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An Open Letter to the Toronto Star and Jennifer Yang about Grant Bristow and the It Campaign

Posted by E on April 10, 2017

 

  

Please note: The letter I am posting below, in bold font, was written today by Martin Theriault of the Canadian Centre on Racism and Prejudice and has just been sent to the editors at Toronto Star and the journalist who wrote a slanted piece on Grant Bristow without bothering to check all her facts. I am pasting his letter here without Martin’s permission, because I want everyone out there who cares about truth and good journalism practices to know what is really going on.

I am too upset at this time to write my own rebuttal, but will do so in the coming weeks. However, I am ready and eager to present actual evidence – affidavits, along with correspondence between prominent human rights attorneys Paul Copeland and Clayton Ruby and Metro Toronto Police re. charging Bristow for actual crimes. Any media persons who are interested in actually knowing what really happened back then can contact me via my website’s Contact Me form.

I refuse to link to Jennifer Yang’s shoddy piece of “journalism” for the following reasons:

1) Ms. Yang didn’t even bother to contact me for an interview prior to going to press, even though her office’s IP address was recorded by Statcounter approx. a dozen times, scouring this blog for my Bristow pieces. And in spite of the fact she actually followed me on Twitter! Despite being considered an important witness on Bristow and Operation Governor and asked to testify in the House of Commons in 1995 about the illegal activities I witnessed Bristow commit, Toronto Star’s Yang didn’t deem my knowledge worth even a 5-minute interview.

2) While I am glad that she at least thought to contact Bill Dunphy, Yang neglected to fact-check with other seasoned journalists who investigated Bristow, such as Andrew Mitrovica. However much I disagree with some points of his Walrus piece, his knowledge of Bristow’s actions is worth taking another 5 minutes to contact – that is, if you are trying to write an unbiased, legitimate piece of journalism.

3) Yang made no attempt to interview any women – whether me as an eyewitness or the women who were terrorized by Bristow. Who knows, perhaps our gender disqualifies us from commenting on CSIS and political affairs. Again, I would have been glad to connect her to some of Bristow’s former victims or at least show her evidence of their assault and harassment, but she didn’t think I needed to be contacted.

4) Yang glossed over a very serious attempt by Grant Bristow sometime in 2010 to undermine then-Edmonton Jewish mayor Stephen Mendel’s electoral campaign by assuming a fake journalist persona and conducting an interview that resulted in Bristow being slapped with a libel charge. This, plus the Fifth Estate-recorded testimonies of many of the strippers who were around Grant Bristow during his stint as a failed strip-club comedian should go to revealing the character of a man who was paid, in total (before and after entering the Witness Protection Program) hundreds of thousands of dollars – and never led to a single arrest and conviction of a Canadian white supremacist.

5) There is ZERO proof of an attempted Heritage Front attack on Bernie Farber or the CJC – if this was more than fabrication on Bristow and his handler’s part, why did we not hear about this before CSIS went into damage control mode? What better way to neutralize outrage from the Jewish community but concoct a story about averting the assassination of one of its prominent spokesmen? If it were true, why wasn’t Wolfgang Droege or whoever discussed such an attempt ever charged with conspiracy to commit murder, or terrorist plotting, or whatever?

The answer is simple – because it didn’t happen. Or someone would have been charged and convicted, pure and simple. When I met Bernie Farber at his office back in 2014 and we discussed my book Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up, of which he was extremely complimentary of and displayed it on his bookshelf, he privately expressed to me his own doubts about that plot – along with referring to Bristow as a “schmuck”.

Grant Bristow’s sole purpose was to be an architect of the Heritage Front and build it to the point where crime would occur to justify the operation. Somewhere along the way, he turned into the rogue agent provocateur who compelled many dangerous neo-Nazis and even an underage girl like me to commit crimes – even going so far as to hand us lists of names, home and work addresses, and the telephone numbers of the people he wanted us to terrorize.

And when  he was finally questioned about Heritage Front crimes, including his own participation, CSIS provided him with a lawyer and coached him on how to avoid offering any self-incriminating answers when questioned by Metro Toronto police (see letter photo above) and essentially hinder any and all investigations.

For Toronto Star to quote Grant Bristow on the dangers of white supremacy is tantamount to allowing an unrepentant ISIS jihadist the platform to preach about the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism. It’s contrived, ill-thought, fake and utterly reprehensible.

Without further ado, here is Martin Theriault’s letter to the Toronto Star in response to the piece published by Jennifer Yang in yesterday’s paper.

Date: 2017-04-10 16:20 GMT-04:00
Subject: About Bristow and your story of April,9, 2017-
To: jyang@thestar.ca, publiced@thestar.ca

My name is Martin Thériault. At the time of the Heritage Front and the Bristow affair, I was the coordinator of the Canadian Center on Racism and Prejudice (CCRP). I have been involved in the anti-racist movement in Canada and abroad since 1979. I was a very active element in confronting hate and bigotry in all parts of Canada. At the time, I was the one that got Elisse Hategan out of the Heritage Front and was a key member in organizing the prosecutions of Wolfgang Droege and his associates at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. The chief prosecutor, Eddie Taylor, counsel of the Cdn Human Rights Commission, was able to get a conviction and sending these neo-nazis to jail and stop the operation of their hateline with the testimony of Elisse Hategan. The judge commended the excellent testimony of Ms. Hategan in his ruling of the case.

At these hearings, Grant Bristow was the chief organizer for the defense of the Heritage Front leadership, providing materials in the hope to discredit the testimony of Ms. Hategan. His work failed and the neo-nazis were sent to jail. Even at that time, neo-nazis from the Hammerskin movement came up from Buffalo, NY on the clear purpose of doing a job on Ms.Hategan, myself and the late Rodney Bobiwash, also from the CCRP and the Native Center of Toronto. This was a key moment and Bristow worked extensively to develop a defense strategy for the nazis! This is IT for such so-called great canadian!

Bristow was a member of a rogue unit of CSIS in Toronto. His handler,and his staff, did everything they could to support Bristow in his work. Al’s angels, as we referred to them, were always in attendance at the hearings. Ms.Hategan, myself and Eddie Taylor had to fight our ways to get police protection during these hearings. 

