Guest Post: Jew Tattoos and Piercings, Too

Note: While I remain in the Land of Falafel, this is a guest post from my fabulous friend Average Jane, or @awapy on Twitter, who’s bailed me out before.

jewtattooVia Zeeveez on Flickr

I started working at my campus’ Hillel at 8 – piercing number 8.

I was a good, smart kid, active in Hillel, with a stellar resume, they couldn’t really say “no.” I was working for the regional director (a rabbi) and his Frummie assistant doing fundraising. There were times I would come strolling into work in my oversized, if not slightly tattered, t-shirt and shorts, interrupting her davening with a, “Gooooood morn….! Oh shoot. Sorry!”

But we got along splendidly. She gave me lessons for life. I taught her about alternative culture. She cooked for me for the holidays. I ate the food she cooked for me. About a year after I started, she said to me, “Ya know, I was scared of you when you started working here.” I was shocked! I was, and,ahem, am, one of the nicest people in the world. “At least you’re not tattooed,” she’d say in conclusion.

But what if I were?

There is a raging debate in the Jewish subculture about Jews and Tattoos. Is it against Jewish law? Can you be buried in a Jewish cemetery?  When I was getting my piercings, I thought a lot about the religious implications of body modification. I was at the piercing studio one day talking about that very subject with my favorite piercer (he did piercings 9-12).

“I know I’m not supposed to get pierced – but what’s the difference between getting my earlobes pierced and getting my tongue pierced? And if God wanted you to be buried the way you were born, shouldn’t you ask for your foreskin back?” Well, back then the logic made sense.

hamsa tattoovia Jew Tattoos

What I find most interesting is that of the Jews I know who are tattooed, most have Jewish tattoos. Perhaps it’s a way to reclaim the tattooing that was inflicted on Jews during the Holocaust. Perhaps it’s a way for Jewish youth to defy their parents in a way that their parents can’t be too upset about: “Look mom – I got a tattoo. But before you get mad, it’s grandpa’s name in Hebrew!” Or maybe it’s the latest way for Jew who feel disenfranchised by organized religion to pronounce their heritage proudly and publicly every day.

I mean, there’s also the part about it just looking awesome. Take a second and search for “Jewish Tattoos” in your search engine of choice. You’ll find beautiful photos. You’ll find Tattoo Jew the movie, and the Jews with Tattoos calendar for charity. Before you judge, look at them objectively. As art. Then think of them as the new Judaica. At least that what I do.

My issue with Jews being against tattoos is the same issue I have with the  Christian Right being against gay marriage: You don’t get to pick and choose which commandments are the most wrong not to follow. I suppose you can, but why? To make yourself feel better about the ones you choose not to follow? “Sure, I eat bacon and work on Shabbat – but that whole tattooing thing is the WORST! As long as I don’t do that, then I’m good, right?”

I took all my piercings out years ago, but not because I wanted to. I had surgery and by the time the drugs wore off enough to safely put them back in my face, the holes had closed. I miss them. If I ever got a job that would allow me to get them all pierced again, I would. Well, most of them. Don’t ask.

And I do want a tattoo. I want one because I think they are beautiful. And yes, I want them to be Jewish. I would love to get inked by Israeli tattoo artist Ami James of Miami Ink fame, but that’s just because I don’t want anyone to screw up the spelling.


Friday Links 8.28.09

I am in Israel! But the links are still here.  And they are sad. Hey, links, you should have booked your ticket on El Al, too.

1.  Russian Jews ponder the age-old question: America or Israel. Unfortunately a question too close to my heart.  (Thanks, Sarah!)
2.  Hillary Clinton’s relevant again.  Or something.
3.  Locks of love in Russia (real locks, not hair.)
4.  Jewish classics set to Latin beats.  This is so cool.
5.  Orchids: the whores of the flower world.
6.  Milena is right, as usual.
7. Want to learn Arabic?  All roads point to Damashq. (Damascus)
8. What your tattoo location says about you (thanks, Negev Rock City!)
9.  As he was greeting them, he was eating shwarma and licking his lips.
10.  Progress!


