An Israeli flag waves in Madison

An Israeli flag waves in Madison

Non-Jewish barber with Jewish backstory shows support for the Jewish state

Dave Drovandi, with the cross, and Jeff Stark, in the helmet, stand together outside Modern Men’s Barber Shop in Madison.
Dave Drovandi, with the cross, and Jeff Stark, in the helmet, stand together outside Modern Men’s Barber Shop in Madison.

Jeffrey Stark, who grew up in Bellmore, Long Island, has lived in Florham Park since 2016. He enjoys riding his bicycle to his office in Madison, where he runs Pressure Sensors. “It’s a four-mile ride each way to and from work,” he said. “I ride on Main Street through downtown Madison every day, passing the same apartment buildings, local residences, and business establishments.”

Because he knows that few Jews live in Madison, Mr. Stark was taken aback when he noticed an Israeli flag waving in front of Modern Men’s Barber Shop on Waverly Place. It was a few months after October 7. “The shop is on a street perpendicular to Main Street, but the flag was clearly visible,” he said. “I was intrigued.”

Mr. Stark, who is a congregant at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, had flown to Israel just days after the brutal Hamas attack. “I traveled throughout the country, doing volunteer work with a few different organizations in Israel, but did most of my personal mission work in Rishon LeZion,” he said. “For seven days, I worked on farms picking vegetables, helped out at fulfillment centers for soldiers, delivered packages to IDF bases, and provided critical supplies to the West Bank.

“At that time, just after the attack, there weren’t any organized missions.”

Mr. Stark was pleasantly surprised when he saw the Israeli flag flying at a local business. “Just when I was feeling as though the Jewish people in Israel had been abandoned, my spirits were lifted,” he said. “It was an awesome display of solidarity.”

Jeffrey Stark was eager to meet Dave Drovandi of Summit, the owner of the establishment. “Without even walking into his barber shop, I felt I had every reason to become his patron; he got my business right then and there,” he said. Mr. Stark commends Mr. Drovandi, who was raised as a Jew but converted to Christianity. “Dave does not publicly identify as a Jew,” Mr. Stark said. “He wears an enormous crucifix on his neck and has a large flag of Argentina hanging at his cutting station.”

“Once Dave and I got talking, I shared my Zionist sentiments,” he continued. “He understood how deeply unhinged our country had become since the attacks, with antisemitism rising rapidly in the United States.” Mr. Stark said that while so many of his Jewish friends and colleagues have put time, effort, energy, and money into a host of meaningful causes to support Israel, “it felt commendable that a non-Jewish man was courageous enough to express his solidarity with Israel. It said something about his moral character.”

Mr. Stark acknowledges the risk Mr. Drovandi is taking by publicly displaying his support of Israel. “While seeing the flag waving is a beautiful sight to see, I worry he could be a victim of arson, of a physical confrontation, a hate crime, or a loss in his business.

“There is a deafening quiet,” he said. “Individuals, organizations, and businesses are falling victim to propaganda and falsehoods about Jews in Israel and Zionism. The flag flying in front of the barber shop is a peaceful yet powerful message of defiance against the anti-American and antisemitic incidents that have been popping up throughout the country.”

Mr. Stark fears that the volume of lies that are being perpetrated on social media and the exaggerated quotes of the death toll in Gaza by Hamas terrorists are becoming so loud, widespread, and repeatable that they’re being perceived as true.

“When I went for my first haircut at Modern Men’s Barber Shop, I saw the Argentinian flag on the wall and discovered that Dave and I shared another bond,” Mr. Stark said. “We are both big fans of Javier Milei, the new president of Argentina, who’s a huge supporter of Israel. Most people don’t know him, but soon after becoming president, Milei visited Israel, declaring Hamas ‘21st-century Nazis’ while visiting a Gaza border kibbutz.”

Mr. Stark said that President Milei recently moved the Argentinian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Although he’s Christian, he is a staunch advocate for Israel.”

