This Sunday night, Jewish people the world over will usher in the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah. Holiday tables will be filled with braided round bread (challot) to symbolize the eternal cycle of life, along with apples and honey for a sweet new year.
Adults and children alike are often decked out in brand new clothes – and for traditional Jewish women who cover their heads while in public or just in synagogue, this means buying a new head covering to accessorize their new holiday outfits.
On Monday night, a stream of women shoppers hoping to find that perfect chapeau were welcomed into the elegant home of Gene and Fran Wittenberg on Whetten Avenue in West Hartford. Several tables adorned with a variety of hats were spread out in three different rooms, with large mirrors in each of the rooms for viewing.
Since the Royal Wedding last year, fascinators and cocktail hats have been all the rage, said Steve Brody, owner of The Swan Hat Group in Long Island, who has been bringing boxes and boxes of couture hats to West Hartford for the semi-annual sale for several years now.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged and older women was a bit perplexed as to how to affix the satin and velvet fascinators, but several were overheard saying their young married daughters would love such a hat.
The stylish hats turned out not to be such a big seller for this group, most of whom preferred more traditional soft wool hats in black, navy and winter white. (On Yom Kippur, the culmination of the Days of Awe after Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to dress in white, symbolizing personal purity.)
A few adventurous souls went for the felt buckets, in rich jewel tones such as deep purple and burgundy, and winter white velvet ribbon crushers. Prices ranged from $10 to $250, with the average hat sold going for $40-$50, said Brody.
It was important to many that the hat be “crushable” for travel. Helen Loew of West Hartford picked out a cute black and white crushable, saying it would hold up well when she travels to spend holidays with family in Baltimore.
Dressy hats with feathered felts and metallic ribbons were well-received, along with a velvet cloche in tan champagne and black. Feathers and rhinestones lent pizzazz and netting and covered sequins also decorated the hats. But several women said they often alter the hats – snipping long feathers or removing too much bling.
The past few years, these shoppers have noticed some changes in styles. Sherry Lohr of West Hartford said this year’s hats have brims which turn down instead of up, and she noticed hats at the sale were more asymmetrical than in previous years.
Many women, like Loren Gelber of Avon, remarked that they prefer hats which hang low on their heads.
Brody comes to West Hartford just before Rosh Hashanah and again in the spring, before Passover. Each time, a portion of the proceeds has been donated to a local Orthodox Jewish school – in recent years, the funds have gone to the Hebrew High School of New England which attracts students from throughout the area.
“I’ve been coming here for years. It’s fun,” said Lea Selig, a member of Beth El Temple in West Hartford, who was the proud owner of three new hats after less than an hour of shopping.
Shopping for that perfect hat is not a solitary affair. The women often checked with one another for reassurance their hat selection was a good one.
“I can’t wear a hat like that,” one woman said to her companion. But Cheryl Rosenbaum of West Hartford told her, “Of course you can! As my daughter Shira says, you just have to have hattitude!”
Rosh Hashanah this year begins at sunset on Sunday, Sept. 16 and continues through nightfall on Tuesday, Sept. 18. Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) begins at sunset on Sept. 25 and concludes at nightfall on Sept. 26.