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If I am not myself...the account of a Jew's first tattoo

I grew up in a Jewish household. Though technically speaking body modifications are not against the religion, in most families they are highly frowned upon. Yet, ever since I first saw someone walking along the street wearing an interesting design I have been fascinated by tattoos and piercing.

Only once did I ask my parents how they felt about tattoos. It did not go over well. They brought up the same arguments repeatedly. What if you decide you don't like it when you're older? What will you think when you're old and it looks bad on your sagging skin? And of course it's against Judaism. After talking in circles and being shouted at for quite sometime I gave up on my attempt to receive my parents support. They were obviously going to reject my decision no matter what.

Being the type of girl that I am, lacking my parents blessing was no deterrent to my decision to get a tattoo. I started making designs.

I am a strong believer that tattoo should be meaningful. I wanted something that I could look at every day and feel happy about. At the same time it needed to be concealable until I was out from under my parent's roof.

Soon thereafter I turned 18, making it legal for me to get a tattoo without my parents needing to sign for me, I knew what I wanted to get, but I decided to wait a while just to be sure of myself. I had designed a small line of Hebrew that reads: Im ein ani li mi li. It is part of a three line quote of Jewish text Pirke Avot. In English the quote reads:

"If I am not myself, who will be me? But, if I am only myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?" ~Pirke Avot 1:14

These are my words to live by.

Eight long months later I decided it was time. I came home from school, put my sketchbook in my backpack and took the bus to the parlour. It was an idle Monday in October, so there was no wait at the parlour. I gave my design to the fellow working at the front desk to make sure my design was possible at its small size. It was perfect; small enough to hide from my parents, yet just large enough for the artist to do.

The most memorable part of my first tattoo experience was my discussion with the fellow at the desk. As the artist was preparing he had me sit in the waiting room.

He was looking at my design and asked "Is this Hebrew?"

I responded in the affirmative.

He then queried "Are you Jewish?"

Again I responded in the affirmative.
He the smartly said "You know, once you have this done you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery."

I told him I was well aware of that fact.

He said "You're going to have a lonely afterlife."

There was only one response in my mind: "It won't be lonely, and it's probably better that I don't spend eternity next to my Jewish mother."

As we were laughing hysterically the artist entered the room. He told me he was ready. So I followed him into the tattoo studio. I had been there to look at the portfolios before, but had never seen the room where the magic happens before. I was surprised by how clean and tidy everything was.

Next came placing the stencil. I decided to have it done on my left hip, easy to keep concealed, yet easy to show off.

After having my mother repeating how horrible and awful tattoos are for years, I had the preconceived notion that being tattooed would hurt a lot. To my surprise it just felt like someone scratching at my hip with a pin. It was completely ignorable, if not a tad pleasant.

After the artist was done he went over the healing process with me, and how to care for my new tattoo. Lastly he gave me his card and urged me to call if there were any problems with the image, or infection.

After saying farewell to the artist and my new friend at the front desk, I opted to walk home. I spent the next few weeks worried that my parents would find out, but the longer I had it, the more my confidence grew.

I took good care of my tattoo and it turned out beautifully.

Now that I am out of my parent's house I am in complete control of myself and my decisions. Everyday as I get dressed, I see my tattoo and am reminded to do what is right for me and for those I love. I have gotten so many positive comments about my words of wisdom. Now I am completely confident in my choice.

I am now out of my parent's house, and if they find out about my tattoos and disapprove, I will only point to the quote and ask them to think long and hard about it before jumping to conclusions and berating me.


submitted by: Anonymous
on: 17 Nov. 2004
in Hebrew Tattoos

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Originally written by Bec

Artist: Anthony
Studio: Blue Dragon Tattoo and Body Piercing
Location: London, Ontario

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