Vidal Sassoon: Defender of Jews
May 12, 2012 at 11:17:14 AM
Iconic hair-dresser Vidal Sassoon died this week at age 84. What many don't know is that Sassoon, a Sephardic Jew who grew up in London, had a long history of fighting anti-Semitism.
At age 18 he joined the "43 Group," a Jewish defense organization working against post-World War II anti-Semitism. Sassoon and compatriots scoured the streets of east London breaking up fascist gatherings -- a legacy that later earned him the title of "anti-fascist warrior-hairdresser."
Of those early years in London, Sassoon recalled:
Anti-Semitism was absolutely rife. I mean, it was nothing for another kid to say to you, "Dirty Jew." And although England was a good place to be, especially with Churchill and the fight against the Nazis, there was always that sense of the Jews being second-class citizens.
In 1948, at age 20, Sassoon jumped at the chance to stand up as a proud Jew and volunteered to fight in Israel's War of Independence. He later described that experience as "the best year of my life":
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.
Sassoon described how he
"took a hill and attacked at four in the morning, took them by surprise. It was a hill overlooking a main road where the Egyptian heads of the army were heading. If they had passed this spot they would have been in Tel Aviv in a few hours but we took them. Many Egyptians died trying to get up that hill."
Sassoon continued his fight for Jewish causes throughout his lifetime. In 1982, he founded the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.Robert S. Wistrich, director of Center, writes:
Insistently, Vidal dwelt on his Jewish roots. He told me that ever since he could remember, he had carried within him this seemingly inexplicable and mysterious sense of Jewish difference. Though he remained a Universalist who passionately believed in the oneness of mankind, for him Jewish uniqueness was simply a fact.
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