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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In which David reveals his inner old fogey

Just tossing out a question here...

Is there any hideous or offensive American or European trend that Israeli kids won't embrace?  I'm serious... are Israelis not reviled enough by the rest of the world that we need to emulate the most off-putting habits and 'styles' from the sordid underbelly of foreign cultures?

Take, for example, face/body 'jewelry'.

I'm begging you... Please stop.

For the record, the third and even fourth earrings were kinda cute... and maybe even a little edgy.  And the microscopic twinkle from your discrete little nose stud was enticing in a vaguely Indian sort of way.  But this headlong dash to see how many piercings can fit on the ever-increasing canvas of your exposed skin is starting to become, well... revolting. 

If you were going for that 'non-conformist' thing... that train left the Berkeley station about 15-20 years ago, and there wasn't a seat left on it.  If you were just going for the shock value, you missed that mark as well and landed instead on something approaching self-parody.

Hint:  If I can see the clear outline of your barbell nipple piercings through your shirt, or you look like you fell face-first into a box full of fishing tackle... you've passed fashion statement and moved into self-mutilation.

Same goes for tattoos.  Although Judaism has traditionally taken a dour stance on tattoos, I have to admit that I used to enjoy eating my lunch out on 7th Avenue in the summertime and seeing a tiny tattooed flower peeking out from a passing ankle or shoulder-blade (not that I was looking, mind you!).

But I am seeing more and more Israeli teens going in for huge, ornate tribal tattoos on the small of the back or around the upper arms, and it makes me wonder if the cultural disconnect is deliberate. 

Besides the obvious downside to buying a piece of 'artwork' that you can never 'take down off the wall' (at least without surgery), isn't there even a twinge of revulsion at making such a permanent mark on one's body so soon after the Nazis were forced to close the world's largest tattoo parlor?

Throw in other self-destructive trends like smoking and drugs (both of which are on the rise here among teens) and my inner old fogey is left to wonder what is broken in our society that it feels it must be 'open minded' and accept these new manifestations of 'youthful rebellion' as exotic and foreign. 

If our teens need to borrow from the nations why don't they adopt the Japanese sense of duty... the German flair for industry... the Swiss penchant for neutrality?

OK, I'm shutting up now.  If you need me I'll be out on the porch in my rocking chair.


Posted by David Bogner on June 7, 2006 | Permalink


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When we were in Israel and I saw a tatoo on someone, I just couldn't stop staring in horror. I couldn't decide if it was the general Jewish frown or the connection to the Holocaust. (Both, I decided.) Yet, here in the states I wouldn't have even noticed it, unless it was truly spectacular.
I wonder if in Israel there is more a sense of 'our kids'. They say in Israel if you talk to anybody long enough, you will find people you know in common. Any tatooed kid can be the neighbors kid, so we care. I don't care what the teens in other countries are doing, I care what 'our' teens are doing. Like we all have the right to go up to these kids and say "If teens in other coutries jumped off the (insert tall landmark here), would you do it to?". Pull up a rocker for me too.

Posted by: Chedva | Jun 7, 2006 2:57:57 PM

"Swiss penchant for neutrality"

Surely you mean the Swiss penchant for caring about themselves, themseves and only themselves.

Posted by: Frummer???? | Jun 7, 2006 3:07:39 PM

I also need a rocking chair. I mention to some of the kids that they'll probably have a difficult time finding a job with all the "body art".

Sometimes I hear mumbles about not prejudging but it's the truth.

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 7, 2006 3:14:14 PM

You gave me a new marketing idea. You know how male pattern baldness many times lives a big gappig hole right under your yarmulka area? Why not put a big (yarmulka) tatoo?hmmmm......

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jun 7, 2006 3:26:59 PM

I was first exposed to it in the army - first time I'd seen Jews who had tattoos out of choice, pierced nipples - totally freaked me out.

Now it's really commonplace but I still find it distasteful.


Posted by: gilly | Jun 7, 2006 4:53:08 PM

or you look like you fell face-first into a box full of fishing tackle...

that's a great way to put it..

