generations, came through in two of my siblings and myself. But try telling that to me as a child. Maybe I was Irish or Scottish - or fictional!

Later, of course, I would meet a number of other redheaded Jews (and many more who had red beards, at least - the men, that is) and I would learn that red hair plays a prominent role in Jewish tradition, from Eisav through King David to Moshiach (not to be confused with Moshiak), who I have heard numerous times will also supposedly be a redhead. That red hair is associated with anger and bloodthirst (think Eisav or Erik the Viking marauder, or even King David, who found ways to channel his rage) and passion did not do much to make me feel better about my hair color, though (I have that fire, too, but it takes a lot to bring it out. A good friend with twin rambunctious redheaded 2 1/2 year olds confided that he is holding on to me as his hope that his children can grow up to be calm and mellow even as redheads).

I don't know exactly at what point I stopped insisting that my hair was actually brown, but it probably coincided with my first being called "gingi," which I was not particularly fond of, but as it was invariably an Israeli who would employ the term, at least it was inclusive - of course I am a Jew! I'm a gingi! When in Israel, even to Israelis who knew my name, my red hair took over my identity. I was not MC, but "gingi blondini," as my shade of red veers toward reddish-blonde, especially in the sun.

Easy to burn and freckle as a child, I was rarely allowed in the sun unless I was covered from head to toe with gobs of sunscreen and wore a hat - not exactly redhead love inducing. As a teenager, I would try to tan anyway, always to be disappointed by - and in pain from - my red and peeling skin.

It was not until I was im my mid-teens - when fitting in was not as crucial and it felt good and right to be an individual - that I not only became comfortable with having red hair, but grew to appreciate its uniqueness. Apparently, only 2-3% of the U.S. population are redheads, and within a century redheads worldwide may be extinct (start the save the redheads campaign now!).

I am especially wistful about my "brown-haired" redheaded days now, as just a month ago a lone white hair showed up in my trimmed beard. I have checked every few days since then for more, but it sits there all by itself. I'm sure no one else would even notice it. I have not decided yet whether to pull it out or leave it. I am in my early thirties and I am not worried that my beard and hair will turn white overnight, but will it be 10 years, 20, 30 or 40 before my hair is a mix of red and white or even all white?

It was startling to me how this status of other I had held on to for half my life is just a question of pigmentation, and how short a time it may last. I picture myself at 85, and a young child will approach me and tell me how beautiful my white hair is. I wonder if I will respond, "It's red!" and I wonder who will be there to nod and sigh.

45 comments:

A Simple Jew said...

As someone with a red beard and a daughter who has RED hair, I really enjoyed reading that post!

Rebecca said...

I have so many things to say! I am sorry you were so tortured growing up having red hair. But I am also glad you have come to terms with it now. Sometimes when we are a kid we just want to be like everyone else and we don't realize that what we have makes us unique and special. I have freckles and some of my friends used to call them spots. I hated my spots. It sounded like I had a disease (g-d forbid!) But now, I love my freckles! I never wear makeup on my face because I don't want to cover them up. I feel it gives me character and makes me "cute."
But to go a step further, think about if you were a Jew living in the time of the holocaust. Having that Irish look could have made you survive! I know kids can't think that way but you can add that to your reasons of being proud to be a redhead!
As for the white hair, don't pull it out!! I made that mistake a few years ago and I have a lovely patch of grey in the front of my head. Luckily I cover my hair so no one is the wiser but you can't walk around with a sheitel on your beard! :) Then again, the white can just add more to your character! :)

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

When i was little i thought i was just your average dark-brown-haired Jewish guy. Then i started to get hair on my face, and it was coming in red! That's probably a deep underlying reason i like having a beard, being able to say i have red hair :-P . Of course, it is a little weird having one color on top of my head and one on the bottom... so for a few years in college i partially bleached the brown hair on top so it'd match the red hair on bottom. It worked so well that when i worked in a camp the first time i did it, people wouldn't believe me when i told them my natural over-hair color was brown, my hair and beard matched so well!
Unfortunately, going bald makes me wary of using harsh chemicals on my hair any more.

MC Aryeh said...

ASJ - I thought you were a gingi too! Not sure why...Glad you were able to appreciate the post!

Rebecca - Freckles are cute! I seem to have outgrown them, though, and no longer freckle when I am out in the sun. Hmm...a beard sheitel. Now there is an invention waiting to happen! I don't think I will pull out the white hair, or if I do, it would only be until a few more appear. It looks odd (to me anyway) to just have the one...

