I was intrigued when another blogger on this site recently wrote about her tattoo, I honestly didn’t know there were Jewish women who chose to be tattooed. Being a Jew by choice, I figured I was the only one with brightly colored symbols adorning my flesh. And as I read along, I ached inside because, unlike Carla, I do see my tattoo(s) as permanent imprint of misspent youth.
I was inked at the age of 16 when my significant life choices included whether to tint my car windows or cut my bangs. I smoked cloves in a corn field and thought that wine coolers were, well, worthy of drinking.
My bangs grew back and luckily I didn’t go all Bristol Palin on my senior year, but I did leave high school with a flower smack dab in the middle of my thigh and a cartoon character on the front of my ankle. It could have been worse, I could have asked for the Chinese symbol for beauty down my neck only to find out later it said something like, “hula hoops,” but my Looney Tunes stamp didn’t have any significant meaning in my life –then or ever. Unfortunately, at the time, $80 seemed like a bargain if it meant pissing off my Dad and defining myself as an inked rebel cheerleader.
When I began studying for my conversion I read about the various reasons why tattooing is frowned upon in Judaism. I wasn’t as focused on the literal interpretations of the scripture; if my husband wasn’t going to cough up the 100 zuzim (ancient coins) to marry me, why should I worry about my body being marked? But the historical references cut like a knife and made my frivolous choices seem even more meaningless. I didn’t want my poor judgment on display for everyone to critique–or worse–for people to think of me as any less Jewish (if that was even possible) because of it. So my husband and I pinched pennies, stockpiled bandages and I had Tweety voted off the island with a fire-hot laser, as a wedding present.
My flower tattoo is only visible when I wear a bathing suit, and the pigment was not ideal for medical removal but the free Warner Brother’s advertisement on my foot had to go. It took one hour of light scratching to have the imprint etched on my body and eleven searingly painful treatments to remove. I may as well have stabbed her off with a butter knife. It would have been quicker and probably hurt less. I’d show you pictures of the process but you’d lose your lunch. It wasn’t pretty there for a while, but now all that is left is some blanched skin and an outline so faint only I can see it.
I will always see it. There are very few things in life that I regret, but I can honestly say being tattooed is one of them. Sometimes I wonder if the regret stems from my new-found connection to the people of Israel. And if it does, then something good has come from all this. I saved the gory pictures for when my son asks for a tattoo. Sure, I’ll tell him all of the halachic reasons why he shouldn’t get one, and I’ll hopefully come up with some inspiring explanation as to why I have one but wish I didn’t. But if he’s anything like me, I doubt he’ll listen. But I hope he does because I consider myself lucky that when I look down at the flower on my thigh all I am reminded of is some misplaced teenage angst. There are others who have suffered far, far worse.