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

JERUSALEM — A Jewish man who could have been drunk as soon as requested him to tattoo “kosher” in Hebrew on his butt. His oldest buyer was a lady 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 Healing Ink, a undertaking offering free tattoos to cowl the scars sustained by survivors of terrorist assaults and by Israeli troopers injured in fight.

But throughout Holy Week and the times main as much as it, Wassim Razzouk’s tattoo parlor in Jerusalem’s Old City is filled with a few of his most dependable prospects: Easter guests who, in search of an indelible reminder of their time in Jerusalem, “want a tattoo as a certificate of pilgrimage,” Mr. Razzouk stated.

One buyer, Kathryn O’Brien, a 20-year-old pupil from Texas, deliberated between getting inked with a picture depicting both the Last 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 track, “Through & Through,” 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 supposed 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. Those tensions flared once more on Friday when Palestinians threw stones on the police, who responded with sound grenades and rubber bullets. More than 100 Palestinians and a number of other Israeli officers had 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 Bank.

The Old City, in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem, has lengthy been a crucible of friction. Captured from Jordan within the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, the realm 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, an emblem of non secular and political tolerance.

“I have tattooed Christians, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Israelis — believe 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 prospects gathered within the cobbled alley outdoors, ready their flip.

While tattoos could have moved into the worldwide mainstream solely in the previous couple of many years, the Razzouk household has been training the artwork type somewhat bit longer: 700 years, or 27 generations, he st ated. 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 a whole bunch of years in the past, and determined to remain in Jerusalem and arrange store.


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

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

Tattooing is mostly 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. But tattooing is now wildly in style amongst Jewish Israeli hipsters, and Mr. Razzouk stated some younger Palestinian Muslims now wished tattoos as nicely, influenced by the Russian jail ones they’ve seen in films.

He sends prospects in search of extra up to date designs to a studio he opened a couple 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 skilled.

“If somebody wants a Russian star or a pistol or a Kalashnikov,” Mr. Razzouk stated, “it is not appropriate to tattoo them alongside a pilgrim in their 70s getting a cross.”

He opened the brand new retailer, which additionally presents piercing, to diversify after two troublesome years of the pandemic. Tattoo parlors had been shuttered for the primary 12 months, and for a lot of the second 12 months, Israel was largely closed to overseas vacationers and pilgrims.

Now they’re coming again.

While a tattoo parlor could seem an unlikely station on a pilgrim’s route, the Razzouk household enterprise has lengthy been in style — below 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 hottest photos 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 are not easy to do,” Mr. Razzouk stated, due to the straight traces.

For some spiritual prospects, a cease at Razzouk Tattoo is nearly a religious ceremony on the voyage to the Holy Land.

“To walk in and be inspired by someone’s art is exciting,” stated Ms. O’Brien, the scholar from Texas, who went with the Last Supper. “I was seeing something unique that I couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Mr. Ferguson, the Episcopal priest, left uplifted, describing the expertise as “a great tradition.”

Razzouk Tattoo within the Old City 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 Old City, which was up steep stairs and more durable to succeed in.

Mr. Razzouk stated that whereas he wished to adapt the enterprise to make it “bigger, more modern and more professional,” he added that he was dedicated to preserving the household heritage, which he known as a “gift.”

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

Customers can leaf by two books, one with the normal designs from the vintage stamps, one other with different designs, together with numerous varieties of crosses and non secular symbols and a few extra fashionable designs, similar to “Love and Peace” in Arabic calligraphy.

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

“My answer is always the same,” he stated. “I tell them I don’t need your judgment.” He added that Healing Ink “is a beautiful experience and one of the most humanitarian things we have done.”

He has identified trauma up shut. Growing up as a teen 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.

More just lately, a Jewish Israeli buyer postponed an appointment. His girlfriend known 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 wished a “kosher” model on his behind, Mr. Razzouk stated he had checked that the client was certain earlier than getting all the way down to work.

Mr. Razzouk has discovered his personal means of transcending the battle, with out ignoring its complexities. His chief identification at this time, he stated, is because the founding father of the Holy Land Bikers Motorcycle Club. Its members embrace Christians and Muslims, he stated, and so they trip in coalition with all varieties of Israeli motorbike teams and have connections all through the Arab world.

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

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