Chagit’s family was not observant, but as a young child she spent a lot of time in the home of her religious neighbors. She loved their home, which was filled with children, joie de vivre and the special atmosphere of Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. At a young age, she announced that she was going to have a home just like theirs when she grew up, with a big Shabbat table and many children. Chagit grew up and achieved her dream. Today she is the mother of seven children, and has hosted thousands at her Shabbat table.

Chagit owns a wig-making business, and she founded and runs an organization that provides free wigs to women who have lost their hair due to illness. Chagit’s generosity is inseparable from the way she does business.

The Biton family
The Biton family

An Ordinary, Traditional Family

“I was born in Ashdod, the third of four children, to a traditional Moroccan family. My mother lit candles for Shabbat, and my father made kiddush with the television on in the background. We kept a minimal standard of kosher and observed the holidays symbolically, but not religiously. From a young age, I loved to visit my religious neighbors and join them when they went to synagogue. These neighbors had a large family, and the atmosphere in their home was joyous. On Shabbat, all the children and grandchildren came to visit, and I loved the bustle and fun. Sometimes they would catch me wearing their mother’s hair covering. I would put it on and look in the mirror, loving the reflection I saw. I announced that one day, I would cover my hair. Even back then, I knew that when I grew up I wanted a home and a family like that.”

Then Chagit’s parents divorced. Her mother remarried and moved into her new husband’s house, while her father raised and educated the children. Chagit graduated high school and was granted an exemption from the army because she had asthma. After travelling abroad, Chagit returned to Ashdod and began working in a discotheque, as well as in a wedding hall supervising the waiters. She occasionally attended lectures on Torah subjects, and she had religious friends in the neighborhood. She knew she wanted to raise her level of Jewish observance one day, but she didn’t take any steps in that direction.

Miracle in a Disco

One night, Chagit was working in the wedding hall during a religious wedding. The videographer was a young man who had become religious abroad.

“He wore a beard and a skullcap, while I was wearing pants, a tank top and long hair, but apparently he felt that deep down I wanted to change, and that it was just a matter of time. We became a couple. Because of our relationship, I stopped working on Shabbat and became a little closer to authentic Judaism.

“One Friday, a few months after we met, we had a huge argument. That Saturday night, he surprised me by showing up at my father’s house. He wanted to talk to me, and asked that I skip my shift at the disco. I argued with him, but in the end, he convinced me, and I found a replacement. We sat and spoke until late that night, and then I went to sleep. When I woke up at 6 a.m., I saw that there were many messages on my phone. I called my friend who had left all the messages, and he was hysterical. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked. I told him that everything was fine. ‘Were you at work last night?’ he asked. I told him no, and then he told me that the night before, a man had walked into the disco, shot in all directions, and killed my boss.

“When we hung up, I knew with clarity that G‑d was looking out for me. I felt it so deeply that, that very day, I decided to change my way of life. I’d known for a long time that I had to make the change. I called my boyfriend, and we decided that we would both go to Tzfat, where he would attend a Chabad yeshiva, and I would go to Machon Alte, a school for girls who want to learn to lead a religious life.”

The Shabbat table
The Shabbat table

The Whole Family

The staff at Machon Alte accepted Chagit with open arms and lots of love, and they made her feel connected from day one.

“I became religious very quickly. It wasn’t at all hard. I wanted the change with all my heart. I was just waiting for them to tell me what I had to do and how to do it. I was very happy to throw away my immodest clothes and to keep Shabbat.

“One Shabbat, my sister came to visit me in Machon Alte. She connected to the place immediately and decided that she also wanted to become religious. When I went home, I made the kitchen kosher and bought new dishes. Then my brothers decided to become religious. My father wasn’t interested, but in deference to us, he brought home only kosher food. Eventually, we influenced our mother, and she also became religious and connected to Chabad.”

Chagit and her boyfriend ended up going separate ways. Chagit still feels gratitude towards him, whom she feels was sent to help her become religious, and to influence almost her entire family to become religious too.

Three Dates and a Proposal

“After a year and a half in Machon Alte, I returned to Ashdod and went to a friend’s henna (pre-wedding) party. The groom’s mother blessed me to soon begin to build my own home. I said, ‘Amen’ and told her I wanted to marry a Chabad chassid. She was shocked and said, ‘I have a son, Eli, who’s a Chabadnik, in America! He’s coming for the wedding. You two have to meet each other!’ The next day, a good friend approached me to say, ‘You have to meet my cousin Eli from America. He’s coming in for a wedding, and you two would really like each other.’ After hearing the same suggestion from two people, I felt there had to be something to it. Eli and I spoke a bit at the wedding. He told me that he was working in New York and that he could only stay in Israel for three days. We met the next day, and the next, and then it was time for him to leave. We’d only met each other three times, but I knew he was destined to be my husband. I didn’t know what to do. Then he said to me, ‘I don’t know what to tell you. I have to go. Should we get married?’”

Eli and Chagit
Eli and Chagit

Chagit immediately said yes. Eli had to return to his real estate business in America, so Chagit organized the entire wedding herself. The wedding took place on the 18th of Elul. Rabbi Rosenfeld, director of Machon Alte, was the officiating rabbi. After the wedding, Chagit found herself standing in front of a mirror tying a head-scarf over her hair, just as she’d announced she would when she was 10 years old.

