Monday, December 19, 2011

Jews Who Get Tatoos

This blog post from Molly Tobin (Wheaton College Class of 2013) was originally published in the Wheaton Wire on October 12, 2011.
For as long as I can remember there was a standing rule in my house: no tattoos. It was always explained to me “Jews don’t get tattoos.” I still debate whether my parents were opposed because of Jewish laws and customs or because of my mother’s own hatred for them. Nevertheless I broke the rule and got a tattoo.

I was never hesitant to share my tattoo with other people, especially because of the symbol representing equal rights. However I felt ashamed to show it to one person, my Nanny. She’s not my relative by blood, but I consider her to be my grandmother and thus one of the people I most want to make proud. She was friendly with my grandparents whom I never knew and is able to provide me with stories of them and a sense of connection. Nanny is remarkable in so many ways, but a tattoo is something I was sure she would never appreciate or adapt to. For three very successful years I hid my tattoo from her, but over the summer its existence was revealed.

I was sitting right beside her when she was told about it and I am sure that I looked like a ghost. Unsure of what to do or say, I turned to her and said, “I know, my grandparents would be ashamed.” She quickly looked at me and started shaking her head, “they would have been proud and privileged to have known you.” I was relieved, but then she impressed me even further. As she questioned the symbol and asked what it meant, I explained that it was about equality and my belief in equal rights for all people. She then smiled and stated, “don’t worry about the tattoo then, as long as you wear what you stand for.”

I learned something from Nanny that day; customs, beliefs and practices are not forever. As times change, people’s beliefs and understandings about certain events and actions change. For me, this is prevalent in my religion. Often certain prayers or customs during the holiday’s or throughout the year don’t make sense to me. One example for me is the idea of “keeping Shabbat”. Imagine not using any electricity for 24 hours, I have tried and after 30 minutes I didn’t know what to do with myself. In an age where everything is digital the temptations are simply too great. Imagine 24 hours without a microwave, car, Facebook and iPhone apps; I simply couldn’t do it. Though I am respectful of those that do keep Shabbat, I know I am not alone in not keeping it. Many peoples compromise has become driving to synagogue on Shabbat. While they may use electricity, they still show their dedication and faith by attending Friday night services, something many others have given up on. Perhaps fifty years ago temptations wouldn’t have been as great in keeping Shabbat, just like tattoos were not as common.

Nanny showed me that things change and sometimes you can’t do anything but go along and accept it. She could have acted flabbergasted and upset by my tattoo, but then I thought, “What would have been the point of that?” That just creates conflict, damaged relationships, and in my family makes people suffer from some of that famous “Jewish guilt.” I am eternally grateful that Nanny knew that and  instead instilled me with some of her ahava and hokmah – love and wisdom.

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