Bristow never sent anyone in jail. In your article, you mention that he was instrumental in the arrest of the donut shop gang(Barker and friends). Actually, this is also a fabrication. Weeks before, the OPP and Metro Police had signed affidavits from Ms. Hategan on weapons cache of some of these elements. When the info went up the chain of command, no actions were taken and a source confirmed to us that the top levels have received info NOT to support or do anything about the information contained in the affidavits!!!!

Bristow did nothing in respect to deportation of international white supremacists from Canada. In the Metzger’s case, even with an APB sent by Immigration Criminal investigation Unit to all entry points, the HF sent one of their boys to pick them up and got them into Canada. Bristow was the chief of security and intelligence of the Heritage Front. To say that he did not know the operation is ridiculous at best.

At the same time, CSIS made up a story that the Metzger’s planned to storm Queen’s Park or the House of Commons. The RCMP sent in a squad, a wrong one by the way, to arrest the Metzger’s after their speech at the Latvian Hall. I was with Mr. Bobiwash, a witness at the scene of the take down. For that made up story, the handler received a commendation from Ottawa!!!! In respect to Maguire, in Canada illegally and staying at Bristow’s apartment, he was arrested with Bristow with weapons and later deported. Maguire was, for anti-racist researchers on both side of the borders, an FBI informant on Aryan Nations and other organizations. As for Dennis Mahon, well, he was arrested by immigration at Pearson’s by immigration officials while Bristow was waiting at the arrival point. He was also put on questions by immigration officials but his handler showed up to get him out.

Bristow did the campaign for criminal harassment of anti-racists by members of the Heritage Front. Close to 100 people were the victims of that campaign, at home, at work and even at doctor’s appointment.

He trained, lead and organized the campaign. Some people lost their job, had to move out of Ontario, some victims of physical assaults. One social worker who had the greatness of adopting an afro-canadian child suffered dire consequences from that campaign. Her house was spray-painted, the tires of her car slashed. They also made an anonymous call to Children’s service to claim she was abusing her adopted child!!!

Only by the testimonies of the Police  chief of Toronto at the time and members of the city council, the claim was rejected based on the fact that it was baseless accusations and made by Heritage Front members. Her only crime- she was involved in forming the Riverdale Citizens coalition against racism, a group of local residents who just didn’t want to have neo-nazis in their area and provide education on racism and bigotry.

Bristow made up stories in his interview. This is the way he works all his life. When exposed, he got a well-paid pensions, a new house, a new car, a new identity and even some free connections to his family and free trips paid by the money of canadian taxpayers. He now says to be in the marketing business! It is interesting that he finds the SIRC report to be an honest recollection of what he did! In fact, SIRC made a report without any involvements or testimonies from the victims or anti-racists. I remember once a member of the Solicitor-general’s office asking what would they need to get out of that mess. I told him there was no exit from the truth and the whitewash report of SIRC would only deepens the cover-up of the rogue unit that Bristow was part of. 

Finally, I can only hope that you read the book of Elisse Hategan Race Traitor-The true story of Canadian Intelligence’s greatest cover-up. You will not find all the story but important parts of it in regards to Bristow’s real activities. Ms. Hategan went into hiding with the support of community members and anti-racists. She never got anything from the State, while Bristow is day-dreaming in the Foothills for his agent-provocateur work paid by Canadian taxpayers. One word, watch the tapes of Bristow’s speeches at neo-nazi rallies and he was shouting White Power! and as for the white powder, this is the one he is directing to medias in order to manipulate canadians.

I am still working against hate and bigotry. If you want , you can contact me at this e-mail address.

Martin Thériault
Research group on the far-right and its allies

http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/HOC/Archives/Committee/351/sena/evidence/19_95-06-13/sena19_blk-e.html

 

Posted in canada, grant bristow, news, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Speaking Engagements coming up this spring

Posted by E on February 10, 2017

race-traitor-flyer-hadassah-talk

This spring I will be speaking at Limmud Toronto, for Hadassah-WIZO, at a couple of Toronto synagogues, at SUNY (State University of New York) and at Montreal’s Vanier Symposium on the Holocaust and Genocide. Please join me at any of these events and help continue the discussion against right-wing extremism, racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacist crime and the alt-Right.

My first talk is coming up on Thursday March 9th at 7:30 PM, at an event organized by Canadian Hadassah-WIZO CHW and sponsored by Toronto law firm Gelman and Associates, and Budovitch Legacy Planning. It’s going to be a fantastic & informative evening, so put it in your calendar and feel free to share the link!

Next, I am so excited to have been invited to be a presenter at Limmud Toronto 2017, which will take place on Sunday, March 19. Limmud is an international “festival of Jewish learning that celebrates the rich diversity of Jewish culture and heritage.” It takes place annually in several countries and brings together members of the Jewish community, who all connect and exchange stories and presentations on a wide array of topics of interest to the Jewish community ranging from politics, religion, family, education, feminism and history to cultural multimedia such as film, music and dance.

My presentation ‘Hearts of Hate: Confessions of a Teenage Neo-Nazi’ is at 12:00 PM and is scheduled for only 45-minutes but I look forward to connecting with everyone before, during and after the talk!

limmud-toronto-2017

There are several other events that I will update as I go along, but won’t do it too prematurely. I have made the decision not to post dates to my speaking engagements too early due to stalkers and potential threats from neo-Nazis. Early in January I had to file a police report about threats and harassment I received subsequent to being quoted in an article that appeared in the National Post in December 2016 and which critiqued a popular Canadian white supremacist named Veronica Bouchard, aka “Evalion”.

After being quoted just once, I was sent ugly messages via my website and blog – nasty messages targeting me as well as Joseph Brean, the journalist who wrote the piece, and another former Heritage Front individual whose name had also been included in the article.

Let me tell you, nothing beats getting threatening emails over the holidays and New Year. Following that article, I was in contact with other journalists who had covered “Evalion” in the news and were subsequently targeted for harassment and abuse via Twitter and email. White supremacists even went so far as to buy Brean’s firstandlastname.com domain and created a website where they are falsely accusing him of being a pedophile and hitman.