Mr. Drovandi is the sole proprietor of Modern Men’s Barber Shop. “It was Madison Mane for 30 years,” he said. It was a hair salon for women. “When it went out of business 10 years ago, I took over the location and turned it into a barber shop.

Esther de Vicente’s grave in Argentina.

“The pandemic affected business. I went from four employees to one,” he said. “Now I run everything.”

The shop serves a large Jewish clientele, who come from Millburn, Livingston, South Orange, and Short Hills. “When Rabbi Menachem ‘Mendy’ Lubin from Chabad of SE Morris County in Florham Park made an appointment for a haircut, I was prepared,” Mr. Drovandi said. “He normally has his hair cut at home by his wife, Chaya, but when he saw the flag, he called me. I studied how to cut a chasidic man’s hair.”

Dave Drovandi is not a stranger to Judaism. His parents were born in Argentina. “My father, Frank Drovandi, was raised by Roman Catholic parents,” he said. “My grandfather was a meat herder, a South American ‘gaucho’ cowboy. My mother, Alicia, had lost her own mother, Esther de Vicente, to cancer when she was just 3 years old. Her father was serving in the Argentinian Air Force and her grandmother raised her without a religious foundation, despite the fact that her family name was Sheinberg.

“In 1970, my parents met and fell in love. My father was eager to take my mother to the United States, where he had family, but her grandfather wouldn’t allow it unless they were married. Three months later, they married, came to the United States, and settled in Inwood, on Long Island.

“When my father discovered my mother’s Jewish roots, he insisted on converting to Judaism. He was circumcised at the age of 21, and my brother Manny and I were raised as Jews. We both had bar mitzvahs.”

Frank, a hair stylist in North Woodmere, and his wife, Alicia, remained on Long Island until settling in Delray Beach, Florida, 25 years ago.

Mr. Drovandi moved from Long Island to New Jersey when he was 21. He met his first wife, who was Catholic, in 1993. “We were married by a priest and a rabbi, and had two sons, Dante and Nicholas.” They divorced in 2012. “The stress of the divorce led to a lot of self-medicating,” he said. “I joined a 12-step program that encouraged seeking spirituality and soon began attending services at the Renaissance Church in Springfield Township, New Jersey, a non-denominational church where I met my second wife, Sue.”

Now a practicing Christian, Mr. Drovandi is close with the church’s pastor, Christian Andrews, who understands the challenges he’s faced. “People from a variety of ethnicities, faiths, and economic backgrounds are welcomed,” he said. “We read passages from the Torah and the Bible, and Jewish speakers are often invited to share about their religious backgrounds, customs, and experiences.”

Until recently, his father, Frank, styled hair in Florida for the snowbirds and retirees from his Long Island clientele. “He doesn’t work on Saturdays,” he said. “My wife and I share the Jewish holidays with them in Florida and bring down food from Rye Deli and Catering, a kosher deli in Springfield.

“I ordered the Israeli flag on October 8 out of respect for my parents, my upbringing, my Jewish roots, my clients, and the holy land of Israel,” said Mr. Drovandi. “The Hamas butchers are rapists and baby killers,” he said. “I will fly the flag until the hostages are released and the war is over.” Mr. Drovandi’s clients have been fully supportive. “People came in off the street — Jews from both the United States and Israel — thanking me for expressing unity with Israel,” he said. “While some believe I have to be very brave to display the flag, I believe in what I am doing.”

Mr. Drovandi’s business has increased since he put out the flag. He does his best to ignore any nonsense. “I’ve gotten two negative Google reviews from people who never walked into my shop,” he said. “How can someone submit a review to Google, provide a political opinion, and give me one star, when a service wasn’t even provided?”

He is thrilled to have struck up a friendship with Jeffrey Stark — a man on a bicycle heading to work on Main Street in Madison, who may not have taken a second look in the direction of Modern Men’s Barber Shop had an Israeli flag not been waving proudly, beckoning him to change course.

read more: