We’ve all heard stories of people getting regrettable tattoos — We’re the Millers famously mocked the sensation with the character who has the accidentally misspelled “No Ragrets” tattooed on their chest. Of course, in our day and age, it’s typically some type of Chinese lettering on a non-Chinese person that is incorrectly written.
So naturally, when a woman has Hebrew lettering tattooed on her arm, a Jewish woman tells her that the tattoo artist must have “messed up the lettering.” TikToker and author Kerry Schwartz tells the story of her "Paul in a dress" tattoo written in Hebrew, and her encounter with a stranger who approached her about it.
Kerry captioned her video by saying that "what could’ve been an awkward or offensive introduction for two strangers turned out to be a beautiful moment we both needed."
A woman approaches Kerry to tell her that her tattoo is incorrect.
Honestly, this is everyone’s worst fear. Imagine getting something permanently etched into your skin only to be told that it’s incorrect — it’s a nightmare! The woman goes up to Kerry and says, “Hey, I’m so sorry. I’m sitting over there and I was looking at your tattoo, and you might want to consider getting it fixed. They definitely messed up the lettering.”
The woman explained to Kerry that she is a religious Jewish woman who speaks, reads, and writes Hebrew. Instead of getting defensive or apologetic, Kerry takes this as an opportunity to connect with someone of the same faith. “Just out of curiosity, can you read it for me?” Kerry asks the woman.
Kerry tells us, “She takes my arm, and she reads it, and she said, ‘Yep, just as I thought. It says 'Paul in a dress,’ and she starts to chuckle. Then without looking embarrassed or upset, I asked her if I could tell her a story.”
Kerry tells the woman (and us) the moving story of her “Paul in a dress” tattoo. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a mistake!)
We all thought we were just tuning into a funny little video about a tattoo gone wrong. Nope! We’re about to bawl like babies because this story is much more emotional than we could have expected. “For my whole life, my family would always tease that I looked identical to my father,” Kerry explains.
“It would always be the running joke that we looked like identical twins … Last month my father was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. And last week he actually passed away. My father’s name was Paul and because I looked so much like my dad, for my entire life, my family would refer to me as ‘Paul in a dress.’” OK, I'm not crying, you’re crying!
“My friend, Frank, tattooed this on my body for me … Although it may not make sense to the world, it made sense to me. It was for my daddy.” At this point in the story, Kerry brings us back to her interaction with the woman in the café.
The woman told Kerry, “Your father must have been so proud to have such a lovely daughter like you … I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m so glad that I came up to you and said something because this just was so empowering and your story just made me feel so good, and it touched my heart.” OK, if we cry anymore we’re going to drown!
Not only is this a touching story in which a woman who made a wrong assumption gets a moment of human connection instead, but a reminder that tattoos often have unique meanings. “The truth is most people who get tattoos, their tattoo is meaningful to them and tells a story,” Kerry tells us. “And I’m happy that every time someone asks me what that means in Hebrew, I get to tell my dad’s story again.”
Tattoos have a complicated history in Judaism — many Jewish cemeteries still don’t allow people to be buried if they have tattoos, and Jews were forced to get “tattoos” during the Holocaust. That said, the fact that Kerry can share this story with all of us and this woman about how a tattoo in Hebrew can still honor her family and their traditions is even more meaningful.