Today, Vidal Sassoon passed away.
You knew he was a world renowned hair stylist and fashion icon.
Did you know he was a Zionist and proud Jew?
Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen and the rest had instilled a Zionist zeal in Betty and many others, and when Israel was formed in1948, Sassoon eagerly joined the Palmach – the elite fighting force of the Haganah paramilitary – to help defend the fledgling state. He wanted to – and did – see action: “I wasn’t going over there to sit in an office . . . I thought if we don’t fight for a piece of land and make it work, then the whole Holocaust thing was a terrible waste. But this way at least we got a country out of it.”
Sassoon might have stayed in Israel but for a telegram from Betty, who had remarried, saying his stepfather had suffered a heart attack, and they needed him to earn money. Hairdressing was all he knew, and reluctantly he returned to the profession that he’d always felt ambivalent towards. “I loved the fact that there was lots of pretty girls coming in and out; I didn’t love hair. When I came back, though, I decided to give it my all.” Israel had changed him, he says. “The sense of what we’d done gave me an enormous confidence, and I really felt as if I belonged.
As the interview comes to an end, we return briefly to Israel and whether the country today is the one he envisaged in 1948. Sassoon says they had no illusions at the time that “many in the Arab world would be anti-Israel and would like to push you into the sea . . . Now we have a million and a quarter Arabs living in Israel, with all democratic rights. That’s really good.” On the other hand, Fatah’s recent deal with Hamas was “very unforgiving” and has “put peace back”, he believes.
Reflecting on himself as a Jew, he says, “in the final analysis, because of all the things I have been through, I feel very humble, in a way, that we produced so many incredible people, and there’s only 13 million of us in the world, and we still keep producing.
“Essentially, I just have a certain pride in the tribe.”