9/11 first responders, families tattooed for free at Apollo Theater event

Tattoo artists from across the city came together at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday to offer free tattoos as a way of drawing attention to the realities that 9/11 survivors face every day — and to pay tribute to the price so many first responders paid.

The project, spearheaded by Artists 4 Israel and Bishop Tattoo Supply, started in Israel last year as a way to help survivors of terrorism cope.

Craig Dershowitz, the president of Artists 4 Israel, said when considering how they could continue to give back they dwelled on the mark 9/11 left on New York. They knew that’s where they must go next.

He emphasized the importance of the tattoo artists being from New York.

“The whole history of this city is represented in this room,” Dershowitz said. “And tattoos offer an opportunity that other forms of healing don’t give. Anyone who gets a lot of tattoos knows how therapeutic they are.”

In a room in the historic Harlem music hall, the hum of tattoo guns filled the air. Arms, legs and backs were patiently painted with memories and tributes.

Some were adding tattoos to a collection. For Gary Smiley and others, this was their first.

Smiley was a paramedic with FDNY, and has dealt with a myriad health problems since 9/11. The tattoo he received Tuesday honored his father, who died in 1993. Smiley hopes the tattoo will provide opportunities to share with people the reason he’s here today: his love for family.

“This is something that’s always going to be here,” Smiley said. “I was a little nervous it was going to hurt, but it feels fine. And I don’t want to look until it’s done, because I know it’s going to be beautiful.”

Roy Ruland was a member of the NYPD in 2001 and was one of the first to arrive at the World Trade Center that day. He attended Tuesday’s event to honor a fellow officer, and friend, who died in the wake of the attack.

“As catastrophic as that day was, everyone was just doing their job,” Ruland said.

What scares him now, he said, is how first responders are still feeling the effects today — people like Smiley, who have made countless trips to hospitals and doctors’ offices.

But Ruland said he doesn’t regret a thing.

“People ask me all the time why I went down there on that day,” Ruland began. At this, Steve Pedone, Ruland’s tattoo artist, cut in.

“Someone has to do it. Someone has to be there when no one else is.”

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