My Tattoo

by Emilia Diamant

I knew when I went to get my first tattoo that the hardest part wouldn’t be the pain (although it did hurt quite a bit), it would be telling my mother. I had the idea when I was living in Israel, where I fell in love with Hebrew–it’s twists and turns and calligraphy were captivating to me. Chazak, strength, meant to me that I would always be strong, even in moments of weakness or distress.

Despite the importance, I knew it would be a challenge to tell my mother. When she saw it for the first time she basically sighed and said “well, okay.” So, that’s where we are with it.

Its funny though, because I forget (quite frequently) that my tattoo is even there. I don’t frequently look at my shoulder blades in the mirror, and when I do it’s almost startling to see the ink there. In summertime I am more aware of my tattoo, when I go to the beach or wear a sundress–thanks to a parental predilection for sighs and tongue clicks.

But the most unexpected byproduct of my tattoo has been that it is a teaching tool. As a Jewish educator, tattoos are a bit of an iffy situation. One of the reasons I inked in a spot that could easily be covered was to avoid questions from teens, bosses, or co-workers. But as I thought about it more and more I realized that my tattoo story was not one of impulse or drunken stupidity, but one of thought and meaning. I had the idea when I was 16, and didn’t get the tattoo until I was 23. I found the design, made an appointment, and brought friends for support. We had dinner to celebrate after–it felt like this hugely adult moment.

So, I can use this story to talk to my teens. About the important distinction between impulsivity and planning. I’ve seen kids get tattoos that are ugly/tacky, misspelled, or not important to them. They regret it later. The thing they all have in common is they didn’t think about it. From a modern Jewish perspective, I think the key is thought, planning, and meaning. I don’t have a need to be buried in an Orthodox cemetery, so why not choose to make careful choices with my body that might preclude me from that? I should be able to do what I want to my body in this life, in a way that doesn’t sully or harm me.

I know my mother disagrees–a tattoo is, after all, done with a needle. The skin is altered. But for me it’s almost as if Chazak was always supposed to be there.

Next up? A giraffe outline on my foot, to remind me always of my grandfather, Maurice, who loved the majestic silent creatures. Maybe she’ll like that one?