“My name is Caleb Rosenfeld, I’m a junior at Ramaz, and my mission is to encourage everyone to grow their hair and donate it to make wigs for children with cancer. I’ve been donating my hair since third grade and it’s among the most meaningful things I have ever done.”
That’s how 16-year-old Caleb begins his “Cutting With Caleb” pitch. Since his bar mitzvah, the Manhattan teen has collected and donated 203 ponytails, equaling about 2,160 inches of hair, to Zichron Menachem in Israel, Children with Hair Loss in Michigan, and Hair We Share in Long Island.
Caleb runs hair-donation drives at schools including Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy Middle School in Livingston, the Bronx High School of Science, and Park East Day School and Avenues World School in Manhattan.
“I’m hoping to partner with other New Jersey schools and with schools anywhere,” he said. “I explain to kids that it’s so simple for you — you literally grow hair when you sleep — and it can make such a difference to someone else. There are no barriers to donating hair: You don’t need any special skill, you can donate even if you’re a kindergartner, and not even a global health crisis can stand in the way. You just need at least eight inches of hair.”
That sole requirement excludes most boys from donating hair; in fact, Caleb recalls that the first time he donated through a drive at Ramaz, he was the only male participant.
“My mom would always leave my hair a little long when I was younger, so when my school had a hair drive it was easy for me to donate,” he said. “Even though I didn’t really understand what I was doing, I was a celebrity the day I got my hair cut, so I did it again in fourth and fifth grade.
“And then I said, ‘This isn’t so well known, and I want to make this Ramaz hair drive something bigger.’
“In sixth grade I was making speeches about it, and I started Cutting With Caleb in seventh grade for my bar mitzvah project.”
He and his family — parents Josh Rosenfeld and Julie Feldman and brothers Adrian, now 14, and Asher, now 12 — schlepped a suitcase containing 1,366.5 inches of donated hair to Israel for his bar mitzvah trip.
“The El Al gate agents were obviously ‘thrilled’ and asked my dad question after question,” Caleb recalled. “We dropped it off at Zichron Menachem in Jerusalem and we had a tour of the facilities.”
Zichron Menachem, a support organization for families of children with cancer, collects hair from donors around the world to make free wigs for children who have lost their hair during treatment.
Caleb learned that it takes approximately 10 ponytails and six months to make one wig. Human hairpieces normally cost thousands of dollars, but the organizations he works with provide them at no cost.
Although Caleb aims his initiative mainly at kids, adults, of course, are welcome to join.
Sarah Elizabeth Fischler of West Orange, 34, who describes herself as a “serial hair donator,” started donating when she was about 12 years old. “My hair grows really fast, and if I have the ability to grow hair so fast, why not donate it?” she reasoned.
Ms. Fischler began earmarking her ponytails for Cutting With Caleb earlier this year, after finding out about the project through Caleb’s aunt, Erica Rosenfeld of Livingston.
“It’s great to have someone who is local and young investing in this,” Ms. Fischler said.
CM (Chaya Miriam) Gerson of Teaneck, a Judaic studies teacher and religious guidance counselor at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, has donated hair through Cutting With Caleb drives at Kushner three times.
“My students were really passionate about it and I wanted to support them,” she said. “I’ve always been very attached to my hair, but since I cover my hair it doesn’t really matter how short it is. It’s better to be supportive of my students and do the mitzvah. It makes students feel good when they see a teacher support a cause that is important to them.”
Caleb says that most hair salons know the hair-donating rules — the ponytail has to be clean and dry and about eight inches long. Texture or color do not matter; the hair often is dyed to make the wig anyway.
“Our partner salon, Eli’s Hair Design at 243 East 84th Street, does the cuts for free and styles your hair afterward,” Caleb said. “But you could even cut it off at home and send it to me.”
This talented teenager, named one of The Jewish Week’s “36 under 36” for 2020, also plays the electric cello and hosts an interactive cooking show on KidsZone TV at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan.
“Actually, when the lockdown happened and I could not go into Mount Sinai’s studio, I began to host the show from my home kitchen on Zoom,” he said. “It has been really special to be able to stay connected to pediatric patients in the hospital, even during covid.”
Nor has the pandemic slowed down Cutting With Caleb; Caleb simply makes his appeals over Zoom rather than in classrooms. He’s begun a new initiative with Hair We Share, asking people to sponsor, for $25 apiece, specialized ballcaps attached to a fringe of collected hair.
“Our initial goal is 40 hats that I can distribute to children in the hospital,” Caleb said. “They’re easier to make and to wear than a wig, and they’re one size fits all.”
For more information about partnering with Cutting With Caleb initiatives, go to www.cuttingitwithcaleb.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“People feel really special after they donate their hair,” Caleb said. “I feel great knowing that someone halfway across the world could be wearing my hair right now. I literally gave a piece of myself to them.”