Yiddish for “shear off,” upsherin is a joyous occasion when a 3-year-old boy has his first haircut in a traditional ceremony. In this case, it was the lucky Efraim Brafman, son of Eli and Sarel Brafman and grandson of Rabbi Yossi and Dassi New and Leo and Faige Brafman. For Efraim, Nov. 21 marked perhaps one of most celebrated such occasions in Atlanta.
Under Sarel’s creativity, Congregation Beth Tefillah was designed in an elaborate under-the-sea venue with sea life décor and food abounding. Father, Eli, head of certified kosher E.B. Catering, said, “Our blessing for Efraim is that he should be healthy and multiply like a throng of fish.”
About 250 friends and family came to cut a lock of Efraim’s brown hair in anticipation of his entry to formal education – the start of wearing tzitzit and a yarmulke.
Traditionally, the upsherin is initiation into first mitzvahs and training to recite blessings, according to online sources. “The world now begins to benefit from the Torah study and mitzvot of this young child,” Chabad.org reports. “At the age of three, children’s education takes a leap; they are now ready to produce and share their unique gifts.”
Popular with Chasidic and Charedi communities dating back to the 17th century, the upsherin is related to the “laws of orlah.”
According to proud zayde Rabbi Yossi New, “A boy under 3 is like a tree, symbolically, in that one cannot touch the fruit until the third birthday. A child under three is ‘hands off.’ Just like the fruit trees on a farm, the produce cannot be consumed until the fourth year, literally he belongs to G-d. A boy is like a tree in these early years.”
According to Deuteronomy 20:19: a person is like a tree of Afula. And in Leviticus 19:23: For the fourth year, farmers would bring the fruit to Jerusalem to the Temple to be consumed, symbolic of the child whose hair is left untouched. We keep our hands off him for the first three years, Rabbi New said.
He told the AJT, “Since haircuts are associated with festivity, an upsherin cannot take place during certain times like the counting of the omer, similar to prohibiting weddings.”
Beginning at 4:30 p.m., Congregation Beth Tefillah’s social hall was transformed into an undersea wonderland. Translucent white balloons floated like bubbles. Serving stations were designed around nautical themes of anchors, shells, starfish, whole fish on ice, and a swirling ocean “mazel tov” layer cake.
Music filled the room, and some guests commented that it was more like a bar mitzvah than an upsherin. Tables were draped in turquoise satin and topped with delicate sea-hued hydrangeas.
Since Efraim’s father Eli is a caterer, he delivered a fabulous array of specialties. In addition to a carving station, among the favorites were gravlax with vodka and beets, green goddess hearts of palm salad, kombucha butternut squash soup and Szechuan chicken chili oil pasta.
The children rallied around the dessert station with cascades of candy and blue-hued cupcakes, which left a sapphire residue on lips and chins.
Eli’s parents were on hand from Brooklyn. Mom Faige, when complimented on the gourmet bill of fare, said, “Eli was always a doer. He never sat still for one minute. He always had a vision.”
Dad Leo echoed, “I consider Eli lucky for being able to turn his passion for gourmet food preparation into a profession and do what he loves.”
Among other distinguished guests were Dassi New’s parents, Mirel and Shmuel Spalter, originally from New York, now living in Miami Beach.
During L’chaims from parents and relatives, a poised Efraim sat atop his “throne chair” in front of an elaborate seascape backdrop. Uncle Yaacov Brafman from Miami Beach explained the derivation of Efraim Fishel’s name after his own father (Efraim’s great grandfather) who was instrumental in developing Chabad in Miami Beach. “Efraim, at age 70, left work every day at 2 p.m. to learn with and from the yeshiva students. He was a pillar of Judaism in that community. He was a shining example of yearning to elevate his connection to Judaism and to others.”
Always eloquent and inspiring, Rabbi New explained that hair can be removed in two ways: cutting and pulling. “Cutting has no pain and pulling the hair at its roots hurts. The symbolism here is learning the art of compromise. Cut a little here, a little there. I wish for Efriam to be G-d-fearing, learned and successful in this art of compromise, but never at the expense of our core values.”
As guests came up to cut a lock of hair, Efraim was given a coin to drop in a tzedakah box to begin his life in acts of charity.
The Under the Sea Food Stations included:
Seared Pepper-Crusted Tuna (raw) – raw, crusted ahi stick, soy sauce, wasabi sauce and pickled ginger
Beet Gravlox/Vodka Dill Gravlox – pickled red beets and micro cilantro garnish
Salmon Arayes – salmon, cilantro, garlic, parsley, tahini and amba.
Kabocha Butternut – Kabocha, butternut, shallots and potato in squash bowls.
Mushroom Barley – Shiitake, portobello and barley.
Cabbage Apple Slaw – Cabbage, apple, strawberries and poppy seeds
Crunchy Kale – Kale, mango, pom seeds, red cabbage and candied pecans
Green Goddess – Lettuce, sugar snap peas, button shrooms, hearts of palm and cucumbers.
Carving station – Ribeye roast, mustard and onion jam
Truffle Fries – Fries, truffle oil, basil and cilantro.
Szechuan Chicken Noodles – Pappardelle pasta, ground chicken, chili oil and sauce.
Ocean Circle Cake
Rice Crispy Treat Pops
Eli Brafman and his E.B Catering Co. brings dishes to private homes, simchas and events. That includes Atlanta Zoo’s Savannah Hall, opening next year. Brafman is consulting with Proof of the Pudding on the hall’s launch as one of Atlanta’s largest kosher kitchens.