Steg - That is too funny! I never heard of anyone doing that before. I think it is not so uncommon for Jewish guys to have brown hair and red beards. Why'd it look funny to you?

Shoshana said...

It's so funny to me how we hate those things that make us different when we are young, but tend to embrace and celebrate them as we get older.

My name was always the thing that stood out about me. As the only Jew in my school, I rarely came across another Shoshana and was often told that I should either be black or Indian with a name like mine. I hated it and constantly made plans to change my name when I became old enough.

Today, I love my name and wouldn't change it for anything. I'm still not sure why my non-observant parents gave me a Hebrew name and no English one, but I am so glad that they did. I proudly state my name now, loving the identification as a Jew that it gives me.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

M.C.:

have you ever had the experience of seeing something for a while, and taking it as normal, until one day you look at it in a slightly different way and you realize that it's not as simple as you thought? that's what it was like.

Jack's Shack said...

I have dark hair, but my beard is speckled with blonde and red hairs.

Genendy said...

I also had a problem with my name growing up, but I wasn't going to wait like Shoshana. I chose a new name, and made my parents crazy to actually add it on (with a ruv and everything). The problem is that even though I gave up the whole thing after a year or two, and grew to appreciate my name, to this day, my father can't exactly recall whether he did the add-on or not. I sometimes wonder if I'm really halachically married since only my original name is on the k'subah. :)

BTW, I'd suggest you don't pluck the white hair. After all, red-heads go white so much more gracefully than dark-haired people. The change is less drastic.

Mirty said...

My red-headed cousin married a red-headed girl and they had... brown-haired children. Ah well... I hope we always have red-heads. Variety is nice.

Stacey said...

I knew you had red hair from a post on ASJ's blog but for some reason I still always picture you with black hair and dark eyes.

The first serious crush I ever had was on a redhead named Walter in 2nd grade. (I still remember him and how good his green Toughskin leisure suit looked on him. LOL) And the freckles were adorable.

I have coal black hair and found my first grey last year (which I promptly yanked since it is so obvious in black hair). I have only found one more since then. My father is 71 and still has coal black hair, so I hope mine turns slowly!

True red hair is unique and rare. It fits you well, MC.

Ezzie said...

I grew up with beatiful red, curly hair that ended up almost like an Afro. Alas, over the years, my hair slowly became brown, and though each summer the sun would color it red (my first ID said 'red'), now there are just a few red highlights. :(

I don't know if that's why, but I was always attracted to red hair - it's brighter and more cheerful (I guess that's why most people like blondes?). Am I the only one?

Of course, I married a girl with dark brown hair, but at least it's curly. :)

MC Aryeh said...

Shoshana - Welcome back! Shoshana is a beautiful name. I have heard of a few black women with the name, but not many. You never asked your parents how they came up with it for you and why they never gave you an english name? It makes sense that we shun difference when we are younger - we all want to fit in. Then when we are older and forging our own identity, anything different or unusual about us helps us to do that. I am glad you appreciate your beautiful name now.


Steg- Actually, you know, that makes complete sense to me. Question withdrawn.

Jack - Sounds like you have proof that you are a member of the tribe.

Genendy - What an interesting story. I think if you did not use the name subsequently and if you were referred to only by your original name later on when your father would get an aliyah, that there is no hlachic issue as far as your ketubah, but then I am not a Rav...still, I won't tell..:-)

The change certainly is less drastic for us redheads. If only a few white hairs had come in at once though, I'd be much more comfortable with it...


Mirty - That is wild. I would have thought it was genetically impossible for two redheads to have anything but redheaded children, as all their genes would be recessive. Wonder how that happened...I am so curious!

Stacey - Thanks. My grandmother had jet black hair well into her 70s, so it would be nice if it were in the genes. I have a feeling I will skip right over grey and into white when the change in hair color comes, though. What was a second grader doing wearing a leisure suit? The only time I have ever seen one was on TV! My first crush was the girl with the green sweater. I know I blogged about it a while back. I would love to see a post from you on your first crush!

Ezzie - Happened to one of my brothers too. He started out with a dark red and he had dark eyes. By the time he was a teenager, it had already started turning brown.

