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June’s Mishpacha Article!

We keep getting emails asking us to read the Mishpacha article from last June!  There is only this available online, so here is the transcription for you (obviously without photos etc.)

Wrap Artists
Andrea Grinberg and Rivka Malka Perlman elevate the tichel to fine art
By Barbara Bensoussan

Wrapunzel, Wrapunzel, let down your…tichel?

Throwing on a tichel was once considered a comfortable, at-home way to cover hair—but many frum women would’ve been mortified to wear one in public.  But wow—times have changed!  There’s been an explosion of style in the tichel world, and what was once considered a shmatteh best worn for washing floors has turned into high style headdresses that confer an air of royalty and elegance.

Yehudith Levy (aka Judith de Paris), who sells stylish French and Israeli head coverings, says the French influx into Eretz Yisrael has catapulted the tichel to new heights in headwear.  She says with a smile, “You have many Sephardic women who follow Chacham Ovadia’s shitah to cover hair with a hat or headscarf, but since they’re French, they want to do it with style!  They’ve created many beautiful innovations in head coverings.”  She herself agreed to wear only hats and scarves when she married her Tunisian-born husband, the rabbi of a Sephardic congregation.

But you don’t have to be Sephardic—or even Jewish!—to appreciate the possibilities of tichel-wearing, or “wrapping,” as Andrea Grinberg and Rivka Malka Perlman like to call it.  These two friends first connected online through their shared loved of creative tichel wearing.  Andrea, a professional cello performer and teacher, as well as an inspired baalas teshuva, had started a blog with the charming name “Wrapunzel,” in which she documents her own discoveries and inventions with tichels and invites other women to share theirs.

Andrea’s blog attracted an unexpectedly broad following.  There are women who post their stories on the blog (Andrea dubs them “Wrap Stars”); some of them aren’t even Jewish.  There are fundamentalist Christians enamored of the idea of modesty, and Muslim women who cover for religious reasons.  A Jewish clergywoman who started her own blog and posted a “Wrap Star” entry now covers her hair all the time, professing a longstanding fascination with hair covering.

As Andrea Malka began blogging, Rivka Malka had been busy publishing her own blog designed for kiruv.  At the time she was the director of the kiruv organization WOW in Maryland, which reaches out to young professionals.  When she considered adding a video to the site, as a means of reaching a wider audience, a friend advised her to post a clip about how she wears her headscarves. “That sounded funny to me, but he said, ‘If you do what you love, and what you’re good at, people will respond to it.’  He was right—I did clips on several different topics, but it was the hair covering clip that was the most popular!

“That taught me a lesson about the power of a mitzvah.  Sometimes we want to make mitzvahs sound more neutral because we think they’ll be more palatable to the unaffiliated, but Torah speaks for itself.  If you share from a place of raw sincerity and authenticity, people will respond.”

Today Andrea and Rivka Malka demonstrate tichel techniques and sell them through a site called Wrapunzel.  I meet them in a Flatbush home a couple of hours before a sale; with characteristic warmth, they usher me through the controlled chaos to a couch to chat, as Rivka Malka’s husband and a couple of her children haul in boxes and pile tichels on tables.  Tonight Andrea’s face is framed in a navy tichel layered with a patterned sari scarf (made of sewn strips of sari fabrics) and topped with a row of pearls; Rivka Malka is wearing striking layers of teal and rust.  Both women have delicate features that shine under these “crowns,” radiating wholesomeness and purity.

So how do two Ashkenazic women become icons of tichel wearing—and the creators of a whole new style?  In Andrea’s case, she started her married life in Eretz Yisrael, where wigs are less de rigueur than they arechutz l’aretz.  When she moved to Chicago so that her husband could pursue a masters degree (he’s also a musician, a violinist), she was told, “In Chicago, you’re going to have to wear a sheitel.”  So she went out and bought an inexpensive one, but never wore it in the end.  “I wasn’t against wigs, and I’m not usually the type to stick out in a crowd.  But the tichel was just me; I loved wearing them,” she says.

Rivka Malka, nee Klatzko, grew up in a warm, open frum home in Cleveland; like her brother Rabbi Bentzion Klatzko, she exudes enthusiasm for Judaism tempered by sensitivity and practicality.  She says she always had a “a yen for more color,” surely a reflection of her bright, open personality.  What she didn’t want for herself were the discreet wigs and dark clothing she saw a lot of in the yeshivish circles of her childhood.  “It’s my inner hippie, my artsy side,” she says cheerfully. “Anyone who knows me knows I hate black!  I need lots of color.”

Like Andrea, she bought a sheitel after she got married, although she mostly wore berets and scarves. “My husband told me, ‘You can wear anything on your head but a snood, I don’t like snoods!’” she laughs. “My mother-in-law always wore tichels and looked great in them.”   Over the years she developed the tichel look she wanted, and began wearing headscarves exclusively (it’s now been 20 years).  “For awhile I was wearing my wig only to weddings,” she says.  “Then one evening I went to a wedding, and there was a woman wearing a beautiful tichel.  I thought, hey, if she can do it, I can too!  After that I retired the wig for good.”  Before long she began buying tichels in bulk and selling them in tzedaka sales.

Hashgachah pratis pushed things along when Andrea’s husband got a scholarship to continue his studies in Baltimore—right near Rivka Malka’s neighborhood!  It seemed absolutely bashert for two women who already felt like soul sisters.  The two couples ended up living just a few houses away from each other, and davening in the same shul. Now they were able to give each other chizuk and exchange blogging ideas in person, in each other’s kitchens and living rooms.

