Fascinating, challenging story in the Times, about Israelis who are tattooing their relatives’ concentration camp numbers on their arms as a living tribute:
Mr. Ravek, a 56-year-old glass artist who lives in Ottawa and was here visiting family when he was tattooed two years ago, brought Sabbath flowers to his mother. “She was really upset about it at first,” he said. “When I explained the reasons for why I did it, we cried together. I said, ‘You’re always with me.’ ”
The 10 tattooed descendants interviewed for this article echoed one another’s motivations: they wanted to be intimately, eternally bonded to their survivor-relative. And they wanted to live the mantra “Never forget” with something that would constantly provoke questions and conversation.
The article also acknowledges those who are appalled by the trendlet, not so much because of the flouting of Jewish law but “the reappropriation of perhaps the most profound symbol of the Holocaust’s dehumanization of its victims.”
A few years back I wrote about Jewish tattoos, and suggested that they could no longer be dismissed as a way to shock parents, flout tradition, or bow to fashion:
I’m a fan of Miami Ink, the TLC reality show about a tattoo shop. I find the process grotesquely fascinating and often marvel at the artistry of the inkers. But what keeps me coming back are the stories. The show is cannily edited to focus on the meaning the customers attach to their tattoos. Some are memorializing a fallen friend or loved one, others are marking a milestone in their lives, or honoring their god (or gods). It doesn’t take an anthropologist to see these as religious impulses, and the tattoos as a ritual act.
So I was inclined to sympathize with those literally inscribing their parents’ and grandparents’ memory upon their arms — until I read a response to the Times piece by Larry Derfner, writing for +972, who describes the tattoos as another example of an Israeli tendency to turn memory into kitsch:
What is this weirdness about? It’s about commemorating the Holocaust, but it is also about Israeli bad taste, which unfortunately tend to go together. Reserve, subtlety – these are not well-known Israeli traits, and especially not when it comes to the Holocaust. With all things, and definitely with the Holocaust, the Israeli style is more along the lines of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it.”