I also had the red afro as a child, with embarrassing pictures to prove it! It seems like a lot of Jewish guys are attracted to curly hair, but all the Jewish girls always want to starighten their hair - go figure!

I have always been drawn to redheads, but I may be biased. If Serach has some red are her side, when the kids come, iy"H, it could very well show up there.

Shoshana said...

Thanks! I have asked my parents and they always just said that they liked the name. And it's funny about having an English name. Until I became religious, I never even realized that people had separate Hebrew and English names - my parents just never saw a need for it, because they planned on me going by Shoshana. I often get questioned whether my parents are Israeli because of my name (the woman looking over my passport on my way back to America was the most recent) and I just shrug, smile and say no.

It's interesting though, that while my brothers all have very Jewish names as well, theirs are the English equivalents rather than the Hebrew versions.

Guess I'll just use it as a way to make myself special.

Sarah said...

I realize this may be an indelicate thing to say, but perhaps Mirty's cousin's wife is not a true redhead? Perhaps she gets a little help with her hair color at a salon?

Otherwise, I'm stumped. Maybe it's just a miracle!

Eshet Chayil said...

This was such a nice post. Actually, growing up, I didn't like red hair. I never had it, but I have an uncle that does, and I didn;t like it as a kid. Though red haired people were scary looking..lol But now I like it. I guess we all grow up sometime. About the grey hair...I heard if you pull them, even more come. Hope no one else said any of this. I haven't read any of the other comments. And nothing wrong with a few grey hairs.

sistersoul said...

oh shmi, maybe u should use your blog as a save the redheads campaign. it would be sad if there was less hair color in the world :-)
but anyway, out of all the redheaded people i know, yours is on of the loveliest shades.
i remember when you used to tease me that I will have redheaded children and I would get upset...now when u still tease me about that, at least it doesn't upset me anymore :-)

MC Aryeh said...

Shoshana- Sounds like a good plan. Must have made becoming religious a little easier to not have to change your name amidst all the other changes taking place. In my family, we were all given both hebrew and english names - but the girls are called by their hebrew names and the boys by their english!

Sarah- Hopefully, there is a geneticist who is reading this blog and can weigh in on this one! Thanks for your comment.

Eshet- When I was a kid, I was scared of people with two different colored eyes and of vampires. No one else said they were scared of redheads! I am glad you grew out of that! I think the one white hair that showed up is just a fluke, as no others have come. When the time does come, though, I will not mind going white or grey. I think it looks distinguished.

SisterSoul- It would indeed be sad if there were less hair color in the world. Luckily, Clairol is not going out of business anytime soon. But yes, we should all band together and save the redheads - if only we knew how! Thanks for the sweet compliment on the shade of my hair - I didn't have much to do with that, though. You, on the other hand, with all those red highlights you have, can provide your lucky children with some gorgeous heads of red hair...

oishkapipik said...

MC, you have to be careful with that one white hair, there's that myth that if you pull that one out, thousands will sproat up immediately after it??

I can't believe its the red hair that made you feel that you stand out from the other people??? It doesn't take very long at all to realize that you are very different than most people. How many people in this world can give off such a warm genuine vibe to everyone they meet so quickly???

my bald sheitel said...

Another great post. I truly love the way you write. I can relate to what you said. Growing up in a very goyish area, there was no one else with curly hair around. I was prank called at night by boys asking for AFRO QUEEN. I was so sad about it and just wanted to have straight hair. I even tried to brush my hair out hoping that it would fall straight. It just made it worse and frizzy of course. In later life, I was accosted by strangers in the mall asking me if my curls were natural and what products I used. I then became proud of my puffiness (which is now always hidden anyway).

Additionally, I always wanted red hair. At varying times, I got orangey highlights, bleached my black hair out with sun-in which turned it orange, dyed it magenta....I really tried most anything to get the redhead look. You just can't duplicate the real thing with dye. You can always tell who's a faker. I love red hair!

ps - Did someone say BEARD SHEITEL? That just might have to make an appearance on my blog one day. I love it.

Rebecca said...

In highschool for the longest time I had a white eyelash. It was such a great conversation piece. I say, leave it!

Rebecca said...

my bald, it was me that said it! And why not? :)

Mirty said...

Mirty - I would have thought it was genetically impossible for two redheads to have anything but redheaded children,

You could be right. I guess my cousin is not a true redhead, just reddish-brown. Otherwise my cousin's wife has.. "some 'splaining to do"!

