An Open Letter to Amram Mitzna on the Matter of His Beard
First of all, kol hakavod on keeping the beard. It’s not easy for a secular politician in Israel to sport whiskers these days. It shows real conviction, a stand-up-for-what-you-believe attitude that should get you far. Very Herzl-esque.
And patriotic, too. You know, if you were in the U.S., you’d never get away with it. They like their politicians clean-shaven over on that side of the pond. Al Gore’s dalliance with a beard? Well, he’s not running in 2004 is he. Need I say more?
No, only in Israel are beards still cool. I should know. I had one for 18 years. I was anxious to add facial hair to my look as soon as stubble started erupting on my upper lip in high school. It looked so ridiculous that one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Andreski, suggested I take a black felt pen and fill in the gaps. Did I say ex-favorite teacher?
By college, though, the beard and mustache were real. Back in my day, it was more of a protest statement. Hippies, professors and therapists had beards. I wanted to be like those guys, a free thinker, not some corporate suit. Besides, it really annoyed my parents.
Mind you, it got me in trouble a few times. In 1987, I went to visit my brother who was living in Japan. I thought it would be fun (and cheap) to get from Tokyo to Shimonoseki (where my brother was living) by hitchhiking. A Japanese-speaking friend had a sign made that read “Tokyo” on one side and “Shimonoseki” on the other. I knew only two words of Japanese: “together” and “OK.” As in “Shimonoseki together. OK?”
I stood at the entrance to the highway for what must have been hours with my sign. The Japanese drivers whizzed by me. Later my brother told me that the Japanese don’t expect to see a “gai-jing” (pejorative for foreigner) with a beard. I looked threatening.
As I’m sure you know, Jewish tradition has always encouraged beards. It says in the Bible you’re not supposed to cut the four corners of your beard. But I think that Moses was just lazy. He woke up one morning and said to God, “Hmmm, as long as we’re writing down hundreds of new laws, why don’t we add a couple that would make life a little easier. Shaving is just too time consuming and the electric razor won’t be invented for another 3,000 years.” Apparently God concurred.
My beard always gave me a kind of rabbinical look. Which was fine when I was moving in that world. But as I started down the hi-tech Tel Aviv yuppie path, I felt it just wasn’t “me” anymore. Also, in the picture on my Israeli driver’s license, I look less like a Torah scholar and more like a Hamas terrorist.
I regret to inform you, Amram, that I took the beard off a few years ago.
After 18 years, though, it was pretty traumatic. I appeared out of the bathroom and my wife, Jody, just sank to the floor. She started rocking back and forth repeating “Oh my God,” again and again. I thought for a moment we were going to have to commit her. Now she’s gotten used to it and says I look better.
But you, Amram, you should stay the course. You’ve gotten this far. There’s no need to bend to whims of the non-bearded majority. If you come in second in the elections, it won’t be because of the beard.
So once again, kol hakavod – congratulations and good luck – on the beard. I hope you wear it well for many years to come.
Sincerely yours (even though I can’t promise I’ll vote for you),
PS – if you want to see how I look without a beard, click here.