Haircuts with Heart

May 19, 2022

5 Lakewood Barbers Share the Stories Behind Their Scissors

Elisheva Braun and Shira Markovich

Lakewood’s barbers have seen it all.

Beneath the hum of equipment and the plastic swish of haircutting capes, they pick up on both the pleasure and the pain of their clients.

Our barbers bear witness to countless subtle acts of kindness and surprising shows of generosity. They are privy to father-son conflicts and the shifting standards of a changing world. The local barbers do their work with grace and graciousness, offering excellent service, incredible talent, and, more often than not, a listening ear.

These are their stories.

Shmuel Charloff

How I got started: Like just about any other frum barber, I began giving haircuts in yeshivah and camp and eventually turned it into a business.

How I keep busy during Sefirah: I get to spend time with my family. I also teach, so I’m not bored, and I spend hours catching up on odds and ends or housework. I also go on trips or take a hike—basically, I enjoy my vacation!

How I get kids to sit still: There are a couple of things I do: I distract them with a video, talk to them to try to calm them down, or bribe them with a lollipop. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have them touch the equipment before I use it to get familiar with what’s about to happen. It’s important to be patient and stay calm. If you get worked up or even just feel tense, the kid will feel it. It’s easier said than done, especially when the kid is yelling or hitting you, but if you stay calm you’ll have a good chance of getting it done right.

A piece of advice for beginners: Listen to the client and do what the client wants, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Accommodate the client; if they say they don’t want a certain line, don’t do it, even if you know it won’t look good. If you want to make a parnassah, you have to make the client happy. They’ll keep coming back to you if they’re happy, not if you’re right.

The craziest story that happened on the job: A grandfather came to me to cut off his grandson’s chup because he thought his daughter-in-law kept it too long.

What I find most rewarding about my job: I really enjoy meeting new people and building relationships with them. I have a son with special needs, and I feel extremely fulfilled any time I give another special needs child a haircut. It’s a difficult job and not everyone has the patience for it, but it gives meaning to my job, and I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.

A lesson I learned from a client: I learn a lot of things from my clients. There are so many special people who come to me, and it’s really nice to be around them. A nice perk of my job is that whenever I have a question in learning, I can ask some of the chashuve people who come to me.

How haircuts have changed over the years: My clientele is pretty conservative, so I haven’t found that their preferences have changed much over the years, though I’ve noticed that the younger crowd, such as the parents of new upsherin boys, is starting to like longer hair. Baruch Hashem, nothing too wild comes up, as I cater to a more yeshivish crowd, and I’m happy about that.

Aviel Dahan/Avenue Barbershop

How I got started: When I was 12 years old, I started giving haircuts to my father and my friends. When I was 15, I started working in a barbershop during bein hazmanim. When I moved to America from Eretz Yisrael, I gave haircuts in a basement until I opened The Avenue Barbershop three years ago.

How I keep busy during Sefirah: I enjoy my vacation. Baruch Hashem, we had a baby a few weeks ago, and that’s keeping my hands full.

Most famous customer: I’ve had a lot. I’ve given haircuts to Shulem Lemmer, Baruch Levine, and Nachi Goldinger (Nachas), just to name a few.

How I get kids to sit still: It’s really hard, but as a father with kids of my own, I try to talk to them on their level and stay as calm as I possibly can.

A piece of advice for beginners: You have to love what you do. If you love what you do, you’ll succeed. If you don’t, look for a different job.

The craziest story that happened on the job: A guy who came from a pretty broken home worked for me for a while. I only took him on because his father kept begging me to. It was a very difficult situation, and it took a lot on my part, but I was able to take him under my wing even though he was a tough employee. Baruch Hashem, he became very successful and started his own business. This story highlighted for me that you just have to believe in a person and they’ll show you who they really are.

What I find most rewarding about my job: I enjoy getting to know people and being able to help them. Helping someone is the most satisfying thing you can do.

A lesson I learned from a client: I’ve learned many lessons from clients; I’ve definitely matured a lot through my work. I interact with different kinds of people all day and I’ve been given many opportunities to work on my middos. I’ve become a different person and I’m working on myself every day.

How haircuts have changed over the years: Every season, there’s a new style, and then a couple of months later, people move on to the next one. The more yeshivish people stay pretty consistent, but my trendier clients like to try out the new cuts.

Shmuel Rabinowitz/Snip It

How I got started: I was always interested in doing things myself. When I was 10 years old, we had an old haircutting set at home, and as a curious little boy, I picked it up and experimented on myself. To my surprise, it actually turned out okay. I was fascinated.

I practiced my skills on my siblings and friends all through elementary school and yeshivah. When I came back from Eretz Yisrael, I started cutting hair full-time in a local barbershop, and baruch Hashem, I was able to open my own barbershop in June 2021.

How I keep busy during Sefirah: I enjoy traveling the world and seeing Hashem’s beautiful nature.

How I get kids to sit still: Kids can become challenging, especially during busier times. In order for our place to run efficiently, we have two police-car chairs for the kids to sit inside while they get their haircut as well as entertainment for them during their haircut and while they wait. Of course, lollipops are essential for any barbershop.

