No Man In My Family Has Ever Dared Shave His Beard. Until Now.
I lived 26 years before I ever altered my religiously mandated facial hair. But I couldn’t stand the barrier it created between the modern world and me.
Illustration by George Mager
I handed the barber a twenty-dollar bill and asked him to trim my beard. I was 26 years old, and the hairs on my chin had never been touched by a blade. The barber, a middle-aged Chinese man with long wavy hair, strong hands, and a no-nonsense demeanor, took out a large electric razor and began hacking away as if he was clearing a path through a forest.
Every motion of his hand felt like another stab to my heart. I wanted to lose the beard, but that didn’t make it less painful to let go of this part of my identity, my history, my tradition. To shave is considered a grave sin in the Hasidic Brooklyn community where I was raised. Every man I knew had a fully-grown beard.
Since my first day of college four years earlier, I had wanted to crawl out of my Hasidic enclave in Crown Heights and join the larger society. But my beard created barriers. The co-eds around me took me for the campus religious director and not the Knicks and Mets fan I was.
Day after day, the …