Mirty said...

Oh yeah, I guess she might be a redhead courtesy of Miss Clairol. But it looks real to me...

MC Aryeh said...

Oishkapipik- I have also heard that about many hairs coming from plucking one. I wonder if there is any truth to it...you are way too good to me, Josh, but thanks for the kind words.

My Bald Sheitel- Thanks for the compliments on my writing. I really appreciate it. I also had a Jew-fro (more wavy than tight cuurls, though)as a kid - so I guess I was doubly blessed. Red hair is great and I wouldn't trade it now. It has been so interesting to me to read here about the different hair issues people have had - and then for women to just cover it up at a certain point. I wonder - does that do away with the issues, or just hide them? (I am asking in general, I don't mean you specifically). I agree that a beard sheitel needs to make an appearance on your blog!

Rebecca- A white eyelash? That is very cool. And all of the others were black? I think you should invent and patent the beard sheitel and use the proceeds to save for Estee's chasana!

Mirty- Some of those reddish browns are hard to call sometimes. When the first two of her kids came out with red hair, my mom briefly thought of dying her hair red to match, but she never actually did it...I think it was too radical a change for her.

Rebecca said...

I think I might do just that. Except not for her chasana but to stay at home with her! OR for her yeshiva tuition! oysh how will I afford that?

tafka PP said...

Love the last line. If you miss your red that much when you are older, you can always do what Tori Amos does now- Silvikrin and something, I forget.

I can't empathise in this conversation beyond that- although at school, the Goth girls were all jealous of me for having naturally dark hair and pale skin- the Eastern European immigrant look was clearly something of a rarity!

Eshet Chayil said...

I completely agree with distinguished. At least for a man. Good thing about being a frum woman...We look young forever once we put that sheitl on. I see babbys that I would never guess. Why? Because who knows if they would have grey hair or otherwise.

Pragmatician said...

Great post.I admire your mother for playing along, to me it means she respected your insecurities and didn’t try to wash them away.
It's funny you were such an anomaly in school, nowadays while probably a minority red heads are a pretty common sight.

MC Aryeh said...

Rebecca- Hopefully by the time Estee is ready, they will have figured out a solution to the yeshiva tuition crisis! Otherwise, there is Isarel...or home schooling...

TAFKAP- What is Silvikrin? Sounds nasty! That is a level in itself to be envied by the Goths. They didn't really exist in my school.

Eshet- That is a nice attitude to have towards frum women getting older. Never quite looked at it that way before: sheitels as fountains of youth...

Prag- Welcome back! Was getting worried about you. I kept going back to your blog to see December 29th on top. Hope all is ok. You are right about my mom - I have wonderful parents! Once I got out of high school, I noticed that red hair was more common than I thought. But at only 2-3 % of the US population, red heads are about as common as yidden in the U.S. I think they are something like 12% of the population in Scotland...

Datingmaster, Jerusalem said...

thats sweet but I know many redheads with redhead kids

miriam said...

That's funny, because people always called my hair black, and I would insist that it was red! (It's *not* black, but it's not really red either... it's more of a deep chestnut, like red wood? Red compared to brown, but brown compared to red. It's just that it's so dark, people "remembered" it as black, which it is most definitely not!) My daddy's a redhead, at least his beard, mustache and sideburns, and I have his skin, complete with freckles.

My husband's a brunette, so most of our kids have some variation on brown, but one of them is an almost redhead. ("Auburn" they call it.) And she was born that way... the nurse giving her very first bath kept commenting, she has lovely red highlights already. Who has red hair? She wouldn't believe me when I said me (okay, so the snood that made it hard to see my highlights and I have dark eyebrows) so I told her my Daddy is a redhead and she accepted that. And this child has pale green eyes too. I always wanted green eyes to go with my "red" hair, but alas, they're mostly brown.

Oh, and my Daddy is 65, and his beard is peppered with white hair, but it's still recognizably red. I call it "salt and red pepper."

David_on_the_Lake said...

Great Post!
I can relate somewhat..I grew up..with a really dark complection...and naturally lots of curious stares, since my parents are not that dark..
However as I grew old my dark skin..became a commodity..

Rebecca said...

Just thought of you while baking my shabbos dessert:
streusel topped chocolate chunk banana cake

MC Aryeh said...

DM- That's nice.

