Vidal Sassoon died in Los Angeles on Wednesday at age 84. Known mostly as a name-brand in hair styling, upon reading of his death I learned a lot more about the man, and wondered why I didn’t know more before.
From The Times of Israel:
A veteran of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, Sassoon also had a lifelong commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism. In 1982, he established the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem….
Growing up very poor in London, Sassoon said that when he was 14, his mother, Betty, born to a Jewish immigrant family from Ukraine, declared he was to become a hairdresser….
After his father, Jack, left Betty, she had been forced to place Sassoon and his younger brother in a Jewish orphanage. He left school at 14, worked as a messenger and a hairdressing apprentice, and volunteered in a Jewish WWII veterans’ group that disrupted post-war fascist activities in London. Aged 20 in 1948, he joined the pre-state Haganah, later to describe his time in the emerging Jewish country as “the best year of my life… There were only 600,000 people defending the country against five armies, so everyone had something to do.” …
He sold his business interests in the early 1980s to devote himself to philanthropy. The Boys Clubs of America and the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center of Los Angeles were among the causes he supported through his Vidal Sassoon Foundation. He later became active in post-Hurricane Katrina charities in New Orleans.
Sassoon was proud of his service in the Israeli War of Independence:
Sassoon’s dark brown eyes are on fire when he talks of his war memories. “We 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. They had terrible casualties. A faceless man sent them out there and they probably wanted to be with their loved ones.”
Was he very sad that he had to be part of that killing? “I wouldn’t have had any self-respect if I didn’t. Somebody had to be one of those somebodies.”
Here’s his photo from that time:
He didn’t shy away from a fight in London either:
Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union Of Fascists, had been jailed by Churchill but after his release in 1943 he tried to reignite his campaign against London’s Jewish population. “Suddenly there were fascists preaching hate on every corner,” Sassoon explained in the early Nineties when he broke his silence over those days.
The young Sassoon – whose parents were both Jewish – took little time in joining an organisation called the 43 Group, which was originally composed of 43 Jewish former servicemen but which swelled to be 1,000 strong. They were a crudely armed paramilitary force with the aim of breaking up Mosley-inspired meetings – with force if necessary. Sassoon likened the clashes between fascists and the 43 Group to “pitched battles” and he was usually in the thick of the fray. He once described the fighting as “horrendous” but insisted that “you had to be involved – you just had to be”.
Rest in peace, fighting haircutting guy.