Jerusalem Tattoo Artist Inks Pilgrims, Priests and Those Scarred by Conflict

JERUSALEM — A Jewish man who might have been drunk as soon as requested him to tattoo “kosher” in Hebrew on his butt. His oldest buyer was a girl of 101. Members of the U.S. Secret Service usually cease by to pattern his handiwork once they’re on the town.

He has additionally been an everyday participant in Therapeutic Ink, a challenge offering free tattoos to cowl the scars sustained by survivors of terrorist assaults and by Israeli troopers injured in fight.

However throughout Holy Week and the times main as much as it, Wassim Razzouk’s tattoo parlor in Jerusalem’s Previous Metropolis is full of a few of his most dependable clients: Easter guests who, in search of an indelible reminder of their time in Jerusalem, “need a tattoo as a certificates of pilgrimage,” Mr. Razzouk stated.

One buyer, Kathryn O’Brien, a 20-year-old scholar from Texas, deliberated between getting inked with a picture depicting both the Final Supper or the Crucifixion. Her good friend Emily Rodriguez, 20, additionally from Texas, settled on a extra up to date impression, spelling out the title of a well-liked Christian tune, “By & By,” the black lettering ascending her arm.

Getting his first tattoo, Steve Ferguson, an Episcopalian priest in his 70s, opted for a Christian fish image merging right into a Star of David and a menorah, a design meant for instance, he stated, his affinity for Israel and the Jewish individuals.

Jerusalem has been particularly tense in latest days, earlier than the uncommon convergence this weekend of Passover, Easter and Ramadan, and amid a surge in violence. These tensions flared once more on Friday when Palestinians threw stones on the police, who responded with sound grenades and rubber bullets. Greater than 100 Palestinians and a number of other Israeli officers have been reported injured.

Since March 22, there have been 4 assaults in 4 Israeli cities, involving 5 Arab assailants who’ve killed 14 individuals. About 20 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fireplace throughout the identical interval, most whereas committing or making an attempt to commit an assault, in response to the Israeli authorities, or in clashes throughout Israeli counterterror operations within the occupied West Financial institution.

The Previous Metropolis, in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem, has lengthy been a crucible of friction. Captured from Jordan within the Arab-Israeli Battle of 1967, the world was later annexed by Israel in a transfer that was by no means internationally acknowledged. Palestinian leaders covet it because the capital of a future state and far of the world considers it occupied.

Mr. Razzouk’s tiny retailer is one thing of a haven amid all of the hostility, a logo of spiritual and political tolerance.

“I’ve tattooed Christians, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Israelis — imagine it or not, I’ve tattooed an Orthodox Jew with sidelocks,” stated Mr. Razzouk, who identifies as a member of the Palestinian Christian minority. “I’ve tattooed nuns, atheists and bishops.”

As nightfall fell on a latest night, the ink machine at his store was nonetheless buzzing as extra clients gathered within the cobbled alley exterior, ready their flip.

Whereas tattoos might have moved into the worldwide mainstream solely in the previous few many years, the Razzouk household has been working towards the artwork kind a bit bit longer: 700 years, or 27 generations, he stated. He’s the scion of a long-venerated household of tattoo artists, Coptic Christians who, as household lore has it, got here on a pilgrimage from Egypt to the Holy Land tons of of years in the past, and determined to remain in Jerusalem and arrange store.

Mr. Razzouk — along with his lengthy hair, Harley-Davidson biker’s jacket and keenness for bikes — determined to observe within the household custom on the age of 33. His two sisters and the cousins of his era weren’t interested by changing into tattoo artists, he stated, including, “I knew that if it wasn’t for me the custom would disappear.”

His father, Anton, 82, taught him the craft, having discovered it from his father, Jacob, or Yaqoub.

Tattooing is usually thought-about forbidden in each Islam and Judaism, and for a lot of Jews, tattoos stir disturbing recollections of the numbers etched into the arms of victims of the Holocaust. However tattooing is now wildly well-liked amongst Jewish Israeli hipsters, and Mr. Razzouk stated some younger Palestinian Muslims now needed tattoos as nicely, influenced by the Russian jail ones they’ve seen in films.

