I was on vacation.

Not much more for me to do than lie in the sun, swim in the pool and watch people in their swimsuits strutting around. So I lay there with my Ipod in my ears soaking up the sun in the 47 degrees Celsius Eilat sun, languishing by the pool side without a care in the world. After only a few minutes I started to internalize the prevalent trend of tattoos amongst the people around me (most of them Israelis). I knew that tattoos were popular in Israeli society but lying there with not much else to do than people watch I was shocked to realize just how many people actually have taken the leap towards a life-long tattoo commitment.

The only other thing that caught my eye was the cute little toddler asleep on the pool bed next to mine, all wrapped up in his towel, with his mom hanging out next to him. His skin so smooth and soft and his mother, no older than thirty, lying next to him with her leg outstretched to boast a large tattoo, around the size of an orange, on her ankle. The tattoo was that of an image of a woman and a fox head.

One of two tattoos she had on her body. This one on her ankle and the other one on her back.

I looked away, not wanting to stare but it was too late. I was caught in the act. Her husband came by and sat down next to his wife and child on the bed. I noticed that he had no visible tattoos but, who knows, maybe he had one in a hidden area of his swimsuit.

I decided to take the plunge, not into the pool, but my curiosity won out. I complimented her child and then continued on to ask her some of the questions that had continued to pique my curiosity. Her name was Moran and she worked for the Prison services in Israel. She and her husband were there on vacation with three other couples whom they are good friends with from their area of the country, a city called Lod. Her husband told me that he would never want to get a tattoo but when I asked him how he feels about his wife’s tattoos he responded that it doesn’t bother him, whatever she wants is fine with him.

“So you really have no qualms about tattoos but you yourself wouldn’t want one?” I asked him. He nodded in agreement so that’s when I threw in the ultimate question (or so I thought) “What if your son came home one day and told you that he wanted to get a tattoo?”

“If he wanted to get one that would be fine with me. I would just prefer that he waited until he was older so that he would be mature enough to make the decision on his own. It’s a big decision you know”

I couldn’t help but wonder if a person really ever understands the ramifications of having an imprint on their skin forever.

Shachar, another one of their friends, wanted me to take a picture of his tattoo so that he could tell me his history. His tattoo was that of a woman and a scorpion combined, a combination of sexuality and his horoscope symbol of Scorpio. He explained that this combination is well recognized among people of this sign and he wanted to have it on him.

Scorpio together with an exposed woman both come to signify sexuality.

The funny thing is that when I ask people if they regret their tattoos everyone responds in the negative. But if I phrase the question differently by asking if they would have done it differently if they were doing it again today, almost everyone responds in the positive. Maybe a different tattoo artist, different area of their body, different size, different picture.

This all brings me back to the main questions regarding tattoos that I decided then and there to investigate further. Since that time last month I have interviewed and photographed a plethora of people with tattoos about their personal stories, I have consulted religious leaders, families, people without tattoos etc. to get a sense of what motivates someone to make such a major decision. All this coming from a person who changes her clothes three times a day and nail polish every other day, but who’s counting.

It is so much material to cover that I have decided to cover two major issues in my next posts about tattoos:

1) The logistics of tattoos

This includes the issues of where to get it done? How long before they got it did they think about getting it done? Are they aware of the process to remove a tattoo? Have they ever seen a tattoo being removed? What about the religious issues resulting from a tattoo? Aging? Fading? Regret?

2) The ramifications of having a tattoo.

How does their family respond? Friends? Spouses? How does it affect their work? Are tattoos like an addiction and are they ever satisfied with just one? How do parents respond to their kids tattoos?

If you have further questions, please just email them to me at devora.mason@gmail.com with the subject “Tattoos and Jews”

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