Pick one. Any one. You can save a life.
By: Miriam Sasson
When you first step into Fortune Wigs, the busy wig salon on Avenue O and Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, you will find nothing out of the ordinary. You will hear the hum of blow dryers and muffled chatter and see small mounds of hair on the floor as a wig stylist deftly snips a little here and a little there. You will find customers, whether they be brides or married women, trying on wigs before large mirrors.
Upon closer observation, however, you will begin to see beyond the superficial goings-on at Fortune Wigs. You will begin to feel the pulse of the place: the growth in the atmosphere and the roller coaster of emotions in the air. Believe it or not, there is real drama that unfolds at Fortune Wigs, and Mrs. Esther Tobias, the owner of Fortune Wigs since 1998, bears witness to it all.
From the soon-to-be married Bet Yaakov graduate to the middle-aged married woman undertaking to cover her hair for the very first time, Mrs. Esther Tobias sees them all at her salon. Fortune Wigs manufactures two lines of wigs and takes care of all the styling needed to help the Jewish woman look and feel her best as she crowns herself with a wig. Wash and sets and cuts are other popular services offered by the salon. Both its both Brooklyn and Lakewood locations offer “seniut cuts” as well, which are free wig trims as an incentive to increase modesty.
Covering their hair for the first time can be a real jump for community women who did not start out wearing wigs. They face a very real struggle to fit in with those around them who don’t cover their hair. Often they face open opposition from family and acquaintances. “But the women in our community are amazing,” says Esther Tobias, “and they do it.” Esther supports them with patience and encouragement. “I understand their struggle since I experienced it as well,” she empathizes.
One woman, Denise*, was ready to embark on covering her hair but her husband opposed the idea. She purchased a natural-looking wig, and, on her third day wearing it, he noticed and asked her to take it back to the store. Uneasily, Denise approached Esther with her request to return the wig. “As soon as I told her ‘Sure, no problem,’ she changed her mind!” Esther relates. Denise declared, “You know what? Your willingness to take it back inspired me to keep it, after all. I will put it in my bank’s vault and save it for that special moment when mashiah arrives!” Ultimately, Denise’s husband came around. Today, she proudly wears a wig, as do several of her married daughters.
“No one is as lucky as me to be able to experience such beauty firsthand on a regular basis,” Esther enthuses.
Every Precious Inch
Esther Tobias repeatedly highlights the greatness of our community’s women. She is inspired not only by those who make the decision to cover their hair for the first time but also by those who want to trim their wigs to give them a more modest appearance. “To part with an inch – even half an inch! – of their wigs poses a great difficulty for some women,” she says.
Women often come to Fortune Wigs for a wig trim hoping to merit something, such as a refuah shelema or financial stability. “I can fill a book with the miracles that my customers experience after cutting their wigs,” Esther relates. “They come in looking for Hashem’s Hand, and they see it.” During the actual wig trim, one can feel the weight of the women’s sacrifice as the women, with their eyes closed, offer stirring, tearful prayers to Hashem.
One community woman, Adina*, entered Fortune Wigs for her wig to be cut. Adina had wanted to take the step for a while, and came hoping to merit a reversal of fortune - she stood to suffer a tremendous financial loss in the coming days. She cut an inch and a half off of her wig and, the very next morning, she called Fortune Wigs to thank them for the cut… and to inform them that her financial issues had miraculously straightened out.
Another woman, Linda*, was becoming more and more observant. While she had been cutting her wig over the years in half-inch increments, one day, on impulse, she came into Fortune Wigs requesting a four-inch cut. No sooner did she get up from the salon’s swivel chair did she receive a shocking phone call from her husband. “Linda,” her husband gasped, “I just got into a terrible car accident. My car flipped three times and it is totaled. As for me – it’s a miracle! – I escaped without a scratch!” Linda collapsed onto the chair as quickly as she had stood up. She was shaking. “It took me so many years to reach this point in cutting my wig, but look where it got me,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“The seniut cut is a wonderful kaballah (undertaking) for the growing women of our community,” says Esther. The fact that it is free eliminates the expense as a deterrent from doing so. “It is so motivating to see the influx of women wanting to cut their wigs after an inspirational gathering,” she relates, mentioning the most recent one, Turning Tragedy into Triumph, in memory of the Sassoon children.
Even brides who had always planned to cover their hair after their weddings need encouragement. “I try to empower the girls with the desire to have their wigs be as modest as possible,” Esther says. The problem begins, explains Esther, when a girl wants her hair at a longer length for her wedding, and then feels funny going shorter later on. Esther relates that in Mexico’s Syrian community, the wives of kollel men, who are considered role models to the other women, are required to keep their wigs no longer than shoulder length. “At some point, though, everyone figures out that they are ready for a seniut jump, each in her own way,” Esther observes. “And that makes me more and more inspired.”
Jumping In – An Unlikely Start
Esther Tobias describes the establishment of Fortune Wigs:
Four years before Fortune Wigs was born, I started out washing and blowing hair. Years of styling my own curly hair as a teenager lent to my experience, but I’d never dreamed of doing it as a business. Sure, people would come to me asking if I could “just do this” and “just do that” to their hair or wig, but that was the extent of it. At the time, I was content working with my mother at her housekeeper agency.
One day, a friend came to pick up her wig from my house. “Do you mind if I offer your services as a prize at Yeshivat Ateret Torah’s annual Chinese auction?” she asked.
“My pleasure,” I consented, believing she was referring to Fortune Services, my mother’s agency.
Several weeks later, the phone calls came.
“I won a free wash and set. When can I come?”
Huh? Boggled, I called my friend, who explained that she had offered six coupons for free wash and sets as prizes in Ateret Torah’s auction.
Oh.So that is what my friend was talking about! I realized, too late.
One of the winners, an elderly woman, sent me into a panic. The woman called with endless questions about my experience and ability to cut her wig. I was intimidated from the woman, who seemed to be entrusting me with the care of her $3,500 wig. I was petrified to help her and my stomach ached at the thought. With the intention of turning over the job to an officially trained wig stylist, I opened a magazine, which turned out to be a pivotal move. Instead of finding an alternate stylist, I noticed an ad for a wig-cutting course by the renowned Georgie of Boro Park. Impulsively, I signed up, for the course, whose start date was the very next morning.
In the midst of the mayhem, the woman with the hundred questions arrived with her wig – which was synthetic and worth no more than 40 dollars. Naturally, I wanted to back out of the course - I had signed up, after all, practically for this woman’s sake - but it was too late. Once I was enrolled, Georgie, recognized that I was not a “newbie” like the other participants and let me help her with some of her wig jobs.
In 1998, I started a wig business in my basement, which later relocated to an extension in the back of my house, and, finally, to the storefront around the corner from my home on Coney Island Avenue.
The whole series of events was a huge stroke of Hashem’s Providence, for, without His guiding Hand, I never would have jumped in.
* Names have been changed.