These are highly-seasoned, senior journalists who were threatened, and I was encouraged by one of them to go to police. I was connected to the particular hate crimes unit detectives via B’nai Brith, who also encouraged me to report this. Even though I’m no stranger when it comes to encountering online trolls, it still came as a shock that something like this could happen simply for being quoted in an article.

In the days that followed, I was additionally targeted for cyber-abuse from Veronica, the neo-Nazi young woman who was profiled in the National Post piece, along with her anonymous Twitter groupies. Things were said to me both in public and private that led me to feel seriously threatened and I had no recourse but to appeal to police. Thankfully, Veronica’s Twitter account was subsequently shut down but I’m certain it’ll pop right back up or under a different handle soon enough despite the fact there are several ongoing investigations into her alleged hate activities. Still, I don’t feel it’s in my best interest to announce my future talks until just a couple of weeks prior to the events.

I am also scheduled to speak at the Vanier Symposium on Holocaust and Genocide, at SUNY (State University of New York) and at a couple of Toronto-area synagogues. Please check back next month as I will update this post with the dates and details of those events. As always, I’m grateful for your support and look forward to connecting with you guys this spring!

Posted in activism, jewish, journalism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Year of Light and Darkness

Posted by E on December 30, 2016

elisa-dec2016As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been a very transformative year for me. An extremely difficult one as well since this month marks one year since my mother’s death last December, and her loss still feels altogether raw and very recent.

But it’s also been marked by some personal and professional accomplishments: I travelled to South America for the first time on a research project, and I’ve finally completed my last course for my Social Media Marketing Certificate from George Brown college! I must confess, I was waiting to earn this degree before I publish my new Art of Social Media Marketing for Creatives book, and now it’s going through the final edits before heading off to the printer.

I wanted to also touch upon some memorable highlights. When it comes to publications, there are three I am most proud of this year:

1. In March I published my literary novel Daughters of the Air, which interweaves the tragic tale of Adele Hugo, a retelling of The Little Mermaid fairytale and a modern-day timeline into a story of obsession, reincarnation and exploration of everlasting love. It’s tone is similar to The Red Violin and Posession, in that it’s a haunting love story that spans three continents, three timelines and three hundred years – a search for the root of heartbreak that involves mermaids, political activists and haunted geniuses. It flows from Paris to the Channel Islands, from spiritualist séances to the austere coastlines of Nova Scotia.

I am extremely proud of this book and I really hope you guys will get a chance to read it, because I poured all my heart into this one and it’s by far my most ambitious novel.

Daughters of the Air  CV2 cover  CV2 poem

2. In April, my villanelle poem One Europe was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I was so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition. I was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art to create a similar pattern, and I’m so very glad that I wrote it. A villanelle has a very complicated rhyming pattern and creating it was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this complex was tremendously rewarding.

3. In July, my editorial article was published in the Canadian Jewish News in a three-page spread. Moreover, it actually made the front cover for that week’s print edition! Nothing beats receiving a congratulatory message from my former university professor, mentor and self-described “Jewish uncle”, renowned Canadian poet Seymour Mayne, praising me for having my article featured on the cover – he’d just received it in the mail hours before Shabbat, and it made our weekend.

cjn-cover cjn1 cjn2

Although I would gladly have written the piece for free, getting a cheque from the CJN for the article was a great feeling. Depending on Patreon, writing grants, freelancing projects crowdfunding sites to keep writing full-time is a haphazard, unpredictable process that can get stressful. A lot of people read my blog but very few realize just how time-consuming writing can be, and how generating money is a persistent issue. If everyone who reads my blog donated a single dollar to my Patreon fund each month, I would have a full-time income.

I’ve been a blogger and freelance journalist for years, but my work often went unpaid. My experience with CJN taught me that I can effectively pitch and sell articles to major publications, which has shifted my perspective and made me more ambitious about pursuing paid gigs with established publications. Who knows, lighting could strike twice and I might get another article to grace a front cover someday!

Elisa HasdeuIn the coming year I intend to work more on commissioned articles and less on regular blogging. Actually, I spent the early part of summer taking online courses to earn my certificate in Journalism from Michigan State University. Although I don’t believe that a formal degree is necessary in an oversaturated field where very few can find full-time employment, I see reporting, blogging and freelance work as a continuum in 21st century journalism. In a world where an increasing number of mainstream reporters are being laid off and digital publications redefine the profession, the lines between mainstream reporter, blogger and independent journalist have become blurred.

But don’t fret, my friends! Even though I will be making paid freelance work a priority, I could never give up blogging altogether – it’s become second nature to me. I started blogging in 2007 or -8 and it’s been such a helpful outlet of emotional and artistic expression for me, not to mention that I’ve met so many great people through it.

But time will be an issue. This spring I am booked for approx. eight to ten speaking engagements throughout Ontario and Quebec. In March I will be a speaker at a conference where Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, former Attorney General Irwin Cotler and several United Nations staffers will also be presenting. It’s also a great opportunity to meet others involved in human rights, genocide documentation and social justice issues.

Afterwards I will be interviewed for a PBS special which will be filmed in NY state. I’ve also been asked to speak at SUNY that week.

Between the speaking engagements, a commissioned book I’m working on for a client, writing my own memoir and trying to finish my MFA (I only have a semester left), time is a commodity that I will have to plan carefully. Still, the excitement of achieving so many personal goals is more powerful than my ubiquitous jitters of speaking in front of large audiences.

Under a Trump presidency and alt-right governance, more than ever, it’s an important time to be a journalist and activist. I look forward to bringing my story, knowledge and expertise about extremist movements to a broader audience.

This year I was a consultant on a short documentary about Ernst Zundel‘s former home, titled ‘206 Carlton‘, produced by a Ryerson University Documentary Media student. I was also quoted in several articles about the resurgence of the ultra-right wing in Canada, such as:

CityNews: Alleged Toronto neo-Nazi publication expands west, pestering downtowners

National Post: ‘Hitler actually wasn’t that bad’: How Neo-Nazis are using attractive young women to boost their movement

All of this has led to a sharp rise of hate tweets, Facebook messages and threatening emails coming at me from social media trolls emboldened by Trump’s win to the point of delusion. Par for the course, I suppose – though the vile anti-Semitic, misogynist words reveal the persons behind them for the pathetic cowards that they are.