Posted by: Rafi G | Jun 7, 2006 5:01:26 PM

Don't forget, these are the same kids who go to sing-alongs and know all the folk dances in front of City Hall on Yom Haatzmaut.

You can cover them with tatoos, but they are still "our Israeli kids" on the inside.

Relax, David. They are kids acting out. They live in a stressful place, and have nowhere to look for cultural cues other than Europe and the US. Israel is tiny and therefore doesn't produce the cultural variety that teens crave, and they can't really look to other Middle Eastern countries to help create an indigenous culture, without TOTALLY pissing people off.

Hey! Mom! Check out my burqa!

Posted by: sarah | Jun 7, 2006 5:36:50 PM

I hope it's not your inner old fogeyness Trep. I'm 24 and I agree with you (although not about enjoying the little peek, I don't know, I have this total aversion to tattoos and I'm sure it's because of the Jewish and Holocaust thing but it's odd because I had it before I was observant). Although re: the Holocaust thing, American Jews are actually a lot more sensitive to it than Israelis. I remember recoiling in shock seeing an ad for a German dishwasher on the sides of Israeli buses that said "Mispar 1 b' Germania - Number 1 in Germany" (in Hebrew). Although I know Germany is a different country today (although I have some German classmates and I'm not so sure about them). OTOH, in that regard, read Na'alayim (Shoes) by Etgar Keret.

Posted by: amechad | Jun 7, 2006 6:02:36 PM

The worst is the tongue piercing. I can't help shuddering when I see someone with one. Which is probably the reaction that the teenagers want anyway...

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 7, 2006 6:33:54 PM

Have Israeli kids gotten into that delightful fad of tongue-splitting (exactly like it sounds-- the tongue is split partway down the middle so that the two sides can wiggle independently)? Going to college, I've gotten used to many things, but I will NEVER understand that. Ew ew ew.


Posted by: Kate | Jun 7, 2006 6:42:13 PM

Tattoolessness seems to have a very strong hold on American Jews. I remember being somewhat shocked when seeing a tattoo parlor in Israel, considering that one of my nonobservant Jewish friends from college emphatically keeps only three [non-interpersonal] mitzvot — fasting on Yom Kippur, not eating bread on Pesahh, and not getting a tattoo.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Jun 7, 2006 6:54:28 PM

You're singing one of my tunes OG (old guy).

Let's take a peek behind this trend shall we? How could such a gulf open up between one generation and the next? I take excessive tatooing and piercing as a hard sign of self-destructive and overtly rebellious/anti-social behaviour. Their's a reason dedicated convicts and criminals do this to themselves.

Your kind of a 'tweener'. Set so close to the latter end of the boomer generation you almost didn't get in. I'm smack in the midle of it and my view from before (my parents) to after (today's teens) is probably a little different. Personally at 56 I don't see that much space between my father's world view and mine now. In stark contrast I cannot find anything in common with today's pop culture and the youth bathed in it.

I believe this is because the greatest influence on today's youth is other youths not their parents. They live in their own world and are tossed like a cork in a torrent from trent to trend. It isn't just the rebelliousness of youth. The ages old archetype of the pendulum swings of culture.

I see something far more extreme and unsettling. A society losing control of itself and taking giant leaps into the unknown on whims and nearly psychotic bi-polar emotionalism.

The Jews seem to me to have protected themselves from radicalization of their youth better than any other segment of western civilization. The Bar Mitzva is at least a relic of a very good idea. When I see THEM worrying about the generation gap ... even in Israel ... its evidence to me that my theory is indeed correct.

A society is in danger when parents no longer can raise their children in the way they see as proper. Children living wholly within a world of their own making, a world hidden and unknown and even unknowable to their parents, is extremely unhealthy, unwise and destructive. Especially when western society in general has already removed most of the guardrails along the fast lane.

