I was in Malibu with my friend Amir, trying to recapture my youth on a surfboard. On the way into the beach, by the entrance off the parking lot, stood a shirtless man in his upper-forties. He was impressively built, but that is not what grabbed my attention.
On his back was a huge tattoo of incredible detail, covering his entire back. In the center of the tattoo was a sun with an orb in the middle. And in the middle of the orb were four Hebrew letters, Yud, Heh, Vav, and Heh, spelling the Tetragrammaton, the four- letter name of G-d, written in Torah script.
I went over to Brent who seemed like a gentle soul, despite his past career as a professional MMA fighter, and commented that his tattoo was a real piece of work. I shared with him a theory that it is usually possible to tell which tattoos tell a story, and which are a product of peer pressure, or chemical consumption, and commented that his seemed to tell a story.
Initially, he did not know that I was Jewish. Having a beard in Malibu, and wearing a wet suit, did not identify me. He began by sharing that initially there were five different pieces on his back, each telling their own story, and that he had wanted to unify these different stories into one. After some time, he found the right artist to do that.
A little later, his grandmother and great-aunt who were Jewish, passed away. He shared that they had been his connection to Judaism, and that he and his family would visit them every year for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and for Passover. When they passed away, he experienced deep sadness, not only because he missed them, but also because he felt a loss to a part of himself that he really treasured, a spiritual connection to his roots.
He decided to put the Hebrew name of G-d inside the sun, in the middle of his back, so that he would always be connected to the G-d of the Jews, literally making His name part of himself. To lighten the mood, I quipped, “If anyone should have your back, it should be Him.” Fortunately, Brent appreciated the humor.