ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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A '7.10' tattoo on the hand of an evacuee from Kibbutz Erez. (Lior Yosefi)
Photo caption: A '7.10' tattoo on the hand of an evacuee from Kibbutz Erez. (Lior Yosefi)
Inside storyDate of massacre, Star of David are popular choices

More than skin deep: Israelis who inked October 7 on their bodies as a living memorial

As they mourn loved ones and grieve the worst terror attack in the country’s history, many turn to tattoos to keep close the memories of those they lost

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Photo caption: A '7.10' tattoo on the hand of an evacuee from Kibbutz Erez. (Lior Yosefi)

Gal Danguri got a tattoo linked to his favorite sports team two days before he was murdered.

Before his new ink had even fully healed, Danguri was slain along with his two best friends, Nadav Bartal and Ofek Ravia, all 23, at the Supernova music festival. The trio, who were inseparable lifelong friends from the same community, had matching tattoos of hand symbols – which even appeared on each of their side-by-side graves.

Less than two weeks after their death, seven of their friends went to tattoo artist Lior Yosefi – the one who inked Danguri just days before he was killed – to get their own versions of the friends’ tattoos as a living memorial.

“Gal came to me with his girlfriend, Koral on Thursday [October 5]… I did a tattoo for him, such an incredible guy,” Yosefi, who works at a studio in Shoham, told The Times of Israel. Then, on October 19, “five of their friends came and then another two joined,” all to get tattoos inspired by the trio whose lives were cut short.

Yosefi said speaking to the group of friends as she worked was therapeutic for all involved: “We did them one after the other, and every time I started on someone new, I would first ask them if it was OK to ask” about their experiences on October 7 and the loss of their friends. “Because there are those who don’t want to talk… it was important for me just to be there and to listen.”

In the weeks and months following the Hamas massacre, which claimed the lives of close to 1,200 people in southern Israel – half of whom were under 30 – tattoos have emerged as a poignant and widespread method of commemorating loved ones and immortalizing the worst terror attack in Israeli history.

At left, the tattoos received by Nadav Bartal (left), Gal Danguri (center) and Ofek Ravia (right); at right, the tattoos their friends got in their memory after they were killed. (Courtesy: Lior Yosefi)

“A tattoo is a kind of memorial,” said Roey Pentagram, a veteran tattoo artist who has worked out of Tel Aviv for several decades. “The same way we go to a cemetery and see the name of the person on the stone, a person turns himself into a headstone.”

He said while it wouldn’t be his personal choice, “I can understand where it comes from, from their perspective, a tattoo is permanent, it will be with me for the rest of my life, and this way I know that I will remember the person who was close to me and who died or was killed or murdered.”

While post-October 7 tattoos have become commonplace, they are particularly prominent among the survivors of Supernova and those who lost loved ones there, where body ink was a popular part of the ethos and culture of the music festival. Despite the view of Jewish law — and their infamous use in the Holocaust — tattoos have been popular for decades in Israel as a way of expressing individuality as well as marking tragedy.

‘Never be forgotten’

Around a week after the October 7 massacre, Haim Jelin – a former member of Knesset, former mayor of the Eshkol region and longtime member of Kibbutz Be’eri – debuted his new tattoo: the date 7.10.2023 evocatively inked on his forearm.

“I said that the only way that people will understand that this was a holocaust… is if I get this tattoo, which is symbolic, it has the date of the tragedy of Saturday morning,” Jelin said in a media interview. “The 7th of October 2023 will never be forgotten. Not in 50 years and not in 100 years.”

Since then, stories of tattoos as memorials have piled up: After being released from 55 days of Hamas captivity, Mia Schem, who was kidnapped from Supernova, tattooed “We will dance again” on her arm, next to the date 7.10.23. Maya Regev, who was freed from Gaza with her brother, Itay Regev, inked “My brother don’t worry” in Hebrew on her arm following her release. Both siblings and their father are also inked with other October 7-related tattoos.

And as Israelis mourn their loved ones, many have marked their names, their faces or copied their tattoos onto their own bodies as a memorial. Tattoo artists have been hired for memorial services or even set up shop during the shiva seven-day mourning period to provide their services to the grieving. The date of the massacre, a Star of David, the name or logo of the festival and a map of the State of Israel have all been popular choices.