Posted by: Scott | Jun 7, 2006 7:09:24 PM

I was amused and then revolted by the 60's, when I was certainly not 'old' or 'fogey'. The tattoos and especially the body piercing are way beyond revolting. Legislating against such excesses and poor judgment is, of course, the best way to solidify and encourage such behavior. Perhaps the best weapon (if that is what is needed) is sarcasm, satire, and a degree of mocking that cannot be ignored. This essay is a mild example of what might be useful.
For those who do grow up, the studs and rings and things can be removed, but tattoos are usually forever (!!!).
(collective sigh)

Posted by: Delmar Bogner | Jun 7, 2006 8:14:04 PM

I remember walking down Ben Yehuda Street and marvelling at how "behind-the-times trendy" Israelis were when it came to what out-dated aspects of American culture they'd latch on to. For instance, I saw a huge Hello Kitty display in a shop window and thought, "That hasn't been cool since I was five." Now, of course, 8 years later, Hello Kitty is cool again-- does that make Israelis behind or ahead of their time?

Then again, you're talking to the chick who scoffed at all the adults on tour who bought those stupid Arafat-esque doo-rags off the roadside merchants, thinking they were hip tourist swag. "Don't suicide bombers wear those?" I asked. Trends; it's all about perspective.

Posted by: Shanah | Jun 7, 2006 8:20:01 PM

I don't understand some of this discussion.

First of all, the whole body piercings and tattoo thing is NOT new. It was all the rage in the 80's among the punk crowd. In the early 90's, the punks had kids, and now those kids are teenagers! This is all soooo 25 years ago! They are EMULATING their parents, not divorcing themselves!

And second, YOU all might associate tattoos with the Holocaust, but obviously Israelis don't (and, frankly, I don't either. I find them distasteful and against Jewish law, but not horrifyingly reminiscent of a national tragedy). That's a cultural thing, and American Jews aren't necessarily more "right" about it. Maybe Israelis have other Holocaust associations that Americans don't.

You guys seem to have this knee-jerk reaction against tattoos because of the Shoah, but think about how much distaste is actually left if you REMOVE that factor. Not as much. Yeah, tattoos are stupid, distasteful, and often downright ugly. But they aren't a horrific shocker of shockers.

And, finally, I have to say - I have not yet seen ANY teens here with huge tattoos or multiple face piercings. David, I don't know if it's as widespread as you imply in this post. Not on Emek Refaim street, anyway.

The only people I've seen with huge tattoos are middle-aged men . . . who probably got them when THEY were teenagers, 30-40 years ago!

Posted by: sarah | Jun 7, 2006 8:52:51 PM

Pull up that rocking chair for me please - I am twenty one and still thinking whether I should pierce my ears (the first time) or not. I simply don't understand why people want to ruin their bodies like that. I think many people simply don't understand that tattoos, especially big ones, are just ugly. There's nothing cool or aesthetically appealing about it, just like there's nothing cool about smoking. Yet people do it, and then can't stop. I really think it's extremely poor judgment, an illusion that somehow piercings and tattoos make you unusual or tough compared to normal people. That they make you more open-minded. Unfortunately, despite all the talks about not judging by appearances, this is exactly what these teenagers are doing - thinking that a certain type of appearance makes you tough on the inside.

Posted by: Irina | Jun 7, 2006 9:16:09 PM

I thought about getting my tongue pierced as a form of self-defense.

Here is the very rough version of why.

I figured that I could attach a little vial of a tranquilizer of some sort to the piercing.

I would then be able to covertly spit darts at people. The sedative would render them unconscious and then I could go about my business.

Of course there are just a few wrinkles that need to be ironed out in the grand plan, but it does have potential.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 7, 2006 9:25:09 PM

Become like Japanese kids?

Lessee, I remember a lovely day in Shinjuku, Tokyo, where Japanese teenagers stretched as far as the eye could see... clothing covered as little as possible... hair in as many colors as possible... piercings, drinking, smoking, goths, punks, jazz musicians, and this was right outside the Meji Shrine, the largest Shinto shrine in all of Japan.

You sure you want Israeli kids to be like Japanese kids?

Posted by: Sr. Mary Hasta | Jun 7, 2006 10:15:21 PM

Chedva... My impression so far is that there is a struggle going on between the Jewish revulsion against tattoos and other forms of self mutilation and the desire to be 'just like everyone else. Unfortunately the latter seems to be winning.

