Many times I have been asked about my tattoo, but this is the first time I was asked to put it in writing. To be honest, you are most likely reading the seventh version of my attempt at a blog post about my Hebrew tattoo. “What to write?” I thought to myself. Should I justify getting a tattoo written in Hebrew? Do I share the experience of getting my first tattoo in Hebrew…in Argentina? How about my view on tattoos as works of art and a form of creative self-expression? Or do I answer the question, “What does Am Yisrael Chai (the words of my tattoo, which mean “the nation of Israel lives”) mean to me?”

Please bear with me in my effort to answer at least some of these questions. I hope my story will resonate, or at least entertain you.

It was my junior year of college when I elected to spend half a year in Argentina. While living with a host family in Buenos Aires and studying at Belgrano University, I immersed myself in the local culture, eating steak, drinking castellano, fernet and cola, and watching futbol. Embracing my independent and impulsive spirit, it was in Argentina that I finally got a tattoo. You see, in Buenos Aires, tattoos are not taboo; professionals across all fields display body art without any controversy, and, like I said, I was all about embracing the local culture.

I sometimes refer to myself as the “epitome of irony,” and I proved to be just that when, in Argentina, I walked into a tattoo shop called “America” to get a tattoo in Hebrew. On the way over, I was still deciding between two designs with some apprehension about tattoos in general, as needles are one of my biggest fears. But in the moment, steps away from the door, it hit me: What is the one thing that will never change? What is one message I know I will never regret being permanently imprinted on my body?

Am Yisrael Chai.

I recalled the first moment I ever heard the song. It was one of my first trips to Israel, steps away from the Western Wall; I joined a group of girls dancing and singing “Am Yisrael Chai.” And while they were the only three words I could sing (and trust me; you probably wouldn’t want to hear me sing more than that!), they were three words that summarized my entire Jewish journey and my Jewish identity.

In that moment, I finally felt “Jewish.” I felt that I belonged to a global people. And staring at the Kotel, I knew it was my destiny to be there at that moment. I thought about my entire family, generations who fought for, died and sacrificed to be Jewish, and here I was living their spirit in Israel. I cannot begin to tell you how many people gasp in disbelief when I tell them I am Jewish. You can imagine how many more gasp when I tell them what my tattoo means.

But I take each of those moments as an opportunity to reclaim my identity and to spread the message of Am Yisrael Chai. Tattoos are a way to live out your freedom and express yourself. Don’t get me wrong; my decision to get a tattoo was not some self-righteous act. I was attracted to the idea of my body as a canvas with a permanent imprint of my beliefs. And, hey, if my Russian grandmother could accept it, I think I’m pretty good.

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