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Tattoo as part of the journey


This is a story about my friend Yonit and the tattoo she had inked on the border between her left hip and lower back — how it mirrored and accelerated significant shifts already going on in her life. And no, I don’t have a photograph to share with you, though I can give you the basics: a stylized dove built out of the Hebrew letters yud, vav, nun, yud, tavיונית (yonit: dove).

Sixteen years ago and a masters student at Berkeley (where else?), Yonit decided to make 2 major changes in her life:

1. To temporarily set aside her instrument of choice since age 6, piano, as well as its known repertoire and community, and take up the harpsichord instead; and

2. To use her Hebrew name 100% of the time and not just when she was called up to the Torah or otherwise involved in Jewish ritual.

To shift so that I could follow my voice. To reflect the reality of my womanhood by taking on a stronger name than my English one (Jolie). How to signify these changes? Yonit decided on a tattoo, something permanent (although our bodies aren’t), something that would reflect the journey of her changing identities, a journey that is still ongoing. While on a visit to Afikomen, a fabulous Judaica store in Berkeley, she asked someone to design her Hebrew name as a dove — but didn’t mention the tattoo. Life may be wild and crazy in that part of the world, but some borders still make people nervous.

Design in hand, she & a girlfriend decided to eschew the typical tattoo parlor (which I totally get) and instead climbed up a whole bunch of stairs in San Francisco where they were asked to take off their shoes by tattoo artist Stephanie. To the smell of incense and with the correct music for Yonit’s aura playing in the background, the design was transferred from paper to body (I asked her if it hurt; she didn’t remember. What she did remember was laughing for hours afterward about the whole scene.).

Most people have never seen the yonit/dove tattoo. It’s hidden to the world, though not to Yonit and her nearest & dearest. Her harpsichord, however, is decorated with doves and other birds, as well as Jewish/Middle Eastern symbols. In this way, what is invisible to most is visible on the instrument that she felt called to play as the truest reflection of her self.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Victoria H. Bedford permalink
    06/04/2010 4:41 pm

    Well, I’ve never been able to “get” the tatoo thing, but it is now starting to come to life. Transferring the design from paper to body was the phrase that really resonated after earlier permutations of how the person, Yonit, evolved with her name to this special moment. Then the laughter!

  2. sue swartz permalink*
    06/06/2010 9:40 am

    How cool is that? And stay tuned for tattoo story #2. Every tattoo tells a story, don’t it (to borrow from Rod Steward)?

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