Israeli victims of war, terrorism turn scars into everlasting works of art

Some of the world's best tattoo artists have arrived in Israel to help victims of terrorism turn their scars into memories they can wear proudly on their skin.

Israeli terror victims mark an end to their trauma with ‘Healing Ink’ tattoos. (Yocheved Laufer)
Artists 4 Israel brought eight of the world’s best tattoo artists here last week to join three Israeli artists, all of whom are using their craft to ink over the scars sustained by victims of terrorism and war.
The Healing Ink program took place at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, where 21 participants received meaningful tattoos that will forever leave a mark on their lives.
The program was commissioned for a second year after it proved to change the lives of last year’s 25 participants. “We are still getting text messages, calls and all types of communications telling us how we changed their lives,” Craig Dershowitz, executive director of Artists 4 Israel told The Jerusalem Post.
“They used to wake up every morning and the first thing they would see is the scar... Now they wake up in the morning and the first thing they see is something beautiful... They are now going to go out into the world showing themselves the way that they see themselves, not the way that they were disfigured by the hate of a person that was trying to kill them.”
The first tattoo session took place last Monday at the Israel Museum, which created an interesting backdrop for the project. “I’m super pumped that we are tattooing in an art museum,” said tattoo artist Megan Jean Morris from Maine. “A lot of today seems about giving people credibility and acknowledgment for what they’ve been through, both the artists and our clients.”
Shai Mattabashi, a participant in Healing Ink turns his scars into an everlasting work of art. (Yocheved Laufer)
One of the participants, Shai Mattabashi, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after being injured in a suicide bombing attack at a Jerusalem supermarket in 2002. He hopes the tattoo will bring him some closure.
Shai was an off-duty soldier on medical leave when an 18-year-old woman tried to enter a supermarket next to his parent’s shop to blow herself up. Shai recognized what she was planning to do. He ran into his parent’s store to get his weapon in an attempt to prevent the attack. But the terrorist detonated her explosive in front of the market once she saw him. Nonetheless, by preventing her entry into the market, Shai saved many lives.
To give him strength to move forward, Shai chose to have the names of his two daughters and a lotus flower tattooed on his arm. While he is divorced from his daughters’ mother, Shai has found new love and strength from his current girlfriend, Talia Pollack.
Pollack said it was important to be with Shai when he got his new tattoo because it was “the beginning of a new journey” they are starting together. The tattoo will also be a symbol of what he suffered from the attack, she explained.
On Wednesday, the project continued at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv, where the artists tattooed 10 more victims of war or terrorism.
Shiri Mirvis, a participant in Healing Ink turns his scars into an everlasting work of art. (Yocheved Laufer)
The venue was especially meaningful for Shiri Mirvis, a victim of the 2003 Mike’s Place bombing. Shiri lost three close friends in that attack and has suffered from PTSD ever since. “I’m getting myself to embrace the pain, because it’s painful, but to have it in a calm way,” Shiri said.
Because she finds solace in her art, Shiri decided to get a tattoo of a squeegee printing machine that she uses in her work. “The tattoo for me symbolizes the change I made in the last four years since I decided to get help and get better. And that’s the art I fell in love with,” she said.
Shiri has been coming back to Mike’s Place for the past 14 years. It was her first stop after leaving the hospital in 2003. “I said they tried to kill me, they won’t kill me. I’m here, so I came back.”
Russ Abbot, the artist tattooing Shiri, said he was honored to be a part of her healing process and the Healing Ink program in general. “I’m happy to be here in Tel Aviv. It’s an amazing place, full of amazing wonderful people, and Shiri has been super cool to work with the whole time. She’s got a great spirit.”
Nadav and Gilad Mezamer, participants in Healing Ink turn their scars into everlasting works of art. (Yocheved Laufer)
Gilad and Nadav Mezamer also got tattooed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Injured in separate attacks while serving in the IDF, the brothers decided to apply for the Healing Ink program to help them with their emotional healing process.
Nadav chose to get a tattoo of his dog because of the special connection he formed with his pet after being injured in Operation Protective Edge. “I didn’t really have anyone to throw my agony on,” he explained. “That dog was always there for me.”
Gilad got a tattoo of two musical albums that helped him through his hard times and recovery. “These bands influenced me a lot during my lifetime and I really wanted to do a tattoo dedicated to them,” Gilad said.
Franco Vescovi, the tattoo artist who worked on Gilad, explained: “The intention is that music helped him overcome what he went through. Every time he looks at this tattoo it will remind him of how great life is... It’s a conscious decision... The tattoo now reminds him of how beautiful life is. Because it is beautiful. It’s just a matter of perspective. So this tattoo is a perspective-shifter.”
“There is something amazing about doing a tattoo dedicated to your harsh life events,” Gilad added. “It’s something that helps you move on and rise above it.”