Lastly, I’m proud of an extensive, in-depth interview I did with author Samita Sarkar of Blossoms Writing. It’s a worthwhile discussion to check out if you’re interested in knowing more about me, the story behind Race Traitor and its aftermath.

So on this note, I wish all of you love and light for the New Year. May your 2017 be bright and inspiring, and remember – tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one!

new-year-blank-page

 

If you enjoyed the read and wish to support a creative writer, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂 

Posted in news, poetry, politics, white supremacy, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

White Lies: How the CBC Ripped Off My Story

Posted by E on October 13, 2015

Elisa backcover

In 1998, the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) released a movie based on my life titled White Lies, which starred Sarah Polley.

The film producer and script writer, Dennis Foon, collected as many details of my actual life as he could based on trial testimony, newspaper clippings and interviews I’d given in the media, and then decided to produce a movie script inspired in large part by what had happened to me when I was a teenager.

Trouble was, although my experiences were appropriated for the story, I never received any credit or compensation.

So how did this sordid saga begin?

Hategan documentary VisionTVIn 1993 I was a teenager who was recruited into the ranks of Canada’s most dangerous (and notorious) white supremacist group, the Heritage Front. I was the only girl in the core of the movement, and was subsequently groomed for a leadership position. I began writing articles for their far-right publication, Up Front, spoke at rallies and even participated in talk shows on their behalf, such as my appearance on the Montel Williams show alongside White Aryan Resistance leader John Metzger.

I was still sixteen years old when I was introduced to notorious worldwide Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel, who welcomed me into his townhouse on Carlton Street in Toronto. As an abused, impoverished, often runaway teenager, I didn’t have a home to go to or a family to care for me, and this is where Zundel stepped in and became a grandfatherly figure to me, while simultaneously teaching me that Jews controlled the world, the Holocaust never happened, and Hitler (whose portraits hung from the walls of his home) was invariably right to eliminate the mentally and physically handicapped, the homosexuals, and of course the Jews.

By the time I turned 17, one of the Heritage Front’s leaders, Grant Bristow (later revealed to be a CSIS agent) started what would become known as the It Campaign – a campaign of terror waged against anti-racist and community organizers who stood up in protests against the Heritage Front. Bristow single-handedly instructed dangerous white supremacists tips and tricks of the intelligence community – how to break into answering machines, impersonate reporters, stalk your victims and terrorize them, threaten and disguise oneself to avoid arrest. The emboldened skinheads went out and continued the harassment with vicious street attacks, beatings, physical and sexual attacks, car-tire slashings, as well as spray-painting / firebombings of places in the community such as synagogues, bookstores, and even the home of a well-known Kitchener-area activist and member of the CJC.

I knew I had to get away from the Front’s escalation of terror. This realization came on the heels of me admitting to myself that I was gay. However, as a core insider I had a lot of information I could access, and had earned the trust of the HF leaders as well as Ernst Zundel himself, for whom I worked as an assistant and errand-girl.

So I turned to the other side, spied on my former friends for 4 months, stole Zundel’s international mailing list, turned whatever information I could to police, and defected. In March 1994 I testified against Wolfgang Droege and 2 other white supremacists in the court of law and sent them to jail for the summer.

Although my info had resulted in convictions and I had been threatened with death, I was denied Witness Protection, while Grant Bristow – the CSIS agent whose years of building up the racist empire in Canada had resulted in ZERO arrests and convictions – was retired in the Witness Protection Program and given a brand new house, two cars, a retirement package worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

meme

I spent a couple of years in hiding all over Canada, sleeping on sofas, floors and dumpster-diving for food before I finally got my GED and was accepted into the University of Ottawa (from where I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with a double major in Criminology and Psychology).

While still in hiding and going by a different name in Ottawa (they knew me there as Kat), the CBC was making a movie behind my back. A movie they advertised on their own DVD/VHS covers as a “True Story” – supposedly based on the “true story” of another ex-Heritage Front member, Elizabeth Moore.

WhiteLies SP     White Lies UK cover

I tracked down Elizabeth two years ago, after she messaged me through my website – she’s going by her married name now – and we became friends. She’s a nice person actually, a woman who bears no resemblance to the old Elizabeth who was featured (along with me) in Hearts of Hate. She confessed that the CBC had paid her $12,000 to be a consultant on the movie, and that they based it on her. She told me that Dennis Foon, the writer, had helped her get an agent to negotiate with CBC on her behalf.

I thought I had seen the film, but back in the 1990s I was suffering from PTSD issues and I realize now that I must have only seen a commercial for it. No matter – it was unavailable now anyway, out of print and besides, I didn’t really want to revisit that part of my life or Elizabeth’s. So I let the whole issue go, although a nagging thought at the back of my mind told me that I should really see the film and their interpretation of what had really happened.

And then, voila! last week I found it on YouTube, uploaded by a girl named Brittany and chopped into 10 parts. I watched it closely, with a growing sense of horror, as I realized – for the first time – that the CBC hadn’t actually adapted Elizabeth’s story but my own.

The only things Elizabeth and Sarah Polley’s character ‘Catherine Chapman’ seemed to have in common was a nice, middle-class girl background. Oh, and the fact that Elizabeth had actually dated skinheads back then, while I did not (obviously, because I was a lesbian).

The story of Elizabeth-as-Catherine quickly lost credibility as the movie progressed. Her acceptance by a thinly-veiled Ernst Zundel (played by Lynn Redgrave), who puts her to work for him and grooms her as the new face of the movement, was actually my own experience. Elizabeth never worked for Ernst. I did. She was never the “new face of the movement.” These facts were stated about me over and over in newspaper articles throughout 1992-1995, as well as court documentation – from my trial testimony against Wolfgang Droege and his boys.

image1

image2 - Copy

1992 Globe & Mail article that describes me (using the alias surname Deschner) as the new, softer face of the movement – a line taken by Dennis Foon and used on the cover of White Lies. 