Miriam- Thanks for stopping by and sharing your memories of your time as a "redhead". Salt and red pepper is very cute.

David- Thanks. I always wanted darker skin as a child - partly so I wouldn't burn and partly so I wouldn't be a really white white person. Everyone else was pink in comparison! We all grow up and out of our childhood issues, thank God!

Rebecca- Oh wow! That sounds amazing! Very sweet of you to think of me. I will probably dream about streusel topped chocolate chunk banana cake tonight. Thanks for the mouth-watering image.

This is arbitrary said...

a major reason to support cloning! how boring the world would be without redheads since i find that all (actually, almost all) the redhead people i know have a certain energy that they exude making them so much fun to be around. from your writing i can imagine that you possess it too. just make sure to keep it even after the red transforms or deserts you - not sure which version you'd rather hear ;-)

Rebecca said...

it is delicious and it is not helping my diet! Every time I walk into the kitchen I pick at it! I brought half of it to work today and it was gone 10 minutes later! Let me know if you want the recipe

Ayelet said...

Lovely post. You truly have a way with words.

Pragmatician said...

Thank you so much for nominating my blog!

Sarah said...

MCA-
If you are really interested in learning more about women's issues with how they feel about their hair, and how they feel about covering it, there is a book called "Hide and Seek," with essays by various married women about how they cover their hair (if they do), and why (or why not, in one or two cases), and how they feel about it. It's a pretty interesting book, actually.

Tovya @ Zion Report said...

fantastic post. i know many redheaded Jews, and they all went thru the same question... "are you sure your mother is jewish?" or "are you a ger?"

HaJew said...

Hair color is from God. It just is what it is.

You writer really well. I'm a big fan.

Sheyna Galyan said...

As an auburn-haired Jewish mom to two gingi-blondini Jewish boys, I'm with you on saving the redheads! Oddly, I've always associated red hair with Judaism (unless you're Irish or Scots, of course). Thanks for the post!

Sheyna
http://booksandbeliefs.blogspot.com

MC Aryeh said...

Ani Ledodi- Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words. I know you were joking, but I don't think I could get behind cloning, even to save the redheads....If it's got to go anyway, I think I am fine with either transform or desert...

Rebecca- Yes, I do! Thank you. I will e-mail you for it...anything with chocolate chunk in its title is probably not good for a diet, but it sounds so good, it should be allowed anyway...

Ayelet- Thank you. Very kind of you to say,

Prag- You are very welcome. It is good to have you back at blogging. Looking forward to reading your latest.

Sarah- I think I would find that an interesting read. Thanks for the recommendation. I wish more of these issues would be discussed openly...

Zion Report- Welcome to the blog. Thank you for your comments. I am surprised that so many redheaded Jews would be asked that question. Once I left high school, it seemed like there were a fair amount of redheads around in the Jewish population...

HaJew- Thanks for the compliment. Yes, hair color is from God, but He has his reasons for giving it to whom he has, so I don't think it just "is what it is".

Sheyna- Thanks for stopping by. Glad to have another advocate in the save the redheads campaign. I have also now come to associate red hair with yidden, but I certainly did not as a child...Looking forward to checking out your blog!

Rebecca said...

a lot of things should be allowed in a diet :)

the_current said...

Hello All Redheads,

I'm from a very "British" part of Canada and, being a redhead, I always attributed that trait (along with the freckles, fear of the sun, etc.) with either being English, Irish and/or Scottish (my mom's background). Thing is, my father is of Ukrainian/Jewish background and when he was younger (and had hair) he had red hair too!

So, I guess I never had a chance. Red hair is most prominent amongst "Celtic" peoples but exists in other groups -- namely Jewish! I've conducted a lot of research and the Jewish redhead has a long and colourful tradition (pardon the pun).

BUT I do need to make reference to what "rebecca" said about the possible advantage of having redhair during the holocaust. I just need to clarify something. In Eastern Europe, the Nazis sought out redheads in particular become of their likely 'Jewishness"! Honest, Oscar Schindler's diary remarks that redhair was a “tell-tale” sign that someone was a Jew. The SS were looking for that trait amongst people! I just wanted to set the record straight.

I’m proud of my redhair. I hope everyone else is too. Being a redhead always means you’re a minority. So what!? It's unique and beautiful and it's the hair colour associated with the royal house of Israel (King David is thought to have been a Ginger!) and that's pretty cool!

Red and Proud,
Victor