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Adele Raemer
Life on the Border with the Gaza Strip
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Scars visibalized

I have taken control of the events that scarred me emotionally and I am choosing to wear my resilience on my arm as a permanent badge of honor
Photo credit: Yair Abelson used with permission
Photo by Yair Abelson, tattoo courtesy of Yasmin Maman via HealingInk, Artists4Israel

I have never even dreamed of putting a needle to my skin. Yet, out of the blue, I got a shout out on Facebook asking if I could help bring HealingInk to our region in the Western Negev. A stranger named Craig reached out asking if someone could help find a venue to run an event for Artists4Israel, where tattoo artists from all over Southern Israel could gather for a day of tattooing for the purposes of healing. 

Yes, I could. 

These artists believe in the healing power of tattoos for survivors of violence, who carry scars both physical and emotional. 

Yes, it’s true… my own scars are emotional. Living with the devastation of suicide survival, while dealing with daily life which at times gets lived within a 0-10 second gap between an incoming rocket warning alarm and its inevitable explosion, have left me invisibly marked. With each successive round of violence, each incoming rocket alert, another scratch is etched on my heart and soul. The stress from those episodes fade, but scars remain, hidden to the naked eye. Right then, I decided to bring these people to this area, to help heal those suffering from emotional trauma, PTSD or those bearing the physical scars from sacrifices made defending us. I decided to take the plunge, to participate and apply for the chance to be healed.. I decided to allow an artist to engrave something on my own body, something that just maybe, could heal my broken heart. I wouldn’t have considered doing it without such a program, and by doing it within this framework, I felt the empowerment of being a part of a community healing. 

I’ve learned to hide them well, my emotional scars. I deal with them by doing, a lot of doing, when I feel the need: blogging, writing, speaking. However, this project made me realize that I also need to somehow visibilize my scars, beautifying them with swaths of color embedded into my skin. I know, I’m aware of the fact that I have never been able to build a new relationship, even 14 years after the shot that killed my beloved husband, by his own hand, shattering my heart to bits. This tells me that there is still healing to be done. 

I did not choose to lose my husband in such a sudden, traumatic way. I do not choose for rockets to explode around my home, threatening my life and the lives of my loved ones. But this was something I COULD choose. Getting a tattoo means taking control. Taking control, in one small way, of those events that have scarred me invisibly. I choose to take control by wearing my resilience as a badge of honor, proof that I have survived that which has been thrown at me and that I have navigated my way through the darkness, out to the other side. While I hope not to have to do it again, this badge, with this word and this flower stemming from within it, reminds me that if I have to, I can do it again. 

In order to participate in this program, each of us was interviewed by a social worker associated with the group, checking for appropriateness and then selecting the best match with one of the artists. When the matchmakers worked their magic, my wonderfully talented artist, Yasmin, contacted me and together we developed the concept for my special, unique body art. 

On “Tattoo Day” we all gathered in “The Gilda” — a regional center for arts. I found it haunting yet uplifting, to sit there waiting for my turn, in what had been one of our regional schools, which had been emptied out in 2009 due to a rise in rocket attacks and the lack of fortification in the old buildings. The school lay abandoned and vandalized for 12 years until a group of local artists took it upon themselves to renovate it and turn it into another miracle in this region: a center for arts of all genres. The classrooms have been turned into artists’ studios, and the central lobby is now a place for exhibitions and social happenings. 

As we sat together, waiting in the now transformed building, decorated with colorful animals and whimsical walls, the tension was palpable. We began sharing each others’ stories, taking the opportunity to bond. Telling my own story, hearing the stories of others, such as one man’s tale, who had a childish drawing tattooed on his body – a sun-faced stick drawing which had been done by his 5 year-old nephew, who had been killed by a Hamas rocket in his living room. There was a woman and her son, both suffering from PTSD just because of where they live, having fearless lions inked onto their arms for protection and affirmation. 

The Guilda – Center for Arts in the Eshkol Region

Then talking to my artist, a sweet young woman – born and raised in my region, who had been a student in my school and who even remembered me as a teacher. Together we hammered out the concept on her hi-tech mac tablet (tattooing ain’t what it used to be). We measured and negotiated, she was offering me her attention for as long as was needed. After all, this piece of art will accompany me for the rest of my life. 

Yasmin doing hi-tech tattoo planning
Photo credit: my own

She then proceeded to work on my aging skin (more challenging than the skin of a 20 year old) with patience and care, stopping at intervals to check, verifying that it was going as I wanted, then moving on. Most of the time it just felt like a lot of eyebrow tweezing. In the end, the coloration of the flower caused searing pain, but the pain was temporary. (Time flies when you’re being tortured.) This tattoo is now a part of who I am.

Photo by Yair Abelson, used with permission

As a kid growing up in NYC, the only grandmothers I knew with tattoos, were those with numbers on their arms. This grandmother has a word, a symbol and a flower. Resilience: for this is something, I have discovered that I have. A semi colon to stand in solidarity against suicide and depression. An anemone sprouting from the word: delicate and beautiful as the flower that represents my region.

I cannot close this without thanking the many who worked endlessly to make the day a healing success for so many. 17 tattoo artists worked their magic on 20 beneficiaries of their art. To Lorraine, Mintz, Ziv, Ben, Yair and the many others whose names I do not know, but worked selflessly behind the scenes to make this happen. To my wonderful Yasmin, who gave me this forever gift. And finally, to Craig, who is no longer a stranger, but a friend. 

Photo credit: my own
About the Author
Born in the USA, Adele has lived in a Kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip since 1975. She is a mother and a grandmother living and raising her family on the usually paradisaical, sometimes hellishly volatile border. She moderates a FB group named "Life on the Border". https://goo.gl/xcwZT1 Adele recently retired after 38 years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, as well as a teacher trainer and counselor for the Israeli MoE for EFL and a Tech Integration Coach. She blogs here about both Life on the Border, as well as about digital pedagogy, in "Digitally yours, @dele". She is a YouTuber, mostly on the topic of digital stuff. (https://goo.gl/iBVMEG) Her personal channel covers other issues close to her heart (medical clowning, Life on the Border, etc.) (https://goo.gl/uLP6D3) In addition, she is a trained medical clown and, although on COVID hiatus, until allowed back into hospitals, she clowns as often as she can in the pediatric ward in the hospital in Ashkelon. As a result of her activity as an advocate for her region, she was included among the Ha'aretz "Ten Jewish Faces who made Waves in 2018" https://goo.gl/UrjCNB. In November 2018 she was invited to Geneva by an independent investigative committee for the UN to bear witness to the border situation, and in December 2019 addressed the UN Security Council at the request of the US ambassador to the UN.
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