This post originally appeared on JOFA’s blog, “The Torch,” and is reposted with permission

“Imma, I want an upsherin!” My daughter revealed this mid-way through her first year at a Chabad preschool, where she had attended several of her classmate’s upsherins. A party and a first haircut (upsherin literally translates to shearing) was what she saw for those little boys, whose families were upholding a centuries-old chasidic custom that grew out of the biblical injunction to leave a tree’s fruits unharvested for its first three years.

I loved that in her mind there was nothing gendered about this celebration and the Jewish milestone of turning three (despite the traditional conferral of a kippah and tzizit at a boy’s upsherin, and the transformation a very short haircut has on the looks of a little boy). We had not yet cut Zoe’s hair. It had been slow to grow, and her father had dreamed of leaving her hair uncut until three (but had not shared this with Zoe). Both of us were amused and pleased with the request — happy to see Zoe empowered to make her own Jewish choices at a young age. Plus her request was certainly in line with the partnership minyan community in which we’ve been raising her in Cambridge. She sees her Imma (mother) lead prayer services, and her Abba (father) still wears her in a carrier when she lets him.

The upsherin planning, spearheaded by Zoe, began months ahead of her summertime birthday…

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Elisha Gechter is the Program Manager for the Wexner Israel Fellowship and the Senior Executive Israel Leadership Programs at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She represents The Wexner Foundation at Harvard and works with mid-career Israelis (WIF’s) who spend a year studying for a Master’s in Public Administration at the Kennedy School as well as influential senior leaders in Israel’s public sector who spend a month of intensive training at the Center for Public Leadership (WSL). Before joining The Wexner Foundation, Elisha worked at Hebrew College in Newton, MA as the Associate Director of Adult Learning and Community Engagement, running programs to connect parents and people in their 20s and 30s to community and to Jewish wisdom. She has a BA in psychology from Yeshiva University’s Stern College in New York and an MA MBA from Brandeis’ Heller Hornstein Program in Jewish Leadership and Non-profit Management. Elisha can be reached at