There are scenes where “Catherine” goes to Klan rallies, shooting ranges, and is shocked by the escalation of violence – which makes her turn against “NIM” (which stands for a mash-up of the Heritage Front and Ernst Zundel). At one point toward the end of the film, “Catherine” is directed by a Jewish community leader to steal Zundel’s mailing list – this never happened to Elizabeth, but I did actually take possession of such a list (both from Zundel and Droege’s home).

All of the above-scenes were lifted directly from interviews I did throughout 1993-1995 with CBC, CTV, Vision TV, and various newspapers – notably Toronto Sun, Globe & Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen. 

TO Sun feature defection hategan testimony

I should add that there was a secondary character by the name of Erina who is essentially a used-up ex-NIM member whose only act of protest against the hate movement is to hang herself. The CBC had the nerve to advertise that Erina was based on Elisse Hategan.

Moore shown in Choose Your Voice, 2005

Moore shown in Choose Your Voice, 2005

So why pay Elizabeth $12,000 and pass off my story as her own? It’s a tough question, and I speculate it has to do with the fact that I was in hiding for my life and using different names, so they couldn’t reach me for comment. At the same time, Dennis Foon (as interviewed in the movie’s ‘Bonus Feature’) was excited by the prospect of making a film about a “normal”, “educated”, regular, “middle-class” white girl from the suburbs, with “nothing particularly deviant or crazy about her” (i.e. not abused, poor, gay or particularly vulnerable, etc.) who attended university being caught up in the white supremacist movement – while myself, as an abused runaway high-school drop-out from a low-income single-mother household, didn’t fit Foon’s arguably elitist profile of “girl next door”.

Ironic, considering that at 16 I was a runaway, homeless MINOR in need of a family when I was recruited, and by age 18 I defected from the group and turned information to police. Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a university-attending, 19-year old ADULT from an upper-middle class family who stayed in the group until age 21.

Ironic also, given the fact that my father was Jewish (I converted to Judaism and embraced my family roots several years ago), but Elizabeth comes from old Christian stock. Perhaps Foon and the CBC felt a privileged, Christian girl from a wealthy family would be more appealing as the girl-next-door?

There is also the issue of the story arc – the truth is, Elizabeth Moore came into the movement, stayed for a couple of years, dated someone in the group, distributed some posters, recorded hotline messages, wrote a couple of articles for Up Front, and then left as unmemorably as she had entered. According to her own admission in an essay titled From Marches to Modems, her first concerns about being a member of a white supremacist, neo-Nazi group came after she was featured in a documentary called Hearts of Hate – after it came out, she became very concerned about how she would be perceived (as in, her public image and I assume her school-grades) by her university circle, neighbours, etc.. It certainly wasn’t due to a perception that what she was doing in the Heritage Front was actually wrong.

Elizabeth Moore describing what made her leave the Heritage Front

Elizabeth Moore describing what made her leave the racist Heritage Front in the essay “From Marches to Modems”

If the CBC had made a movie about that, it would have been a flop – there was no action, no drama, no excitement. Elizabeth lived in the Annex (Clinton St) in Toronto for many years afterwards – pretty strange behaviour for someone who claims their life is in jeopardy. Nobody attacked her, nobody from the Heritage Front held a knife to her throat and threatened to take her life (like Peter Mitrevski did to me at Wolfgang’s urging). By her own admission (via a Facebook conversation with me in 2014), she was only a tertiary, fringe group member who wasn’t trusted with any sensitive information by the group’s core members:

liz confession1-1  liz paranoid

But that didn’t stop her from unsuccessfully asking the Canadian Jewish Congress to help her get admitted into the Witness Protection Program, a preposterous idea given that she didn’t actually possess any sensitive information and was never in danger. In fact, there are ZERO police records, independent evidence or media accounts /reports /articles about Elizabeth’s involvement with the Heritage Front until Hearts of Hate came out. There is virtually nothing as far as real evidence to back up her questionable claims of endangerment or self-importance.

In sum, after hearing Elizabeth’s own confession – both in writing and several conversations – that she had been considered paranoid by several psychiatrists back in the 1990s (and after witnessing her mindset in relation to another extremely serious and troubling issue which I won’t mention publicly due to respecting the sexual privacy of both Moore and other Canadian Jewish Congress individuals in question), I believe that she became fixated – even obsessed – with my story.

Unlike me (i.e. CBC’s “Catherine”), Elizabeth didn’t go to any gun ranges, Klan rallies, and most certainly didn’t steal any information, from Zundel, Droege or otherwise, to incur as far as I know any danger on the part of the HF. She didn’t “defect” from a group where, by virtue of being female (a ratio of over 10-1 in the hate moment) and a university student, was invited to tag along with Wolfgang and the boys, but wasn’t actually taken into confidence in terms of their terror attack plans on their so-called “enemies” – they had learned their lesson after I had betrayed them a year prior to Elizabeth coming on the scene.

I came out as a lesbian before Elizabeth decided she was gay too

I came out as a lesbian a year before Elizabeth Moore decided she was gay too…maybe. Or maybe not.

Moore telling me in a 2014 email that she thought she was gay too.

Elizabeth Moore tells me in a 2013 email that she thought she was gay too

And yet, that didn’t stop her from continuing to walk in my footsteps: after I came out as a lesbian and my coming-out was featured in Now Magazine, Elizabeth (who’d always dated men before, including a racist HF skinhead) confessed that she also went through a gay period (she’s back to straight now). Then she wanted to work with the media, and was excited to get that gig with the CBC.

Hategan defectionUpset, I decided to confront Elizabeth with the reality that the CBC producers who made the film had appropriated my story. Dennis Foon’s own website states the following:

“I was intrigued when I read about a high school girl, Elizabeth Moore, who had been recruited into the Heritage Front, a neo-nazi group in Toronto. She rose up in the ranks of the organization before she finally defected.”

Rose up the ranks? Defected?  Dennis Foon lifted that description from a Toronto Sun article written about ME.

According to Elizabeth’s own confession, she was only a tertiary, fringe group member.

liz confession1-1 

During the 3 years she was a fringe member of the Heritage Front, Elizabeth’s involvement was NEVER documented in any articles, press/media –  with the exception of Hearts of Hate, a documentary she volunteered to appear in, there is absolutely no evidence of anything that could constitute her “rising in the ranks” or having any significance whatsoever to the group’s leadership, other than perhaps in her own mind.

