A hairy story by Peter Rosengard
One day last week, I was just finishing my breakfast when I decided to surprise my parents, who were on holiday in Israel, by flying over to Jerusalem for the weekend.
To achieve the maximum element of surprise I thought I’d hire a big black beard, moustache and a large, black hat and disguise myself as a Chasid (I was a very shy child and I’m making up for lost time).
I immediately leapt into action. I called El Al and booked two tickets for my wife and myself for that day’s flight.
I looked in Yellow Pages for a “Rabbis’ beards: to rent” section. Nothing. So I tried “Fancy dress.” I dialed Caribbean Carnival Costumes of Portobello Road, W11. A happy, male West Indian voice answered: “Caribbean Costumes. Good Morning.”
“Good morning. Do you have a rabbi’s beard?” I asked. “A rabbi’s beard?” he mused. “Wait a minute, Josephine, do we have any rabbi’s beards today?” I heard him shout.
There was a muffled discussion. He came back on the line. “We are all out of rabbi beards this morning, but we have got a Rasta beard. How about that?”
“No, thank you. It really is a rabbi’s beard that I’m after.”
“It’s got good locks… dreads man, very reggae. You know Bob Marley?” he persisted.
I then tried a shop in Hayes, Middlesex, not exactly famed as a centre of talmudic learning, but you never know.
“Oh yeah, we’ve got loads of those,” the girl who answered said, as if it was the 100th request she’d had for a rabbi’s beard that morning.
“Great!” I said, “How much are they?”
“Two pounds ninety-five,” she said.
“What, a day?” I asked.
“No, £2.95 to buy,” she replied.
“Wait a minute…” I said. “What is it made of?”
“Crepe?” I exclaimed. “Nobody’s going to be fooled by that, are they?”
“Well,” she suggested, “they will be if you don’t get too close.”
“Yes, like two miles!” I put the phone down.
I finally tracked one down in Covent Garden, picked up a black Homburg hat at Simpson’s, Piccadilly, and a taxi to the airport.The famed one-to-one El Al securty interrogation at check-in at Heathrow is enough to make even the Chief Rabbi break down and confess to being Yasir Arafat.
“Did anyone give you anything before you left the house?” “Are you kidding? No one’s given me anything since my barmitzvah.” The situation was not exactly eased when they opened my bag and found my beard and moustache.
“It’s an emergency,” I explained. “For a big wedding: the rabbis’s got alopecia.”
The woman security officer started to talk into her sleeve. Young men with large shouldered jackets started asking Orthodox Jews to lift up their hats to see if they had bombs balanced on their heads. They all looked at me intently. “Do you have any Jewish friends, Mr Rosengard?”
I have been waiting all my life for someone to ask me this. “Actually,” I said, “some of my best friends are Jewish.”
In the end, my beard and moustache flew Club – on security grounds – while my wife and I were in economy. I tried to get an upgrade because my beard was nervous first-time flying and needed my moral support, but to no avail.
“Everybody wants an upgrade,” the stewardess said. “Lat time we had 35 rabbis in the cockpit with the captain.” In the taxi from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, I started to glue on my beard. In Shirley’s hand mirror I looked like a cross between Moses and ZZ Top. Unfortunately, a few miles outside Jerusalem the driver took a look in his rear-view mirror. He slammed his foot on the brake, flung open the door and ran off into the night.I ran after him. I found him behind a – non-burning – bush. I finally managed to calm him down and assure him I wasn’t a spy, just a Jewish joker. We set off again. I sat, self-consciously, in the lobby of the Sheraton Plaza with a newspaper held up high around my head, while Shirley checked us in. She came over to me “Wait a minute!” she said. “You are OK. Nobody would recognise you in a million years. But what about me?”I looked at her. She had a point.
She is Chinese and 5 feet 10 inches tall. I’d forgotten about that. As possibly the only 5 feet 10 inches tall Chinese woman in Israel, my parents might just have spotted their daughter-in-law.
“You can wear the moustache,” I suggested.
I borrowed a jacket from a waiter and a tray with a couple of cups and took the lift to my parents’ room on the 12th floor. There were six other men crowded into the lift. We all had big black beards. Somehow I still felt different.
The lift seemed to be stopping only at every other floor and stayed stationary in-between for five minutes at a time, possibly for prayers.
It got very hot. I started to sweat. I felt the other passengers were staring at me. My beard began to melt. I stared at the floor.
A little blonde girl looked up at me. I felt the glue running down my cheek. She watched silently as one half of my beard peeled away from my face. I raised my eyebrows, gave her my “It’s a funny old world” shrug, pressed my face against my shoulder and, when the doors opened on the 12th floor, pushed my way out of the lift like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, all the while carrying the tray in front of me.
I knocked on my parents’ door. “Room service.” I shouted in my best Israeli accent. My father opened the door.
“Hello Peter,” he said.