While shopping for food for Shabbat at the mall in Ma’ale Adumim last week, I saw an unmistakable cross-shaped tattoo on the forehead of an Ethiopian woman who was otherwise dressed as an observant Jew. Then I started seeing it on the foreheads of lots of other Ethiopian women.
Apparently, tattooing crosses on the forehead, arm, neck or chest is very common among Ethiopian Christian women. So how did so many Ethiopian Jewish women end up with these same tattoos? Was it religious coercion? A way to hide their Jewish identity? Or some other motivation I’ll likely never understand?
We are all marked, impacted, by the experience of living in exile. For Ethiopian women, the mark is obvious to all who look at their faces. But a tattoo can often be removed.
The situation can be much more dire for North American Jews. The experience of living in exile in Brooklyn or Lakewood or Baltimore very often blinds us to the fact that we are living in, and building up, someone else’s land.