Getting a tattoo in Israel is a difficult decision on many levels. M. and I spent our wedding anniversary at a place called Kipod (Porcupine) on King George Street getting matching ink of our son’s initials a few years ago. She got it on her nape. I got it on my arm. It wasn’t the first time for either of us. That being said, a lot of people get tattoos for all the wrong reasons. And they live to regret it for the rest of their lives. So I’ve compiled a short list of pros and cons you should consider before getting that butterfly on your ankle. Or the Chinese character for “Wisdom” that really means “Sad Turtle” on your back.
1. Judaism forbids the desecration of the body in any way and could deny you burial in a Jewish cemetery. This one doesn’t really apply to me since I’ve already made it clear to my family and friends that I want a pseudo Viking send off on the banks of the Kinneret. But if you are Jewish and want to spend eternity surrounded by your deceased relatives you should consider that getting ink is tantamount to idolatry. That’s right. It seems that in Biblical times only pagan worshipers inked themselves up and as a way to differentiate themselves the Jews forbade any form of bodily mutilation. With the exception of that ever so cherished bond of circumcision.
2. Make sure you understand the language. One of the biggest trends among celebrities these days is getting Hebrew language tattoos. Harry Styles from “One Direction” has his sister’s name “Gemma” tattooed on his shoulder. Victoria Beckham has a biblical verse on her nape. If this is what you want please do not use Google or Bing to translate a certain phrase. More often than not the results are catastrophic. Or Hilarious. Depending who you ask. Same goes for Chinese lettering or even English. Spell check it. Then spell check it again. Then make sure your tattoo artist knows how to spell it.
3. Get to know your tattoo artist. This is a big one. M. and I had heard great things about Kipod from friends. We went to the website and researched the artists. We made an appointment and a guy named A. was assigned to do our initials. Fast forward two years later and M. and I are on date night at the Lev cinemas in Tel Aviv and the cashier is none other than A., our esteemed tattoo artist. He didn’t remember us but we remembered him. So we asked him why he wasn’t working at Kipod anymore and he said that it was too stressful for him. Fair enough. So get to know your tattoo artist and make sure it’s not his first week on the job. Or his last day on the job.
4. It’s not an act of rebellion anymore. When I was growing up there were a handful of tattoo parlors in Tel Aviv. I got my first tat when I was 18. I had a 50 cc motorbike, a dirt bike really, and a tattoo of a wolf. I was bad to the bone. And I would cut off all the sleeves on my shirt to display that ferocious wolf howling at the moon. Now when I look at that faded old wolf with the Native American feathers and dream catcher he looks more like a sad old dog than a proud wolf. Besides, nowadays everyone and their mother have tattoos. Seriously. I pick D. up from his nursery and a soccer mom, with two other kids, has a ginormous tramp stamp on her lower back. So if you want to rebel these days it seems you have to dance naked on a wrecking ball.
5. We, as a Jewish people, have a collective trauma from having things (like numbers) tattooed on our bodies. Over six million of us were branded like we were cattle before we were gassed, shot or starved. So getting a tattoo here is tantamount to heresy and a harsh reminder of one of the darkest periods in our history.
6. It hurts. I don’t care what anyone says. Maybe I have a low threshold for pain. Maybe I don’t like needles. Both of my tattoos are in relatively convenient places. Like my shoulder. And my arm. Getting those two initials took over an hour and a half and I’m man enough to admit that I almost cried. Several times. But readers of this blog know that I tend to cry a lot. Like in sad movies. Or when D. knees me in the family jewels when we’re play wrestling. But this is a whole different kind of pain. So if you’re trying to impress a guy or a girl or the tattoo artist, avoid getting your penis, stomach or face tattooed. Stick to your ankle or your lower back. It’s a lot less painful.
7. You most likely won’t serve as a field agent for the Mossad. I’ve seen enough Golan-Globus action movies from the 80’s to know that enemy operatives are almost always identified by their scars and their tattoos. So if you want to go all James Bond or Jason Bourne, skip getting anything done to your body that will clearly identify you to your captors. Use that money to take Karate lessons.
8. It’s addictive. Once you get a tattoo (and enough time has passed that you no longer remember how painful it was) you want to get another one. And then another. M. and I got D.H. on our arm and I’d be willing to scrap my whole “One Child Policy” just so I could get another tattoo on the other arm.
9. Never decide on a tattoo when you’re drunk, stoned or on (off) medication. Or if you’ve just broken up with your girlfriend/boyfriend/dominatrix. Or when on a trip to Mexico. It very rarely ends well.
10. It’s an unwritten rule that you never ask a man (or a woman) about an eye patch. Or a scar. The same goes for tattoos. But people ignore that rule. And then you are forced to tell them what was going through your mind twenty years ago when you got the wolf (I was fascinated by Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf and Jack London’s Call of the Wild) or what the fuck D.H. stands for. So when getting the tattoo please be prepared to recite ad-nauseum the exact reasons for getting that particular tattoo.
I don’t buy into the whole notion that our body is a temple and we mustn’t desecrate it. Our body is more of a palette. An easel onto which we transcribe (in words and pictures) our intimate and unique journey. A running visual diary that we keep that reminds us who we were, where we’ve been and what our life has been about.
So feel free to stare at a blank sheet your whole life or use your body as a colorful road map.
Either way you won’t really give a shit where they bury you.
You’re dead for Christ’s sake.