Guest Post: Russian Protocol for Safe Travel

Note: If you are reading this post, then we are in Israel and I am definitely not posting anytime soon because I am too busy eating falafel/singlehandedly fighting Hamas.    Today’s guest post is from Marinka, who is also a Russian Jew, and therefore also inherently awesome.  Except, she also has kids AND a cat named Nicki, all of which she deals with deftly and with a sharp wit, so she might just be more awesome than me.  Maybe.

The first time my American- born husband left our marital abode for a business trip, I was certain that he was going to detour into town to get an emergency annulment.  Because he thought that he could just walk out the door, with a goodbye kiss to me and an “I’ll email when I land,” completely and totally disregarding the Russian Protocol for Safe Travel.  I mean, I can’t guarantee the safety of the flight if he refuses to follow it.

“You didn’t sit on your suitcase,” I tried.
“What’s that now?” he paused at the door.
“Your suitcase, you just picked it up. You have to sit on it,” I knew that I sounded mildly insane, but I’m sure the Wright Brothers got a few odd looks in their time, too.
“On my suitcase?” He asked.  Did I just not clearly say that he has to sit on his suitcase?  Was my new groom not particularly bright?
“It’s good luck,” I explained.  I was hoping that this would suffice and that I wouldn’t have to get pen and paper for the visuals.
“OK,” he said, slowly.  Like he was a hostage negotiator or something. “I will sit on the suitcase.”
He sat on his suitcase and we looked at each other.
“Now you’re supposed to say “ne pucha, ni pera,” I alerted him.
“NE PUHA, NI PERA,” I used the time-tested technique of saying the foreign words louder to make the other person understand.
“Pe tuca, caravan,” he said. Or something that made a complete mockery of the Russian Protocol for Safe Travel.
“NE PUHA NI PERA, NE PUHA NI PERA, GOD!  I’m not asking you to split the atom here!”
“What does it mean?” suddenly my husband became an anthropologist.
“It means ” ‘Neither fuzz, nor feathers’.  Why do you ask?”
“Because I don’t understand what the Russian means, although your translation doesn’t exactly clear it up for me.”
“Oh, that,” I chuckled at his innocence.  “Yes, you’re supposed to say that to hunters when they go to hunt.  Sort of a may you not hunt any animal or bird that has fuzz or feathers.”
“Doesn’t that means that you are wishing them an unsuccessful hunt?” He asked.  It was starting to seem to me that our entire courtship was just a pretense until he got that ring on my finger and now he could start the interrogation about all things Russian.
“Not really,” I explained.  “Because you’re sort of saying this sarcastically.  Like, you’re really wishing them the opposite.  Like lots of animals with fuzz and feathers.”
He didn’t seem reassured.
“And what does the hunt for these mythological creatures have to do with my taking a flight this afternoon?”
“It’s just a short way of saying “have a good flight!” ”
“It doesn’t seem like a short way.”
“Well, not with all the explanations, no.  Usually we just say it and go on our way.  The tutorial is extra.”
“Got it.”
“Ne puha, ni pera.” I reminded him.
“Ne puhu, nu pura,” he said.  Close enough.
“K chertu,” I said.
“That wasn’t a sneeze, right?”
“What did you say?”
” ‘Go to hell’,” I motioned him to get up.
“That’s nice.”
“That’s what you’re supposed to say.  You’re supposed to send to hell that wish that your hunt is unsuccessful.”
“Got it.  Are we done now?”
“I just remembered that the person staying behind should say “ne puha, ni pera” and the person leaving should say “k chertu”,” I confessed.  “So sit back down on the suitcase, and I’ll say “ne puha, ni pera” and you’ll say ‘k chertu’.”
“Make it “go to hell;” he said, “And you’ve got yourself a deal.”


Leavin’ on a Jet Plane…

My heart is in the East, and I am at the ends of the West;
How can I taste what I eat and how could it be pleasing to me?
How shall I render my vows and my bonds, while yet

Zion lies beneath the fetter of Edom, and I am in the chains of Arabia?
It would be easy for me to leave all the bounty of Spain —
As it is precious for me to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.

-Yehuda HaLevi


But don’t worry.  I have plenty of guest posts lined up by talented writers whom I have had the prividlege come to know online.  So check back here often.  I’ll be back.  Eventaully.