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That transition is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Tel Aviv – Israel’s capitalist, cosmopolitan answer to Jerusalem’s history and tradition – where most of Israel’s inked bodies can be found.
Song, a 36-year-old film student at Tel Aviv University, has lost count of her tattoos, but she knows she got her first one 20 years ago. At the time she was one of only two students in her high school to be inked.
“We were 1,500 students and only two had tattoos,” she says. “I think today it’s unheard of – all the kids have tattoos now.”
More current than the Bible
Oshik Vaturi, who also lives in Tel Aviv, says that when he got his first tattoo in 1995, he became the black sheep of his family.
“Back then it had the context of being a criminal, being a bad boy,” says Vaturi, 37, who grew up in a traditional Jewish family but doesn’t consider himself religious. “Today I might be able to find five people without tattoos on the beach.”
For Israelis, like people everywhere, tattoos are a way to express their uniqueness. Sivan Perets can no longer imagine life without her four tattoos.
“My tattoos are who I am; each one has its own story,” she says. “When I see someone with tattoos and piercings, I want to talk to them. People without tattoos seem very boring to me.”
As Song puts it, she has always had her own identity, and her tattoos celebrate that. “At some point in my life I realized that you need to create your own space and your own thing,” she says.
And to your typical tattooed Israeli, there’s nothing contradictory about ink and the more traditional values of the Jewish state. “I don’t think tattoo society in Israeli culture is ironic,” says Vaturi. “I think that keeping the traditions of the Bible – which was written 6,000 years ago – in 2014 is much more ironic.”