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Yad Vashem

Just to get this out of the way, the second question people often ask me is if I'm Jewish. I am not. The first question they ask is what the tattoo on the underside of my right forearm says. If I'm in a smartass mood, I tell them exactly what it says: "V'natati lahem yad vashem." They usually roll their eyes and say, "Right, what does it mean?" I will give them a hand and a name.

It's a phrase from Isaiah 56:5. To explain why I had it inked on me, I'd better show it in context.

For this is what the Lord says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant –
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial (lit. hand) and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name
that will never be cut off. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord To serve him, To love the name of the Lord, And to worship him, All who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it
And who hold fast to my covenant –
These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer."

Now, this is a bit of loose interpretation, since I am neither a eunuch nor a foreigner. However, both these groups were historically excluded from Israel's worship of God. Here is a prophecy that they will now be included and welcomed, and in the early church, they were. I can relate to this, since it often seems like one of the major themes in my life is not fitting in. Where before I always felt like I don't belong, now I know that I am God's child.

There are two parts to this promise – first, a hand (usually translated memorial) and second, a name. To me, "hand" gives me a mental image of a person in a ditch reaching for someone to help them out. I often feel like I'm in rut and can't get out of it. No, usually God doesn't pluck me out of it. He gives me something to hold on to while I'm there, though. That is what "hand" means to me, and though it's usually translated differently, it does fall within the range of meanings the word has in Hebrew. As for the name, in Israelite culture it was much more important than it is to us now. It's your identity, the thing you pass on to your children, your entire history.

This is my first tattoo, and I'd been thinking about it for a few years. This idea in particular came from one of my Hebrew classes, when my professor mentioned his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. I looked up the reference and found that I'd come back to it regularly. I kept this in my head for later, trying to decide where I'd get it inked. The main criterion was that I be able to read it myself – right side up, and not in a mirror. I also wanted it to be right side up for other people looking at it as well. I still can't think of another place that fits the criteria, besides my forearm.

Once I decided for sure, I booked an appointment with Fabien at Malefic Tattoos in Mississauga. The day of the appointment, I found out I'd be late and called to let them know. When I came in (45 minutes late) he was busy with some other things, but soon got to mine. He photocopied a Hebrew alphabet out of a book, laid some tracing paper over it, and I pointed out the letters – "This one... now this one... this one... same one again... this one... space..." and so on. Once that was done, adjustments made, and I was happy, he copied it again onto some transfer paper so we could put it on my arm.

"Are you really sure you want to join the visibly tattooed club?" he asked. I was sure. He cleaned my arm, on went the stencil, I checked that it was okay, and he set his materials up. I decided to go for brown, mixed with a bit of caramel, and faded a little. At first he did just a small line to let me know what it feels like, and then set about outlining in earnest. That took about 15 minutes, and same for the filling in. I didn't find it terribly painful, just stingy, and I actually watched almost all of it fairly closely. It's better if you don't try to shut the feeling out, I think, and it was kind of interesting to watch anyway.

After he was done, he wiped the rest of the ink residue off, and put on some vaseline and then a bandage and some sports tape. I paid him, tipped him, took my aftercare sheet, and was on my merry way. It stung for about 24 hours. A few days later it began scabbing, and a week later, all the scabs had come off.

Now, whenever I feel out of place, disillusioned, or insignificant, I can look at my arm and be reminded that I'm a child of God. I have a hand and a name.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 14 Oct. 2004
in Hebrew Tattoos

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Originally written by Elaine

Artist: Fabien
Studio: Malefic Tattoos
Location: Mississauga, ON

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