Unlike what the film depicted, Elizabeth Moore was never a speaker at rallies – I was. She never had access to Ernst Zundel’s data and I doubt she was in his townhouse more than a couple of times. I had enough on the Heritage Front to put its leader behind bars and disband CSIS’s Operation Governor – since I testified in Parliament in front of a specially-appointed Senate SubCommittee that investigated Bristow’s illegal activities, CSIS had to hide him in Alberta. His days as agent provocateur extraordinaire were over.

Hategan articleGrant Bristow CSIS Elisa TO Star article

Did Elizabeth Moore shut down the Heritage Front? Absolutely not. What were the CBC smoking – because I want some of it. Given Elizabeth’s own confession that she had been considered paranoid by several psychiatrists and that she hadn’t actually been taken into the group’s confidence, I believe that she fixated on my story after it received national press attention and subsequently (while I was in hiding for my life) appropriated it for her own benefit.

No – the Heritage Front, Ernst Zundel, and the whole neo-Nazi movement in Ontario were essentially shut down by the actions of a few brave anti-racist activists: Martin Theriault, Rodney Bobiwash, myself, Ruth M and Annette H, and by the hard-hitting articles penned by Toronto Sun’s Bill Dunphy. Although they continued to operate for a couple of years afterwards, they were nothing like the power-force they used to be in the early 1990s.

When I confronted Elizabeth, this is what she wrote back. It’s an exact quote of the email she sent me yesterday afternoon:

“What Dennis learned about you came from legit sources like court records, newspaper articles and talking to many people who knew you then. He did over a year of research on this”

CBC evidence

So basically, Elizabeth herself ADMITS that Dennis Foon (along with his chain of command, which include Phil Savath and Brian Freeman), researched my story via court documents, interviews with people who knew me, and then made a movie about…..Elizabeth?

Maybe since our names were basically the same (Elisse/Elisa vs Elizabeth) and we are both short, dark-haired women, they thought nobody would notice.

It’s pathetic.

Pathetic because while I was dumpster-diving for survival and begging for spare change on street corners while in hiding, people were making money hand over fist based on what had happened to me. Producers were attending Emmy and Gemini galas and getting nominations for a film that wouldn’t have existed without me.

Pathetic because even after I wrote my memoir last year and was interviewed by the CBC’s Director of Programming / Original Program Development Sadia Zaman (who interviewed me 20 years earlier in a half-hour documentary for Vision TV), nobody at the CBC was willing to give me even a sound-bite of coverage. The story wasn’t relevant anymore – in today’s political climate, only Muslims can be terrorists. There’s no such thing as racism and white supremacy anymore.

I guess they had already capitalized on my story and were busy supporting other CBC rock stars like, you know, Ghomeshi?

I don’t know of any lawyers who can help me pro-bono in going after the CBC – but if you can help, please email me. Regardless of whether I can win a lawsuit against them or not, it’s clear that from a moral (and karmic) viewpoint, my story was exploited and I received no compensation, no credit whatsoever from the publicly-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I have an extended collection of media clippings that demonstrates many of the events depicted in White Lies were actually based on my experiences: http://elisahategan.com/press_clips

I would suggest the CBC revise the title of that shoddy film as “CBC Lies.” For anybody who is interested in what really happened back in the 1990s, please read my book Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up. (Sorry for the shameless plug, guys, but I didn’t score a dime from the CBC and I’m telling a TRUE STORY.)

book2 Elisa and RT

So if you’re reading this – Dennis Foon, Phil Savath, Brian Freeman, Kari Skogland, whoever else worked on it and yes, especially Elizabeth Moore – you should all be ashamed of yourselves.

karma

Posted in 1mooreliz, cbc, dennis foon, elizabeth moore, heritage front, onemooreliz, thelizbuzz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became A Jew

Posted by E on August 10, 2015

Elisa Jerusalem cropped

I became a Jew on the day I was born, December 17. Thirty-eight years had passed between the moment my mother gave birth to me in Romania and the day I was formally accepted as a Jew by rabbis in a North American synagogue.

After I’d completed a year of study, my mentor rabbi informed me that I was ready to take the next step toward conversion – writing a formal essay explaining why I wanted to embrace the Jewish faith, and meeting with a Beit Din. For those reading this who are unfamiliar with the term, a Beit Din is a rabbinical court assembly made up of three observant Jews (at least one of whom is a rabbi) who decide if a convert is fit to be accepted for conversion to Judaism.

Embracing Judaism was the last step along a journey of self-discovery that had taken me many years to explore, and I wanted to do this right – it was important to me that I should have a conversion process that followed the halacha (Jewish law) closely, which meant having a Beit Din made up of at least one rabbi, followed by a ritual immersion in a synagogue mikvah – a pool of water derived from natural sources.

It was the beginning of December and with my birthday right around the corner, it was only natural that I would schedule my Beit Din and Mikvah day on my birthday. How could I choose any other date? What better day to experience a spiritual rebirth and be formally acknowledged as Jewish?

The sun was shining brightly when I woke up early in the morning – too early in fact. The excitement and nervous butterflies churning in my stomach made it impossible to go back to sleep. ‘This is the last day I’ll wake up and not be Jewish,’ I thought. I busied myself by having a long shower, brushing and flossing my teeth, washing my hair and scrubbing my fingernails and toenails free of any traces of nail polish – there was to be no barrier between the body and the Mikvah water.

Brilliant sunshine illuminated the path toward the Beth Hillel synagogue where I would be formally interviewed. I knew it would be a beautiful day, and it turned out exactly as I’d imagined – how could such an important day ever be shrouded in clouds?

The rabbis met me in the lobby of the synagogue at noon. My Beit Din was composed of three ordained rabbis, all active members of the Rabbinical Assembly, although one had retired from his congregation. After everyone arrived, we walked over to the meeting room in the back of the synagogue. A long conference table split the room which could have seated twenty. The three rabbis sat on one side of the table, and I took a seat across from them.

“As we begin, I’d like you to tell us what brought you here and why you want to become Jewish,” Rabbi Levine said.

