Posts Tagged ‘Hebrew tattoos’

Not A Number

April 18, 2010

Though not a fan of tattoos in general, I was starting to come around to accepting the fact that many young (and not so young) Jews are permanently inking themselves in the name of Jewish pride. But I have my limits.

The main reason I am opposed to Jews tattooing themselves is because the Nazis tattooed us against our will, as a means of dehumanizing us. I realize that Jews today get tattoos davka for this reason – as a way of using something that was meant to dehumanize us as a way of empowering ourselves. It’s that irony that hipsters thrive on.

So, if someone wants to permanently mark their skin with Hebrew words or Jewish symbols – gey gezunterheyt. But I draw the line at tattooing your arm exactly in the way that the Nazis tattooed Jews’ arms in the camps…which is exactly what a young Israeli man and his uncle did, supposedly as a way of honoring and connecting with their grandmother and mother who is a survivor of Auschwitz.

Photo from Israel's Channel 2 News

Photo from Israel's Channel 2 News

I am not this young man’s grandmother, but I can tell you that if I were, I would be far from pleased to see my grandson branded with my Auschwitz number. I can think of many other (less shockingly offensive) ways for him to make his savta proud. And if he is so keen on keeping his grandmother with him everywhere he goes, may I suggest  his wearing a chain with a locket with her picture inside it? Or maybe one of those charms imprinted with a photograph?

Better yet, he could simply savor every moment he still has with his beloved grandmother, and then keep her alive by remembering her and telling his children about her after she is gone.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Update:  This post inspired Leah Berkenwald of the Jewish Women’s Archive to write her own thoughtful, well-crafted and very personal reflection on Holocaust remembrance tattoos. Click here to read her post, titled “The Loaded Tattoo,” on the JWA blog, Jewesses With Attitude.


Hebrew, Ink.

January 27, 2010

Something to share with you today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

A number of people have asked me about the photograph of the “kosher pig” tattoo that appears in my But Is It Good For The Jews? post. So, I thought I would share some more images of tattooed Jews here. These are all photographs taken by Justin Dawson, who co-produced a documentary film on the subject called, Tattoo Jew.

I find it not merely ironic that young American Jews are using something the Nazis used to dehumanize us to brand themselves with Jewish pride, but also striking that they are using Hebrew – a language most of them do not really know – to do it. Well, at least this way we can be sure there will be a word or two that will stay with them.

Choose Life


Shechinah (feminine name for God)

Mom and Dad


© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

This Too Shall Pass

January 10, 2010

There is an amazing, beautifully done video making its way around the world via online news and social networking. I am especially glad I first had the chance to view it this weekend, one during which my parental patience was tried and things in general were just getting me down.

Here is what you are about to see:

“Over the course of 2009, Norwegian Eirik Solheim recorded brief 30-second video clips every week of the view from his balcony in Oslo. The result of all this archiving is an amazing time-lapse video that synthesizes the entire year into a 120 seconds. You can learn all about his techniques on his website.” (From the Huffington Post)

A classic from 1965

Watching the seasons change right before my eyes made me think of the verse from Ecclesiastes (3:1): “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” This, from the King James Bible, isn’t the most accurate translation from the Hebrew, but I like the way it sounds. Besides, it’s the version that inspired The Byrd’s 1965 classic, Turn! Turn! Turn!

More importantly, the video reminds me that time does, indeed, pass and that gam zeh ya’avor. This Hebrew phrase, often mistakenly thought to appear in the Bible, means “This too shall pass.” Some surmise that it was derived from Psalms 57:1, but most Jews attribute it to a folkloric parable about King Solomon:

One day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah Ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it.” “If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?” “It has magic powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility. Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah. He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile. That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled. To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: gimel, zayin, yud, which began the words “Gam zeh ya’avor” — “This too shall pass.” At that moment Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

Abraham Lincoln made reference to this parable in an 1859 address, and there is a custom among some Jews to wear rings inscribed with the phrase (or its acronym), particularly during or after having coming through a seriously trying period in life. Fortunately, my situation is not at all grave, but rather the usual mishegas of raising teenagers.

Some prefer a tattoo to a ring, but it can be problematic if it is spelled wrong, as it is here.

There is no need for a ring, anyway, when I have this beautiful artistic creation to watch and remind me of the rewards of patience and the wonders of the cyclical passage of time.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

Note: It turns out that the misspelled Hebrew tattoo seen in the photo in this post is just one of many. Check out the plethora of permanently inked mistakes at Bad Hebrew Tattoos.