Israelis on Thursday joined millions around the world in mourning the passing of celebrity hairstylist Vidal Sassoon, but likely for a different reason than most of his admirers.
Most people remember Sassoon for his "wash-and-wear" haircutting technique that revolutionized women's hair fashion, as well as for his famous line of haircare products. Fewer know that before he became a household name, Vidal Sassoon was battling Nazi anti-Semitism and defending the newly reborn Jewish state against invading Arab armies.
Sassoon was born to a Jewish family in London, but was sent to a local Jewish orphanage at age 3 when his father left. Sassoon left the orphanage at age 14 and became an apprentice hairdresser. It was around this time that Sassoon said his mother declared he was to become a career hairdresser.
But he had other business to attend to first.
With World War II winding down, Sassoon joined a Jewish veterans' group that combatted anti-Semitic fascist activity in London. A few years later, at the age of 20, Sassoon joined the Hagannah (the precursor to the Israel Defense Forces) and headed off to help defend the newborn Jewish state.
"That was the best year of my life," Sassoon later said of his time in Israel. "When you think of 2,000 years of being put down and suddenly you are a nation rising, it was a wonderful feeling. There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do."
Upon his return to London, Sassoon resumed a hairstyling career that would eventually see him reach the pinnacle of the fashion world. But he never forgot what he was ultimately fighting for, nor the threats continuing to face his people.
In 1982, Sassoon returned to Israel to establish the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. The Center continues to produce in-depth studies and surveys of global anti-Semitic trends. The Vidal Sassoon Foundation also regularly supports educational and cultural projects in Israel.