Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do We Know Who We Really Are?

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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The first time I saw a mark like that was on a waitress at an Israeli restaurant I went to with my university Hebrew class in NYC. Someone asked the professor about the cross tattoo and she somehow got the waitress to talk about it with us. She explained to us that many Ethiopian Jews mark the foreheads of their children with crosses to protect their children and hide their Jewish identity from those who may want to do them harm simply because they are Jewish.

Anonymous said...

I was just reading online and found an interesting possible explanation for this- that the women are sometimes taken by muslim men. The Christians tattoo a cross on their forehead to keep that from happening. Maybe the Jews do it for that reason.