Frummer... Neutrality is rarely born of altruism.

Seawitch... That reminds me of when I was working for a big corporation in NY. I had an assistant and was given authorization to hire a second assistant. I hired the best qualified candidate although she seemed to be painfully shy. By this I mean that she was very soft spoken and barely opened her mouth when she did have something to say. It was only after we had been working together for a few months that I noticed a flash of something shiny insider her mouth during a meeting. I asked her what it was and she admitted it was a tongue stud. I was horrified (the idea still freaks me out). The truth is that she was perfectly qualified for the job and she was a fantastic assistant... but I honestly don't know if I would have still hired her if I had seen the tongue stud at the interview.

Jewish Blogmiester... Perfect!

Gilly... "Distasteful"... boy you Brits have a knack for understatement. :-)

Rafi G... Isn't that what it looks like? :-)

Sarah... Hmmm, two really strongly worded comments. This must have touched a nerve. I have to point out though, that Emek Rafa'im is not a very fair sample group from which to make the sort of statements you have. Go to Kikar Tzion. Go to the Tayelet or the bus station in Tel Aviv. Go to the bus station in Rechovot. Go to any University campus. THEN let me know if you stand by your statements.

Amechad... I'm honestly confused about why the Holocaust echos so much more softly here than abroad. There are more people here with camp tattoos than anywhere else in the world.

Westbankmama... You're probably right. Oh who am I kidding, you're absolutely right. :-)

Kate... Thanks for that delightful mental image. Now if only I could poke out my mind's eye! :-)

Steg... I'm pretty sure your friend must keep some other 'bein adom l'makom' mitzvot... if only inadvertently. :-)

Scott... Your last sentence about the lack of a guard rail along the fast lane is perfect! Society (and by this I mean the social taboos that used to keep both parents and children aware of normal limits) seems to have adopted adopted an Autobahn ethic when it comes to enforcing limits.

Dad... That's me... doing my part to keep the world safe. :-)

Shanah... I'm less concerned with the timing of the trends. What bothers me is how they always seem to pick the very worst of the foreign shtick to adopt.

Irina... SO true. Just like the way so many rush to make 'non conformist' statements and end up conforming in their non conformity. :-)

Jack... Um, yeah... thanks for sharing. :-)

Sr. Mary Hasta... Hey now wait a cotton pickin' minute! You can call today's kids a lot of things, but comparing them to Jazz musicians is just plain wrong! :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 7, 2006 10:58:59 PM

C'mon David, think of the possibilities and what you could do with a little body mod. Open your mind a little.

You could be one of the few people in the world with a picture of Bucky Dent on your arm.


Posted by: Jack | Jun 7, 2006 11:10:12 PM

Jack... Could be worse. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 7, 2006 11:25:15 PM

*hides belly button with hands before speaking*

This time, it's not simply because you're old, David. I'm still a spring chicken, and I find most piercings and tatoos extremely distasteful. Even nose rings bother me, but that might be because I remember being told as a child not to put things in my nose.

Tatoos bother me only in the sense of being 'permanent' mutilations of the body. Piercings can and will close up and go away if he ring is removed. And while I am normally extremely aware of anything pertaining to the Holocaust, I'm not feeling it here. Frankly, having a number on all my clothes on the kibbutz bothered me much more.

Now, if teenagers start forcing each other to get tatoos as some sort of hazing ritual, I might change my mind.

Oh, and Jack...I tried it once. It takes a lot of aim and patience. I hit kept hitting the mailbox instead of the mailman.

Posted by: Cara | Jun 7, 2006 11:44:24 PM

Delmar suggests sarcasm, satire, and a degree of mocking that cannot be ignored to curb excessive behaviour.

Trouble is this no longer works. We took down the guardrail of shame a long time ago. From time to time you hear yourself or a neighbor saying something like, "Have they no shame?" or "Shame!" as a one world expletive that slips out almost unbidden when we witness the pornography around us.

