Tree of Life survivors continue healing process through tattoo therapy

Joshua Axelrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Religious News

"It heals over time, but you still can't get over it," Eric said.

This was Amy's first tattoo and Eric's second. Eric was used to the pain and had no complaints about the process. Neither did Amy, who said getting a tattoo just felt like being pinched over and over again.

They both shouted out the sustained generosity of the Squirrel Hill community, who Eric said has "done wonders" for his family since the shooting. The siblings were also grateful to Dershowitz and all the artists there for bringing Healing Ink to Pittsburgh just for them.

"It's really crazy how they donate their time like this," Amy said. "I don't understand how people are so kind, but it's really nice."

One of the tattoo artists was Brittany Arizona, a 26-year-old who flew in from DeLand, Fla., specifically to tattoo Sharon Serbin, who in 2018 was an elementary school teacher at Dor Hadash Religious School in Tree of Life. Arizona was tattooing Serbin with a phoenix whose tail turns into an infinity sign that includes the Hebrew words for the phrase, "Still, I will rise."

The two went back and forth for weeks to get the design Serbin wanted just right, and Arizona said it was awesome to hear the recipient of her work say she thinks the tattoo will "help her heal stronger."


"It's honestly almost a little overwhelming to know that I'm doing something for someone who's been through something super traumatic and intense," Arizona said. "To make it something beautiful for them is a big deal."

None of the tattoo artists in attendance took their responsibilities lightly, including Arizona and Jamie Handyside, 21, of Bellevue. Handyside spent three years at Ice 9 Studio on the South Side as an apprentice and, like many Pittsburghers, had her sense of security at home permanently rocked by the Tree of Life shooting. She may not be Jewish, but she was eager to help Healing Ink with their project.

"You never know what people are going through," she said. "It definitely is therapy. It's a way to get that anger, sadness, stress out. And you get something really nice at the end, which is always amazing."

Among her tattoo subjects was Tim Hindes, 44, of South Park. Hindes is the creator of the "stronger than hate" symbol that combined the old U.S. Steel logo with a Star of David and almost instantly became representative of Pittsburgh's resilience and unity in the wake of the shooting. Handyside tattooed the words "stronger than hate" on Hindes' left arm.


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