October 7-inspired tattoos created by tattoo artist Lior Yosefi in the weeks and months following the massacre. (Courtesy: Lior Yosefi)

Brother and sister Gideon and Noa Chiell, who were both murdered at the Supernova festival, had matching tattoos in Hebrew which read, “There’s no such thing as impossible,” a motto that was written on the gravestone of their grandfather. Several members of the family have since gotten the same tattoo in solidarity. Dor Shafir, who was slain at the Psyduck festival, had an unconventional tattoo of a lion eating the popular Israeli “Kariot” cereal – which was etched into his gravestone, and several of his friends got cereal-themed tattoos in his memory. Slain partygoer Gaya Halifa had a tattoo of a gramophone with a heart built in, and her entire family got identical ones after her funeral, with her parents adding the date: 7.10.2023.

An October 7-inspired tattoo created by Roey Pentagram. (Courtesy: Pentagram Tattoo)

Tel Aviv-based artist Pentagram said he has done only a handful of October 7-related tattoos so far, including a couple of the date, and the name of the festival, as well as a survivor who got the tattoo her slain brother had never gotten around to.

His most intensive to date is a large tattoo featuring an IDF tank crushing a Hamas terrorist amid the destruction in southern Israel.

He said it took about 12 hours to complete over two days and was commissioned by someone who did not lose any close friends or family in the attack, “but he’s very patriotic, very Zionistic and very much loves Israel.”

Therapeutic sessions

Tattoo artist Shelly Eliel, who lives in the northern Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, felt unable to work for the first couple of weeks following the massacre. But as the kibbutz and the surrounding areas began to fill up with evacuees, she knew she wanted to help some of them work through their experiences.

She posted on social media, inviting survivors and evacuees to come to her small studio, “and there was incredible interest. I worked for an entire month for free, and that’s what I was able to give them.”

October 7-inspired tattoos inked by tattoo artist Shelly Eliel on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael. (Courtesy: Shelly Eliel)

Eliel said she’s completed around 50 tattoos linked to the attack so far, many during emotional sessions: “There was a woman who came and we stopped a few times and she cried,” she noted. “I very much believe that tattoos are therapeutic… to translate the mental pain to physical pain as the start of healing – I understand that need.”

She had a particularly emotional session, she said, with a family from Moshav Netiv Ha’asara who survived the onslaught, “and went through hell, and it wasn’t simple… things really came out,” she said. All five members tattooed the Hebrew word “breathe” on their arms.

The phenomenon hasn’t even been limited to Israel: in London, tattoo artist Nick Rose inked more than 200 Jewish-themed tattoos for free between October and December for members of the Jewish community

Tattoo artist Yosefi is based in Shoham in central Israel, but she spent two days in early November in Mitzpe Ramon, visiting and tattooing evacuees from Kibbutz Erez next to the Gaza border – inking 20 of them in total.

“I really wanted to give something of myself, I really wanted to hear firsthand from people who experienced it,” she said, noting that during her mandatory army service, she had served as an observation soldier stationed between Be’eri and Nahal Oz, “so I felt very connected to it.”

Within just a few days of the massacre, Yosefi said she already started to get requests from clients to tattoo the date, or a Star of David, or a memorial to a lost loved one.

A tattoo of October 7 icon Rachel Edry designed by Hen Macabi and inked by Lior Yosefi. (Courtesy)

“It was pretty immediate that people wanted to get tattooed,” she said, noting she has since completed close to 80 related tattoos, including large groups like the friends of Danguri, Bartal and Ravia.

On one of her longtime clients, she tattooed an image of Rachel Edry, the survivor from Ofakim who became an icon in Israel after she offered her Hamas home invaders cookies and drinks, keeping them complacent until police stormed the apartment and rescued her and her husband.

The client inked Rachel’s face on his leg less than a week after the Hamas onslaught, telling Yosefi, “I think she symbolizes the unity of the nation, and I want to tattoo her so this will be my memory from the war.”

Pentagram said that he believes people will be tattooing images tied to the attack and the ensuing war for a long time to come.

“A lot of people told me that they want to but haven’t come yet,” he said. He noted that he has a veteran client who lives in Kibbutz Be’eri, and was rescued from her home after more than 20 hours hiding in her safe room: “After a few days, I sent her a message and said I wanted to do a free tattoo for her, ‘Although I’m sure it’s not on your mind.’ And she replied: ‘It’s very much on my mind, I really want to get a tattoo now.’”

He said that “people who love tattoos, it’s immediately their medication” for processing trauma.

He believes that as time passes, people will increasingly get October 7-related tattoos.

“I think a lot of times a tattoo represents the end of mourning and the start of moving on,” said Pentagram. “For some that could only be in another year.”

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