He sends clients in search of extra up to date designs to a studio he opened a number of weeks in the past in predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem. It caters primarily to the native market, which prefers extra realism in physique artwork, and is run by his spouse, Gabrielle, and an worker he educated.

“If any individual needs a Russian star or a pistol or a Kalashnikov,” Mr. Razzouk stated, “it’s not acceptable to tattoo them alongside a pilgrim of their 70s getting a cross.”

He opened the brand new retailer, which additionally affords piercing, to diversify after two tough years of the pandemic. Tattoo parlors have been shuttered for the primary yr, and for a lot of the second yr, Israel was largely closed to overseas vacationers and pilgrims.

Now they’re coming again.

Whereas a tattoo parlor could seem an unlikely station on a pilgrim’s route, the Razzouk household enterprise has lengthy been well-liked — underneath Ottoman, British, Jordanian and now greater than half a century of Israeli rule.

The enterprise is famend for its continued use of the Razzouks’ centuries-old, hand-carved picket stamps as stencils to information the tattooist’s hand. The preferred pictures stay variations of the Jerusalem cross, an emblem of the crusades that could be a cross of 4 equal sides with 4 smaller crosses drawn in every of its quadrants.

“Crosses usually are not simple to do,” Mr. Razzouk stated, due to the straight traces.

For some non secular clients, a cease at Razzouk Tattoo is sort of a religious ceremony on the voyage to the Holy Land.

“To stroll in and be impressed by somebody’s artwork is thrilling,” stated Ms. O’Brien, the coed from Texas, who went with the Final Supper. “I used to be seeing one thing distinctive that I couldn’t get anyplace else.”

Mr. Ferguson, the Episcopal priest, left uplifted, describing the expertise as “an incredible custom.”

Razzouk Tattoo within the Previous Metropolis occupies a two-roomed, cavelike area with a stone, domed ceiling close to Jaffa Gate. Mr. Razzouk moved right here about six years in the past from his grandfather’s unique studio deeper within the Christian Quarter of the Previous Metropolis, which was up steep stairs and tougher to achieve.

Mr. Razzouk stated that whereas he needed to adapt the enterprise to make it “greater, extra trendy and extra skilled,” he added that he was dedicated to preserving the household heritage, which he referred to as a “reward.”

Dozens of vintage stamps are saved in a glass case. A framed entry from the 2022 Guinness Ebook of Information declares Razzouk the world’s longest-running tattoo enterprise.

Prospects can leaf via two books, one with the standard designs from the vintage stamps, one other with different designs, together with numerous varieties of crosses and non secular symbols and a few extra trendy designs, reminiscent of “Love and Peace” in Arabic calligraphy.

A poster commemorates Mr. Razzouk’s function in Therapeutic Ink, a challenge began in 2016 by the advocacy group Artists 4 Israel. His participation has drawn criticism from some staunch supporters of the Palestinian trigger.

“My reply is all the time the identical,” he stated. “I inform them I don’t want your judgment.” He added that Therapeutic Ink “is an exquisite expertise and one of the crucial humanitarian issues we have now carried out.”

He has recognized trauma up shut. Rising up as an adolescent within the shadow of the primary Palestinian intifada, or rebellion, Mr. Razzouk misplaced a good friend who went out to throw stones at an Israeli settler bus and was fatally shot.

Extra not too long ago, a Jewish Israeli buyer postponed an appointment. His girlfriend referred to as to say that he had been concerned in a Palestinian stabbing assault. When he lastly arrived, after a delay of a number of months, Mr. Razzouk noticed two scars on his higher physique.

As for the person who needed a “kosher” model on his behind, Mr. Razzouk stated he had checked that the client was positive earlier than getting right down to work.

Mr. Razzouk has discovered his personal method of transcending the battle, with out ignoring its complexities. His chief id at present, he stated, is because the founding father of the Holy Land Bikers Motorbike Membership. Its members embrace Christians and Muslims, he stated, and so they journey in coalition with all varieties of Israeli motorbike teams and have connections all through the Arab world.

And he has educated the twenty eighth era of Razzouk tattooers: His sons — Anton, 21, and Nizar, 19 — work within the store.

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