To most people, the beginning of the school year in New York means bright September days, shiny new lunch boxes and meeting friends.
But to Dalya Harel it signifies one thing above all else — the start of head lice-hunting season.
Mrs Harel, 48, is founder of LiceBustersNYC, one of a dozen or more lice-removal businesses in the New York area run by Orthodox women.
Her competitors include Adele Horowitz’s Licenders, Susan Sherman’s LiceBGoners and Abigail “The Lice Lady” Rosenfeld.
“There’s room for everybody to work,” says Mrs Harel, speaking from a yeshivah where she was conducting a pre-term lice check. “The money comes from above.”
Exactly why lice-killing is such a popular career in the Orthodox community is unclear. Some say Orthodox women are well-suited to the task because they are used to picking bugs out of vegetables in observance of kashrut.
L’via “The Lice Queen” Weisinger, of Teaneck, New Jersey, disagrees. She says lice are endemic in Israel, and because Orthodox families frequently travel there, mothers have become used to dealing with them.
“We all have different methods but most of them are based on grease-based suffocation and then combing them out,” says Mrs Weisinger. “If you are not using grease you won’t get rid of it.”
September is a particularly busy month for the lice ladies as they “cure” children who have picked up bugs at summer camp or on holiday. They also conduct pre-term sweeps through private schools, many of which demand a note to say pupils are not infected before admitting them on the first day.
Despite such precautions, the women’s living rooms will soon be inundated with itchy-headed children and their parents, who pay between $100 and $200 per head to have the tiny insects and their eggs — known as nits — removed.
Some come from as far afield as Israel and Europe.
Mother-of-three, Aude Lauriot Prevost, visited LiceBustersNYC during a recent trip to New York from England.
“My kids were riddled with it,” she said from her home in London. “I’ve thought about starting up a business of my own here. People would pay a fortune.”