A piece of advice for beginners: Never get discouraged! Haircuts are a very personal thing for people, and if a customer turns down your service, it’s not necessarily because he doesn’t like your work, it’s because he wants consistency. As long as you stay focused and consistent, you’ll see returning customers. It doesn’t happen overnight.

I wish all my customers knew… How passionate I am about my work and the barbershop and how much I care about each one of their needs. Additionally, I hope all my customers understand and realize that we are all human—sometimes, breaks are necessary.

What I find most rewarding about my job: Knowing that I have the ability to make people happy, that it’s not just the haircut that we’re doing; the personal connection that I have with each one of my customers is the most rewarding aspect of my work. There’s no better feeling than walking into a shul or any public setting and people coming over to you to thank you for the haircut you gave them. I’m happy because I’m fulfilling people’s personal needs.

A lesson I learned from a client: I’ve learned from multiple clients that not only is the customer always right, but some people just need a listening ear.

How haircuts have changed over the years: Growing up in Lakewood, the majority of the haircuts that I’ve done fit a certain standard. Over the past 15 years, Lakewood has evolved and has seen an influx of people from around the country. I definitely notice the diversity that is expressed in people’s colorful styles.

Ahron Reznik/Mr. Clipper

How I got started: My older brothers always gave haircuts. Atage nine, I tried my hand at haircutting, and the results were a disaster. Over the years, I practiced on friends and family. One friend’s father owned a barbershop, and my friend recommended that his father hire me. That’s how I got my first job.

How I keep busy during Sefirah: Sefirah is my time to relax and make any business improvements that are necessary.

Most famous customer: I service a lot of well-known people, from roshei yeshivah to famous businessmen.

How I keep kids still: Instead of fighting with the kids, I distract them with engaging conversations. I go into morah mode, even giving out mitzvah notes.

A piece of advice for beginners: Understand that every barber once gave his first haircut, and everyone is always improving. I’m still learning too.

A lesson I learned from a client: Six years ago, on my second day as a barber, I accidentally gave a customer a bald spot. Another barber fixed it up, and the haircut ended up looking okay. At the end of the appointment, the client gave me a $10 tip, saying, “Everyone is human.”

The next time this client came, he waited for me to cut his hair instead of using the available barber!

The lesson truly stuck with me, and I repeat this story several times a week.

What I find most rewarding about my job: What keeps me in this business is watching clients’ confidence grow as they see their new haircut. I also love that my job allows me to constantly meet new people.

The craziest story that happened on the job: A teenager once came in with his father. The boy wanted a cool hairstyle, but his father wanted him to get something more toned-down. I gave the boy a haircut that was somewhere in between. At the end, I watched him get off the chair while blinking back tears.

I told the father, “If you let him get this haircut, he’ll get it out of his system. Within a couple of years, he’ll be asking for a normal style.”

The father accepted what I said and told me to give his son what he wanted.

A few months later, the same boy came in asking for a regular, yeshivish haircut.

Shlomo Weinreb/Plaza Barbers

How I got started: I started giving free haircuts in yeshivah when I was 17. The compliments I received infused in me a love and passion for giving haircuts.

How I keep busy during Sefirah: I spend time with my wife and kids, learn with a chavrusa, and play basketball. In short, I do all the things I wish I could do more of all year round.

How I get kids to sit still: I distract them with humor and make sure the haircut is over quickly, so they don’t have a chance to get nervous.

Advice for beginning barbers:

  • Practice on friends.
  • Listen to the customer.
  • Confidence is key! Nobody likes getting a haircut from a barber who seems nervous or unsure.

The craziest story that happened on the job: A new barber started working at the shop and had a great conversation with his first customer. The man redt the new barber to his daughter and later became his father-in-law. How’s that for being in the right place at the right time?

The funniest thing a customer told me: A guy told me he chose me as his barber because he liked my shoes!

Funny things that customers have done: One client gave me a one-dollar tip and asked for one cent change. Another ripped a dollar bill in half and said, “Here’s a fifty-cent tip.”

A lesson I learned from a customer: A customer once waited for his turn for 25 minutes. When he finally sat down in the barber chair, his phone rang. It was his wife, and she needed his help. The man jumped up and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” I told him to stay; the haircut would only take five minutes, but the man insisted that his wife needed him and he had to go. I learned from him to drop everything for shalom bayis.

Something nice a customer did: One Erev Shabbos, a client overheard me saying that I was running late and I still had to buy a Gemara before traveling to Brooklyn for Shabbos. The customer handed me a $25 tip and said, “Go buy yourself a Gemara.”

Another time, someone came into the shop and asked about pricing, requesting a discount. The customer in the next chair quickly sent me money for two haircuts, texting me that he was paying for the other person.

The hardest aspect of my job: Making sure I have enough barbers to keep up with the busy season. I don’t want my clients to wait in long lines.

What I find most rewarding about my job: Getting to meet so many people and helping them look their best. (Also, being their unofficial therapist.)