But of course so many have no shame. Shame is bad. Nearly as bad as 'a lack of self esteem' ... something every child simply MUST have regardless if they deserve it or earned it in any way.

Posted by: Scott | Jun 8, 2006 12:43:06 AM

Late to the party but......
While I personally don't want one (thought about it, chickened out and am happy) I don't see the problem and I agree with Sarah concerning the Shoah - didn't come to mind at all and I am surprised how many people think of it - the REASONS for them are so different.

However, tattoos are hardly a new thing - numerous cultures throughout history have utilized them. Archeologists find freeze dried Peruvians from thousands of years ago with tattoos.
So, yes, goes against the faith, but hardly novel.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 8, 2006 1:01:58 AM

I was standing in line somewhere once with my then-four-year-old, and the woman behind us had an eyebrow ring. My daughter said, "Daddy, that lady has an earring on her face."

Posted by: ralphie | Jun 8, 2006 1:32:49 AM

I also agree with Sarah regarding this phase and the timing. When I moved to San Francisco in '91, nose rings were the norm, but not in most of the US. Soon, body peircings and all sorts of tattoos became popular, but again in SF it was above ground, whereas elsewhere it was still below ground. So I do find it funny that the Israeli youth are either just now catching on to an old trend, or you are late in recognizing this trend.
But nevertheless, I know that isn't your point here.

I have no problems with teenagers getting piercings, but because of the permanent nature of tattoos, I would advise them to wait until they became an adult and then rethink about it.

I personally wanted a tattoo (and sometimes still do), a small one, but at the time in my 20's that would have done it, I couldn't afford it. I therefore at that time, choose a piercing and no, not on my face.

Fifteen years later, I don't think I would regret the tattoo if I had gotten it, and I don't regret the piercing, but I did give that up when I turned 30 and was deciding to have children.

Posted by: Jaime | Jun 8, 2006 2:16:33 AM

Someone needs to invent the tattoo that dissovles in a year or two. Anyone, anyone?
I wrote a post about this very subject months back, because I just don't get the fascination with tattoos. Our parents thought we were radical for wearing tie-dyed shirts and bleached blue jeans....HA! Little did they know what their grandchildren would be doing!

Posted by: Cruisin-mom | Jun 8, 2006 6:23:33 AM

Try Henna - it's awesome.
You can get the tattoo of your dreams and it's gone in a month!

Posted by: Shifra | Jun 8, 2006 7:02:32 AM

It was big in Europe before it hit the US, per my 30-soemthing daughter who was working in Europe when body piercings were all the rage...

Monkey see, monkey do is really more like it....teens are very conformist---to each other's fads. Almost every young girl at the local high school has a bare belly, hip-hugger jeans, a belly ring and an ugly dark abstract tatoo in the middle of her back where her bare-belly style shows it off.

I think its both ugly and tacky--but then I grew up in a family that thought pierced ears were 'cheap' and only whores and sailors got tattoos.

and my feminist sensibilities cringe at the sight of young women who have the benefits of their ancestresses' struggles to get them equal opportunities in education, work, promotability, credit, etc--and what do they do? Run around dressed like the slaves and concubines of the Sultan's harem.

Posted by: aliyah06 | Jun 8, 2006 8:44:01 AM

I confess in a momemt of peer pressure, I got my belly button pierced when I was 24 and only removed it last year when I got married (at age 31). I have to say, I loved it, I loved knowing I had this little "sexy" secret beneath all my conservative clothing. I miss it really...but, getting older...time to move on.

Posted by: neb | Jun 8, 2006 8:47:48 AM

Cara... Don't worry, I'm not talking about the little belly button ring or anything else so subtle. It's the multiple eyebrow, cheek and lip piercings that make me want to heave. As to teenagers 'forcing' each other to get tattoos, I think you underestimate the power of peer pressure as a motivator.

Scott... While the word 'shame' seems to have fallen out of fashion, it is the concept of shame's disappearance from the landscape that has me more worried. Let's face it, most of societies rules are enforced by fear of shame/ridicule... not by the police. Society seems in such a hurry to make sure everyone is 'OK' that it has lost its collective memory of why some things really aren't 'OK'.