I summarized some of the key points that I wrote about in my conversion essay:

“The feeling that propels me toward Judaism isn’t as simple as breaking it down into words. It’s a feeling, an echo of something within myself that I am just now recognizing and giving voice to.

I feel that I have always been a Jew. I was born in the mid-1970s in communist Bucharest. Under Ceausescu’s dictatorship, Romania didn’t prioritize religion, choosing instead to indoctrinate their people to worship the State. I don’t remember either of my parents being religious in any way. We never went to church. I identified with my father’s family much more than my mother’s side. I stood out among my maternal cousins by being the black-haired, dark-eyed child who didn’t fit in. People said that my father and I ‘looked Jewish’.”

 Iosif Hategan age 15 Iosif and Ana

Above: me at age 11.  Centre: my father Iosif (Josef) at age 15.  Right: My father and grandmother Ana.

We emigrated to Canada when I was 11 years old. My father subsequently decided to return to Romania and died there when I was 13. I never had the opportunity to ask him all the questions I would have liked to know – Why did he hide his own heritage? Why did he feel ashamed of who he was?

I’ve had people tell me, Why bother to convert. Your father was a Jew, you don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah, so what’s the difference? But it bothers me that I am not recognized by all Jews as a fellow Jew because of my patrilineal descent, and I feel the need to undergo this formal process so that I can both learn much more about Judaism, and to feel like a “real” Jew.

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a family and a connection that has always been there, just outside the realm of my consciousness and yet was always there. Like a pulse that cannot be subdued.

After my father’s death, I lived in a rough low-income neighbourhood with my mother. As time went by, she grew increasingly abusive and I had no choice but to run away. Between the ages of 14-16 I lived in several Children’s Aid homes. In time, I ran away from an abusive foster home and returned to my mother’s apartment. At age 16 I was friendless and desperate. Eventually I became recruited by a neo-Nazi group, the Heritage Front. They became the family I felt I’d never had, and looked after me at a time when my only choice was to live on the streets. They also put me in touch with an internationally-renowned Holocaust revisionist and Hitler sympathizer, Ernst Zundel. Zundel gave me a job working in his basement printing press, fed me and looked out for me.

By the time I turned 18 I knew that what the group was doing was wrong. I wanted out of the organization but they were possessive of me and I didn’t know of a way out. I attempted suicide and eventually I turned to an anti-racist activist, who put me in touch with the director of a think-tank on extremist right-wingers. He, in turn, asked me to spy on the Heritage Front and Ernst Zundel and collect information that could be turned over to the police.

defection 1994-2Hategan articleMetro Toronto

For half a year I gathered as much information on illegal activities, weapons and dangerous persons, as well as stole Ernst Zundel’s national and international mailing list, which consisted of people all over North and South America and Europe who had sent in money to fund Zundel’s Holocaust revisionist projects. In 1994 I testified in court and sent 3 Heritage Front leaders to prison, effectively dealing a serious blow toward dismantling the group.

I was only 19 years old. I lived in hiding and attended university in Ottawa under an assumed name. Upon graduating Magna cum Laude with a Criminology and Psychology double-major, I taught ESL in Seoul, South Korea and subsequently travelled throughout Europe the following year.

I spent some time in Krakow and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. Something stirred in me that summer – an inexplicable familiarity, a sense that I was connected to those places in some undefinable way. When I first heard Ladino songs, it was as though I could almost recognize them. The music seemed familiar somehow. Then there were the places in the south of Spain, as well as in Poland and Hungary that I visited – they felt as though I’d been there before. In Debrecen, the city my father was born in, I allowed my feet to take me where they wanted to go, and I ended up on a narrow, cobblestoned street, in front of a half-burned synagogue with smashed-out windows.

It felt like I had been there before. The feeling was strong, palpable, like a childhood memory – a memory that was just outside the realm of my consciousness.

I eventually returned to Canada and tried to lead a normal life. But something always clawed at the back of my consciousness, pushing me toward a Jewish path. I lived along Bathurst street, in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. I began to read books on Judaism and spirituality. Ten years went by since I first thought of undergoing a formal conversion to Judaism, but something always held me back – I first wanted to discover the truth about my father, my family’s past. I had to know our own past in order to go forward.

During a visit to my paternal grandmother’s village in Transylvania, I tracked down relatives, old family friends and neighbours, and asked questions. At my uncle’s house, among my deceased grandmother’s possessions, I discovered a box of mementos and photographs that I’d never seen before. The box was marked with the Jewish surname “Kohan” – the Hungarian version of Cohen. I finally began to believe that my suspicions had been true, and that my father had actually been Jewish.

Back in Canada, I ordered a DNA kit from 23andme, sent in my saliva sample and waited for a month to receive my results. When they came in, it was a surreal experience – one of the most significant days of my life. To realize that after so long, what I had suspected was actually true! I burst into tears of joy, knowing that I was no longer alone – at last I had a past, a history. And well over 20 relatives in the 23andme database with the surname Cohen, some of whom offered their help in piecing together our common ancestry.

23andme EH profile  23andme EH profile2 

Part of my conversion essay:

In my soul, heart and mind, Judaism is more than a religion for me. It’s a shared history, a genetic memory, a family and a connection that has always been just outside the realm of my consciousness, yet was always there. The more I learned about Judaism through my study, the more I felt my bond to the past grow stronger.

My father’s denial of his religion and heritage was like an invisible wall that kept me from my past. But with each day and each hour, the wall becomes increasingly transparent. The bricks fall apart and I begin to see a glimpse of something beautiful and mystical on the other side. The shadows of those great-grandparents and the whispers of their lives comes through to me, through me, and out into my very own existence.

I have had thousands of Jewish ancestors from Poland, Russia, Galicia, Ukraine and Romania, whose truth, lives and stories have been wiped off in only two generations. One hundred years. That is all it took to wipe out my family’s connection to their own lineage and heritage.

I look at the world and wonder how many others walk around unaware that the blood of Sephardic conversos or Ashkenazim forced to hide their religion runs through their veins.

I aim to reclaim that heritage.

“Please read your Declaration of Faith for us, Elisa.”