To New York and Back

Chagit didn’t forget the second part of her promise to herself either. The couple moved to Crown Heights and had seven children. The Biton home was a center of hospitality. Everyone who took a trip to New York, or who came to spend the holidays in the Rebbe’s synagogue, knew they had a place to eat and sleep in the Biton’s home. Eli’s real estate business flourished, and the family shared their abundance with others. After a couple of years, they rented an apartment just for guests. They hosted tens, and sometimes hundreds, of guests at their Shabbat table, everyone enjoying the hearty meals and heartfelt joy. Everyone was received warmly, and some guests returned in the following years sporting skullcaps, or wigs and modest clothing.

For the 13 years that they lived in America, Chagit worked with wigs. Her mother was a hairdresser, and from a young age Chagit had combed wigs in the hair salon. Once she turned 13, she began to wash and dye women’s hair when her mother needed help.

Then the real estate market in America collapsed, taking Eli’s business down with it. The Bitons had to lower their standard of living, but they continued hosting guests, even though it was very difficult. They also found it difficult to disappoint fundraisers who were used to receiving large checks from them.

“When I read what the Rebbe wrote about moving to Israel, I showed it to my husband, who had been living in America for 25 years. It wasn’t easy, but we decided to move. I went first, with the children, while Eli stayed behind to close the business.

“It was very hard in the beginning. I had to start from scratch. We lived with my in-laws for a month, until our shipping container arrived. I rented an apartment and dealt with the children alone. In America, I had everything and was well-known, and now I was starting all over again. What strengthened me at that difficult time was my faith and my strong desire to succeed. In America, I didn’t even know how to pay bills or shop. Eli had taken care of all that. My only jobs had been to look after the children, to keep the unending hospitality going, and to do a little work with wigs, for fun.

“I found out that I was able to handle everything. I organized the house, enrolled the children in school, and registered at an employment agency, seeking work as a caretaker for children with special needs. I told the woman in charge that I hadn’t been trained in special education, but that I loved children. She said, ‘Because of your chutzpah, I’ll take you.’ So I worked as a caretaker while building my wig business on the side.”

Seven months later, Eli returned to Israel. He was astounded at the long and difficult road Chagit had travelled without him. By that time, Chagit was selling wigs of various brands, and through word-of-mouth, she had a growing customer base. Eli suggested that she start making wigs herself, and with his support, she successfully launched her own brand.

The sign over Chagit’s wig salon
The sign over Chagit’s wig salon

A Wig: The Ultimate in Modesty

Some religious people don’t consider a wig the most modest head-covering for married women. However, Chagit follows the Rebbe’s opinion that a wig is the best way for a woman to cover her hair.

“Recently, the mother of a bride came to me. The mother covers her hair very modestly with a kerchief, with not a hair showing. But her daughter wants to wear a wig. The mother was crying, sure that her daughter was doing the wrong thing. We sat together, and I comforted her. I showed her what the Rebbe wrote on the subject, and I stressed that even though she’s careful about covering all her hair with a kerchief, she has to know that many women have a hard time with it. I explained to her that having a pretty, respectable-looking wig will ensure that her daughter will keep the mitzvah of covering her hair in the best way.

“Other times, women who are considering taking on the mitzvah of covering their hair come to me, and when they see the selection of wigs that are available, they’re happy to take on this mitzvah.”

Lilach and the Free Wigs

About a year ago, Chagit received a call about Eli’s relative, Lilach. Lilach was a 29-year-old woman who was nine months pregnant with her second child, and she was ill. Chemotherapy was causing her hair to fall out. Chagit packed a suitcase full of wigs and went to visit her. She found a wig that suited Lilach beautifully, and tried her best to boost Lilach’s spirits while she was there. Sadly, Lilach died several months later.

Two days later, Chagit got a phone call about a young girl on the same ward who had no money for a wig and refused to leave her room because she was embarrassed of her baldness. Chagit sent her a wig, thinking, There must be many more women who are ill and lack the means to buy a wig. She decided to open a free-loan organization named after Lilach: “Lilach’s Gemach.”

The newspaper article about Lilach’s Gemach
The newspaper article about Lilach’s Gemach

Lilach’s family was extremely excited. Lilach’s sister-in-law, who worked for a newspaper in Kiryat Gat, wrote an article about the wonderful organization, asking women to donate wigs they didn’t wear to the Lilach Gemach. Thanks to that article and to Facebook posts, Chagit has received tens of wigs from all over the country.

When a wig is donated, Chagit washes, styles and upgrades it. Word of “Lilach’s Gemach” has spread among women who are ill. When they come to Chagit, they are treated like queens, and when they look into the mirror and see themselves in the wigs, they are thrilled. If Lilach’s Gemach doesn’t have a wig that suits them, Chagit will sell them a wig from her collection for half-price.

“I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special. If the Rebbe, who was so busy, cared about every single Jew, wherever he was in the world, and did what he could to help each one, how can I turn away without helping someone who’s right in front of me? After everything I experienced in life, I know that money comes from G‑d alone, and that we have to use all the means at our disposal to help other Jews and to spread light and loving-kindness in the world,” Chagit says.