They soon realized they needed to help the women reading their blogs put their ideas into practice.  “We were busy teaching people techniques to tie tichels, but we also needed to give them the tools—the access to beautiful tichels,” Rivka Malka says. “So we put our heads together and came up with the idea to open a business.”  Their husbands were supportive—both became involved helping—and the Wrapunzel store opened this past January in Andrea’s cello studio.

Perhaps Wrapunzel’s most novel move was to take a booth at the International Head Wrapping Festival in Dearborn, MI, where they were the only Jewish merchants among 45 booths of Muslim vendors and over 500 participants.  Their booth was so most popular at the show—so much so that when the Detroit Free Press wrote up the event, they chose to spotlight Wrapunzel.  “They caught our positive spirit,” Rivka Malka says.

Andrea and Rivka Malka appeal because they’re fresh and enthusiastic.  For them, wearing a tichel is a means of taking tznius to the next level, elevating the mitzvah to an art form and making a very publickiddush Hashem.  Both of them dress in stylish, sometimes funky clothing and bring an equally creative touch to headscarves, often combining two or three to fashion braids, twists, rosettes and woven effects.  They combine all manner of colors, patterns and textures to create wearable head art—and complete the effect with brooches, strands of pearls or lace, or sequined headbands.  “Sometimes people question if it’s tznius to wear a very striking head covering,” Andrea says.  “But there’s a difference between beauty and physical allure, between framing the face and distracting from it with hair.”

Women frequently tell them, “I don’t wear a tichel because I don’t have the right face for it.”  But Andrea and Rivka Malka pooh-pooh that idea.  “Everyone can wear tichels,” Rivka Malka says firmly. “It’s a matter of find the right style and colors for your face and personality.  Most people need a little height, some more to the back, others more on top.  You might want to cover or not cover your ears, depending on their size and your hairline.”

“Many women feel so beautiful when their face is highlighted by a gorgeous tichel,” Andrea puts in.  “We recently had a hearing-impaired woman let us use her for a demo at a show; she’d been wearing a severe black scarf.  We chose a lavender and gray tichel that looked great on her, and the audience yelled to her, ‘You look amazing!’  She actually started crying from happiness.”

The time has flown by, and now women are starting to come through the door for tonight’s sale.  Andrea and Rivka Malka have a talent for connecting with their clientele, many of them repeat customers and online contacts; they liberally dispense hugs and compliments.  There’s a strong, almost palpable sense of sisterhood among these women who share the passion for “wrapping.”

By now everything has been put in place; the dining room table is piled high with a rainbow of pretty scarves.  There’s more eye candy on added folding tables, and the room becomes crowded with chattering women fingering the scarves and oohing over new styles.  There are glittery scarves studded with sequins or shot with sparkling threads; filmy ruffled scarves; shimmery stretch scarves; solid and brocade-like pashminas; scarves ornamented with appliques.  “It’s fun to shop for tichels, because unlike clothing, it’s not about your size!” Andrea says with a grin.  It’s also a lot easier to throw a scarf over your head to appraise the color than it is to try on a whole outfit (they’ve strategically placed mirrors all around).

Doesn’t it take a lot of time to tie on so many layers?  “You get faster at it,” Andrea says.  “I take about five minutes in the morning to wrap my hair.  But putting on a wig and styling it also takes time.”  A tichel also has the advantage of never needing to be schlepped to a sheitelmacher for upkeep, and they’re economical: “You could buy every tichel in this room for the price of a custom sheitel,” Rivka Malka points out.

The Wrapunzel ladies sit down their clients and show them various ways of tying the tichels, offering suggestions on how to match colors and fabrics and ornament with a strand of pearls or jeweled headband.  I run into my friend Devora, who’s shopping for something to wear to the wedding of a close friend.  Rivka Malka expertly outfits her with a gold pashmina scarf layered with cream lace and a jeweled headband—tres elegant!  The enthusiasm is contagious;  Andrea and Rivka Malka clearly love interacting with other women every bit as much as they love gorgeous headscarves, and the room buzzes with the fun of grown-up women playing dress-up.

“Our mitzvahs of tznius and marriage are so beautiful—we consider them a joy, a treasure,” Rivka Malka says. “We’re trying to be an ohr l’goyim; when you go out, you represent Judaism to the world.  Even when you’re not teaching, you’re teaching by example.”

Andrea’s well placed to speak; she wears her tichels even when she plays her cello at professional concerts.  It’s not surprising she chooses a musical metaphor to sum up her outlook:  “We want to sing a song to Hashem with our mitzvahs,” she says.

***Sidebar:  Wrapunzel tips on Wrapping a Tichel

1)      First, Andrea says, breathe! Everyone feels awkward at first.

2)      Buy a wig grip headband.  This will keep your tichel from sliding back—even the silky-slippery ones.  If you don’t have one, you can do what Rivka Malka did in the days before wig grips were available:  cut the legs off a pair of pantyhose and use the top as a non-slip liner.

3)      You might want to buy a volumizer, a padded cotton cap that goes under the tichel and gives a fuller look (as if you have scads of thick beautiful hair underneath!).

4)      Add a second and/or third tichel to the first.

5)      Find one style that you like and looks good on you.  Now practice, practice until you can tie it quickly and well.