Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tattoo Tuesday: Am Yisrael Chai

Last January, my friend Galit Breen published an article on Jews and Tattoos. I was lucky enough to be a part of it. Today, I've added more ink to my body. Like everything I do, my ink has everything to do with my Jewishness...

I am a tattooed Jew. Most of my tattoos define my Judaism.  I reject the prohibition against tattoos. I am not committing idolatry nor am I debasing my body by making it more beautiful. I am a Reform Jew. I am the mother of two children whose father is not a Jew. I am a Queer Jew. I am a Jew who loves, honors, respects, intellectualizes and questions my people and my religion every second of every day. My Jewishness is at the core of my very being, and my tattoos reflect my identity.  The tattoo on my leg is Eve, naked in front of a tree, holding an apple with a Torah scroll wrapped around her body. The words- Etz Chaim- tree of life are above her head. Frankly, it’s a lot of information to unpack.  For me, Eve is the most important character in the entire Torah. She represents what it means to be human at our very core- and by eating from the fruit of the tree of knowledge, she gave us our own humanity. While we’d love to see the world wrapped in goodness- it simply is not all good. The world is a complicated place. We are complicated creatures.  We were never meant to stay in that metaphorical garden of perfection.  The Torah scroll is wrapped around Eve’s body because it is a book filled with complicated creatures: imperfect heroes, confusing villains, authentic parents, arrogant children, selfless friends, loving leaders, lecherous lovers, upright kings, and wavering prophets.  We are all these things. God is all these things.  My tattoo reminds me of the beauty of this humanity every day. And when people see it, I get to talk about my Judaism.  I get to tell the world that I am a Jew, which leads to the tattoo on my right wrist- it is the Hebrew words: Hineni—here I am. 

Hineni is mentioned in the Torah many times- the first in the Akedah when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. It’s another one of those complicated stories that speaks to the very core of our humanity. In it, God calls out to Abraham and Abraham answers, “Hineni!” Here I am. It is the start of a test, a downward spiral, the breaking up of a family, a lesson in morality, a lesson in parenting, a physical walk up a hill that leads to the most horrific moments in  Isaac’s life.  And yet, Isaac does not die—He lives. Here I am: three words that remind us that there is life underneath it all. That despite pain- we live.


Today, I found myself again, sitting in a chair with a needle coloring my arm. I sat in that chair from a place of great privilege: the privilege of being an American Jew in the comfort of my small East Coast city with a strong Jewish community and, frankly, rather apathetic citizens. I am safe. I am not questioned. I am not harassed. From a great distance, I watch from friends and family run to bomb shelters to protect themselves from Hamas' twisted revenge fantasy. I pour over articles explaining over and over that Israel has every right to defend itself. I am stunned by the acts of Antisemitism spreading like black plague through Europe. I am saddened by the far left's inability to see the truth.  But, most of all, I am helpless. 
When people ask where my name comes from, I don’t tell them it’s Hebrew or even Jewish, it’s Israeli. My name is a challenge. Inside of shying away, it announces who I am—even more, who my people are. But, I don’t walk around with a name tag. As Eitan Chitayat, so brilliantly wrote in his article in the Times of Israel “Down with the Yellow Star,” while we no longer walk around with Yellow Jewish Stars, there is something empowering about taking their power back:

“I want to wear a yellow star above my left breast where each and every Holocaust victim was forced to don one. I want to walk around with a yellow star on every solitary piece of clothing I own. On my American Apparel V-neck, my Nike sweatshirt, Ralph Lauren sweater, my Champion hoodie, my Diesel button-down, H&M jacket, Adidas jersey and Gap blazer. I’ll wear it at the beach on my bare chest if I have to. 
I want to walk down the streets of Paris and confront people like this. Outside the White house near these friendly haters confronting an ex-marine. In Brussels, the Netherlands, the mosques of Berlin, in streets of Canada – and England especially – to meet this idiot. I’d like to go to campuses in the States, like this one at the University of California, San Diego to talk to this girl here – I’ll be wearing my yellow star."


 My name is my yellow star. My tattoos are my yellow star. Before I even read the article, I too wanted something that anyone that saw my arm immediately knew- SHE IS A JEW.  I wanted a tattoo that forced strangers to ask- what does your tattoo say? So, I searched for an image that spoke to me. I searched for something that screamed out my Jewishness and my peoplehood and my love of a far away land  whose right to exist is questioned whether it’s sitting quietly or defending its citizens.  While looking for images, I came across graffiti in Israel: a large Jewish star with the words, Am Yisrael Chai underneath. The People of Israel Live. The star is blue. The words are blue and, because it is graffiti, the paint drips. It is the graffiti of a modern city. It is the graffiti of pride. It is graffiti of defiance.  And, now, it is graffiti down my arm that screams to the whole world: I am a Jew. I am alive. I am proud. 
So, today, I sat in that chair as blue ink sliced through my arm and from the pain and noise of the needle came a Star of David and the words, Am Yisrael Chai. I love my Judaism. I love our stories, our mythology, our truths, and our sense of justice.  I love our people. And my love is written all over my body for the whole world to see.