One afternoon as some of the Galileans were hanging out (the name for the group of guys that I run around within the Galilee), we were joking about the length of Israeli beards that often include the prevalent, “I don’t care” hairstyle. Thinking of own (receding) hair, I commented that could use a trim before traveling to an upcoming speaking event. Without skipping a beat and with a twinkle in his eye, Moshe was quick to offer, “ooh, I got a barber guy for you!” I immediately agreed, knowing that if Moshe was suggesting it, it was not the usual place. Sign me up- let’s do it.
Rather than trying to explain where this barbershop was, since “its not really a storefront shop” and “it’s a guy who has a spot under my apartment building,” Moshe said it was better if we met so he could take me there. The next day, I met Moshe near his place. As we walked back to his apartment, I was still a little confused about where exactly I was going and who this barber dude was. We arrived at his older style apartment building that looked like it was on pillars, where the ground floor is a tiled and had an open space that led to an elevator with several apartment floors above it. But rather than heading toward the elevator, we turned the corner and approached what looked like a dirty utility storage room with a large, heavy door. “We’re here,” Moshe said with a smile. “We are where….?”, I thought to myself. The set up reminded me more of a movie when the naïve guy is encouraged to enter a sketchy room, aka "barbershop", and is subsequently clobbered over the head. Yet before I could ask more questions, Moshe pulled hard on the stuck doorknob, and the legit barber man cave was revealed. Like Narnia hidden by an inconspicuous wardrobe door, a whole other world appeared as I entered into the clean and well-lit room.
As I soon learned, Avi, the barber, was a young guy, just out of the army. He lived in the building, and simply claimed the space that was now his shop. In typical Israeli fashion, no one was using this area, and no permission was asked from anyone. He simply found a space, closed it off with drywall, painted it, moved in his stuff, and made it his own and opened up a barbershop. No one is sure who did the lights or where he’s getting electricity from, but he’s definitely doing good business. As we arrived, we were met with Hebrew bantering and laughs from Avi and the guy who was already in his chair, getting a flat razor shave. At first glance, Avi was all set up. He had a beautiful salon chair, a big mirror, and all the gear. His black logo was cleanly painted on the white wall. A comfy couch and coffee table invited waiting patrons. On the wall, a Jack Daniels poster of a bulldog smoking a cigar. Off to the side, there were a few weights and a stacked curl bar, in case you didn’t want to sit. Yet, what most caught my eye was a darbuka (a traditional middle eastern drum) on a shelf in the corner. There was nothing in this room that suggested a girlfriend or any feminine salon services. This was man cave barber shop for manly men, run by a masculine hombre who lives by asking for forgiveness rather than permission. I liked Avi from the moment I walked in.
As my haircut began, I was thankful for Moshe’s Hebrew to help me through the small talk, as mine is terrible. Avi was bright and cheerful with a charming smile. He wore a t-shirt, acid-washed denim shorts, and a backward hat. He got right to work with confident speed and ease. He dreamed of traveling to the US, offered haircuts to pay his way, and also, in typical Israeli fashion, had already invited himself to my house and suggested I show him around. “You would be most welcome, and I would be happy to,” I replied with a smile.
As the conversation continued, Moshe, already videoing the experience and perhaps ready to stir the pot a little, commented about how I play the darbuka. Avi smiled crookedly, looked at me sideways, and said, “really…?!?”, as if wondering if this white American guy with a graying red beard knew what a darbuka was, let alone, know how to play one. In my quick defense, I made the mistake of saying not only do I know how to play, but I’ve played professionally and several years ago, had auditioned, and was accepted at a coveted US music school by writing and performing a creative darbuka piece using several Arabic rhythms. Suddenly, mid haircut, Avi promptly put down his tools, handed me the darbuka, then stood back to see if I could back up such an outlandish statement. Still in my apron covered in hair clippings, I moved from the salon chair to a regular seat and started to play, wondering what I had gotten myself into. The more I played, the more Avi smiled and nodded his head with growing respect, growing anxious for his turn to show off his skills. I wrapped up my impromptu solo and handed the darbuka back to Avi, as Moshe egged him on with a challenging, “Let’s see what you got, bro…”. Avi didn’t need any help. It was evident in the first few seconds, this middle eastern guy knew his way around a darbuka. It was awesome. After showing some of his best stuff, he ended strong with a grin, to the applause of Moshe and me. After we each insisted that our competitor was the better player, we got back to my haircut, both enjoying that unexpected interlude. Who really won…? Have a look at the video, meet Avi, and decide for yourself!
It’s one of the things I love about Israel- the unexpected adventures in a relational culture that just dives right in. It’s such fun. Now if only my hair would grow faster so I can go back for round #2. Or maybe not, so I have time to work on some new grooves. Either way, guys, if you need a cut or a straight razor shave, the Chocolate Fish has a darbuka playing, barber guy for you in the coolest of places.
Doug Hershey is the author of Israel Rising, conference speaker and founder of Ezra Adventures, an Israel focused travel and education company. From years of hands-on experience, cultivating unique relationships in Israel and a love for history, Doug provides a rare perspective on the connection between the Jewish Scriptures and present day Israel. When he is not in Israel, he is speaking in churches and synagogues about the prophesied restoration of Israel.