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Arming themselves – Jews mark 7 October with tattoos

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In what’s fast becoming a worldwide trend, more and more Jews are getting tattoos to mark their faith, resilience, and love for Israel following the 7 October massacre. Though halacha prohibits getting tattoos, and their association with the Holocaust makes some uncomfortable, many see the practice as a powerful way of expressing their Judaism and standing up to antisemitism.

“Tattoos have given us the ability to build our sense of identity, and it’s our way to show our unequivocal sense of Jewish pride,” say married couple Dena and Craig Pantanowitz. “We enjoy the opportunity for self-expression and symbolism.”

That’s why, shaken to the core in the wake of the events of 7 October, Dena decided to get a tattoo to stand up against antisemitism. It reads, “We Will Dance Again 7.10.2023” in a powerful expression of resilience which has become associated with those who survived the Nova music festival massacre. Freed hostage Mia Schem, kidnapped at the festival, famously got a tattoo featuring these words.

“The tattoo allows me to express the inspiration I draw from the Jewish nation and how we deal with all the hate and relentless attacks,” says Dena. “It shows that no matter what those that seek to destroy do, we’ll always win, and we’ll dance again.”

Dena’s other tattoo is a tribute to a Holocaust survivor, a close friend she and her husband made on a tour to Poland. “He has become our family, and has had such a deep impact on our lives with his love for family, Israel, and Judaism. I wanted to show my love and respect for this amazing man who has overcome so much hate and trauma in his life and still has the ability to inspire my generation of Jews. My tattoo represents our responsibility to ‘Never Forget’ the six million who were murdered by the Nazis, and is a tribute to this man’s resilience.”

After their trip to Poland, the Pantanowitz couple felt a sense of responsibility to display their pride in who they were and how resilient the Jewish nation has been, surviving thousands of years of persecution. “We decided we would always be a voice for the voiceless, and wear our Jewish pride and identity on us at all times,” they say.

Craig, whose tattoos, which he got prior to 7 October, include a chai, a Magen David, a map of Israel, and a lion of Judah, says that he has grappled with the religious taboo on tattoos. “However, my decision is an expression of my deep love for the Jewish nation and my cultural identity. It has always been important for me to show my pride in an unequivocal way.”

For Terrin Livingstone, the meaning behind a tattoo adds to its appeal and impact. “Tattoos with a back-story or ones that holds meaning with good line work or shading instantly catch my attention like a good novel,” she says. She got two tattoos prior to 7 October, one infinity sign with the word “family” in honour of her late brother-in-law, and another of a Magen David to express her faith. The events of 7 October inspired her to get another tattoo, this time in the shape of Israel with a lion as the protector, and the Israeli flag with the words, “Am Yisrael Chai” written at the top.

Livingstone, who was in fact in Israel at the time of the massacre, was deeply impacted by it. “That fatal day has been imprinted in my heart,” she says. “My sister, brother, mother, and I were peacefully sleeping in our beds in Rishon [LeZion] when the alarms started screaming and wouldn’t stop for hours. Everyone was under house arrest for fear of infiltration. It could have been my family or I who didn’t come home, and the world needs to know the truth. We need to speak up and be proud.”

Livingstone, her sister, and her mother, in Israel for a visit, returned to South Africa as scheduled on 11 October. Her brother remained in Israel, where he’s lived for eight years. Livingstone planned to return for a new job opportunity. Though she battled with the language and missed family members while in Israel, she says she regrets returning to South Africa.

“My tattoos have people staring, giving me dirty looks, or making snide comments,” she says. “However, they have also made random people come up to me and show their support for Israel or pull out their hidden chai or Magen David because as Jews, we’re scared for our lives. I’ve been told to get out of stores if I support Israel, and I’ve walked out of stores because they are anti-Israel. I avoid areas that are pro-Hamas, as we don’t know what they are capable of doing.”

Yet Livingstone refuses to be silenced. “I wear all my tattoos with love. I’m proud to be called Jewish and to have lived in Israel. My life has stood still since 7 October, and my tattoos are a reminder that we’ll survive this war.”

Tattoo artist, Mandi Bradshaw, the founder of Jane Doe Ink, says that although getting a tattoo can be painful, it can also be highly therapeutic. “Very often, physical pain can counteract emotional pain, creating a healing experience,” she says. This notion of tattoos as therapy has frequently been mentioned by those who say they have got commemorative tattoos in the wake of the massacre.

Since 7 October, we’ve had a lot more Jewish customers coming in to get tattooed with Hebrew script most commonly as well as with Magen Davids and Israeli flags,” says Bradshaw. “Whether the tattoo or message is directly related to that date or is just a Jewish-related tattoo is unclear. But we do talk about the meaning, and most of our clients say that they want to show their Judaism.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. SJ

    Mar 8, 2024 at 8:20 am

    Please note that TATTOOS are forbidden by the Torah/Biblical Law and are NOT Jewish.

    Shabbat Shalom

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