Tattoo spotting in a coffee shop
Stopped in for a couple decafs for the adults & 2 old-fashioned frosted donuts for the kids. Spotted what I thought was a foreign language tattoo on the forearm of the guy working the cash register and asked him to tell me about it. Turns out the word was “faith”, written in Old English. Ooops, now I see it. Bonding, showing off – or both – I unveiled the “truth” on my own arm. That led to a spirited conversation with all 3 employees in the place about whether Jews could get tattoos.
There I was, a Jew with a tattoo, talking about Jews with tattoos when one of the employees rolled up his sleeves to show me small Hebrew words (with vowels, no less), one near the crook of each elbow — Adonai Yireh, God will see. And a large Jerusalem coat-of-arms up near his shoulder in full color.
Why these particular tattoos? His father is Jewish, his mother Puerto Rican. He doesn’t really know anything about Judaism, but his father is a kohen, a priest, and this is the symbol of his tribe. The words are somehow related to the coat-of-arms. Next year he’s getting his mom’s family emblem tattooed on his other shoulder: it makes him feel proud of his multiple heritages.
One small problem. The lion of Jerusalem belongs to the tribe of Judah, not the priestly tribe of Levi, and God-will-see comes from Genesis: they are the words that Abraham spoke when the angel provided him with a non-human offering in place of Isaac. It’s sometimes translated as “God will provide”. I doubt that the expression has anything to do with the coat-of-arms, but I could be wrong.
Not that any of this matters.Like the guy with “faith” written on his arm, who said he felt close to his ancestors, this young man is totally invested in his connection to a history he doesn’t really know – except that it’s regal and glorious – and he wants that heritage marked on his body forever, somehow in lieu of the real (and illusive) thing.