Lisoosh... I can't speak to 'numerous cultures'... I can only speak to mine. Yes, tattoos have been a tribal tradition in many cultures since pre-history. But the Jews are not on the list of cultures that have embraced this tradition. Just the opposite, in fact. Even ear piercings... something that was considered by Jews to be a sign of willingly remaining in slavery... are a relatively recent nod to foreign influences. It seems like the floodgates are now open and anything goes.

Cruisin' Mom... As Shifra so wisely pointed out, Henna is a traditional and temporary form of placing artwork on the skin.

Shifra... I wish there were Henna Parlors in every Israeli city instead of Tattoo parlors. I can dream, can't I?

Aliayh06... the same can be said about numerous hard-fought freedoms. Look at African Americans. They fought for decades for the right to integrate into American society. But if you look around now, it seems they are enforcing their own brand of self-imposed segregation.

neb... Your secret's safe with me. As I told Cara, my revulsion is not directed at the tiny little gestures (nose stud, belly button ring, tiny flower on the ankle) but rather on the large, mutilations that seem to be the norm these days.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 8, 2006 9:14:07 AM

I'm not the bling-bling type but I must admit that I'm surrounded by many who have adopted this form of 'beauty'... I wouldn't know whether this is true but the description of King Solomon suggests that he had earrings.

Posted by: pk | Jun 8, 2006 1:09:10 PM

Neb..,you said it so well. That is exactly how I had felt regarding my piercing. It was the "sexy" little secret under the conservative clothes.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 8, 2006 3:09:33 PM

"Shanah... I'm less concerned with the timing of the trends. What bothers me is how they always seem to pick the very worst of the foreign shtick to adopt."

Could you reason it this way: Israel is the one place in the world where you can walk with HaShem. If your level of righteousness can be that intense, so can the level of rebellion. ..?

Posted by: Shanah | Jun 8, 2006 5:52:26 PM

Judging by the amount of face metal- much of which would even seem too much for the Bikers I knew in England- on display at my cousin's recent High School Graduation (in Ezor HaMerkaz, nowhere near Emek Refaim or any other little bubbles) I imagine that we don't have long to go before we reach the extreme, and the only way for an Israeli teen to rebel will therefore be to boast a body clean of any piercings or tatoos. See, so you have what to look forward to, while sitting in your chair and muttering...

Posted by: PP | Jun 8, 2006 6:04:07 PM

I don't know...while I find the larger piercings and tattoos distasteful, I've never seen anything in Israel (including in the Rehovot bus station, which you mentioned above, or Tel Aviv) remotely like the mltiple facial piercings I've seen in Europe.

Posted by: Eyal | Jun 8, 2006 6:11:36 PM

Thanks Shifra...by the way, I had a great Aunt Shifra, who was a wonderful lady...everytime I see your name, I think of her :)

Posted by: Cruisin-mom | Jun 8, 2006 7:41:43 PM

PK... I had never heard that about King Solomon. Where is that from?

Shanah... I suppose like politics, Israelis don't know how to find middle ground.

PP... Kain Y'hi Ratzon. :-)

Eyal... Then either you are lucky... or looking in the wrong places. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 9, 2006 12:10:50 PM

I remember seeing one of those "teen-movies-of-the-week" that sort of adresses the issue. Basic plot: rebellious teenage girl arrives at Passover Seder with a small tattoo. Grandma, who survived the Holocaust, reacts in horror. Teenager doesn't get it, goes to bed. Has dream of being in the Holocaust, cattle cars, tattoo, labor camp, etc., & wakes up just as she's about to be gassed. Tearful apology to Grandma; teen reveals that the tattoo is a temporary one; all is forgiven. I know, it's a little over the top, but it stayed with me. I think what got me was seeing a modern, late-20th century kid living the Holocaust. It made it feel a lot more real. Maybe a visit to Yad Vashem or the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz (if it's still around) might give these kids a sense of perspective.

Posted by: psachya | Jun 11, 2006 7:22:22 AM

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