I stood up and read the piece of paper which I had practically memorized over the past year.

declaration of faith Iosif and Elisa Anna-Philip

Left: my declaration of faith. Centre: my favourite photo of me & my father.  Right: grandmother Ana with her husband.

Afterwards, they asked me to sign it and I did so, then handed it back to them. I answered several questions related to holidays and ritual, and recited a couple of prayers. Then one of the rabbis asked me more about my father’s family. “Did you know the biggest group of immigrants to Israel after the war were from Romania?”

I hadn’t known this, and he smiled at me warmly and told me a story about his friends who had come from the same part of Transylvania as my father. Then our conversation touched on the Holocaust, and I mentioned the profound experience I’d had in my twenties when I visited Europe’s biggest concentration camp, the largest mass-murder site in the world.

Rabbi Fertig sat up. “You were at Auschwitz?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What was it like?”

I gazed into the distance, recalling the summer of 2001 when I had backpacked across Europe, and how my journey to find my roots had led me to Auschwitz. “I went in the summer, when the grass was this high.” I said, lifting my hand to indicate waist-height. “It was a sunny day. A very beautiful day. The sun was high up in the sky, and there was such a vivid a juxtaposition of life and death. The grass was buzzing with crickets and frogs, filled with life….right up among those terrible barracks at Birkenau. I walked inside the barracks and felt that emptiness….the void, the echoes of the lives that had been lost there.”

Rabbi Levine stared at me for a long time. “So many millions perished in the Holocaust – and now you are returning to the fold.”

“I am but one drop,” I said quietly, my eyes filling with tears.

We all fell silent. After some time, Rabbi Brief asked me, “Have you chosen a Hebrew name?”

There was never any doubt in my mind what my Hebrew name would be – Elisheva, of course. The Hebrew version of my own given name. Better yet, it somehow ‘fit’ me. It felt more right than anything else.

“Elisheva Sarah.”

Rabbi Levine cleared his throat. “I am obliged to inform you that although a Conservative Beit Din is accepted by all conservative and affiliated denominations, some Orthodox will still refuse to see you as Jewish.”

I nodded. “Yes, I know this.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

I hesitated. “Do you think….will I be accepted by a Reform synagogue?”

The rabbis looked at each other in amusement. “They’re going to love you,” the oldest of the rabbis answered. “Reform already recognizes you as a Jew because you have a Jewish father – so just based on the fact that you still went through this when you didn’t have to.”

Rabbi Levine peered into my eyes. “I read your conversion essay and I have to say it really moved me. You’re a very good writer. A very gifted writer.”

Something stirred inside me. Trying to fight back the knot in my throat, I said, “I’m working on a book to preserve the memory of those in my father’s village who have been forgotten. I want to do this for them – I’m the only one left who still carries their stories. Everyone else has passed.”

He nodded, and his eyes communicated such a deep empathy, such a sense of recognition and understanding, that I had to bite my lip to keep from tearing up. My eyes swept the room – the other rabbis were nodding, acknowledging me. I felt, in that moment, that they were seeing the real me – that part of my core I had kept hidden for so long. The vulnerability. The sadness and the truth of what I’d always known to be true. The real core of me.

Rabbi Levine pushed back from the table. “I am ready,” he said. He looked to the others: “I know it’s cutting this short, but I’m satisfied with this. I’m ready to make this woman Jewish.”

my Mikvah my mikvah2

We walked out of the synagogue and around to the side of the building, where another door stood open. A tall, thin woman waited for us there, her hair covered under a beret-type hat. She beckoned us in and we shook hands. “Welcome Elisheva,” she said, smiling at me. “You can leave your coat and stuff here. I warmed up the water really well for you, and have everything set up for you. Come and let me show you around.”

I smiled back at her, and Carol’s eyes glided to my hair. “You have long, gorgeous hair,” she said with a smile, and I instantly read between the lines. The hair was going to be a problem. Making sure there were no tangles was going to be challenging enough. But then she added, “I’m concerned that it might float up when you submerge. Every strand has to go underwater.”

The rabbis sat down on a small bench in the narrow corridor that led to several rooms, including the one where Carol was leading me. It turned out to be a small but perfectly clean bathroom with a shower stall and all the toiletries one could imagine.

She closed the door behind us and pointed out everything, careful to inspect that I wasn’t wearing any nail polish. I started to remove my earring studs and put them in my backpack while she explained what I already knew – I was to scrub off everything once again, wash my hair thoroughly and brush it so there were no tangles anywhere. Then, when I was ready, to walk through another door wearing little bootsies to keep from slipping and only the towel.

“The Mikvah is completely private,” she assured me. “The rabbis will only listen to the submersion and I will be the only one in the room with you. They will hear you say the prayer, but they cannot see you. I am here to make sure your privacy is respected and I myself will not look at you – when you descend into the Mikvah I will hold up the towel and respect your privacy. You can rest assured that your privacy and modesty will be respected at all times. So take as long as you need to get ready, and I will be on the other side of that door.”

After she left, I tried to keep myself from shaking. To think that I was so close to the Mikvah I’d read so much about, so close to the completion of a journey that had taken me years to achieve!

The bathroom was spartan and super-clean. A shelving unit ran beside the sink, and everything I could possibly have forgotten was there: nail polish remover, cotton balls, extra soap, toothpaste, shampoo, dental floss, even a small vial of Air d’Temps perfume that I planned to spritz on after the ceremony was complete (but forgot to, in the ensuing excitement). As Carol had promised, two different kinds of combs lay ready to tackle my difficult hair. I chose the one with the wider-spaced teeth and bravely stepped into the stone shower stall.

The shower itself was as I’d expected, with the worst part being – of course – running the brush through my well-shampooed (but not conditioned) curls. Needless to say, when it was all said and done I lost more than my usual amount of stray hairs, possibly because I was so excited, nervous and emotional about the ritual to follow that I brushed a bit too impatiently and managed to snap off some more split ends.

The last thing to go were my contact lenses. The Mikvah rules were that nothing could stand in the way of the water immersing the body, not even contacts. I placed the case carefully on the sink ledge and wrapped the fresh white towel around my body.

Then I reached for the door handle and stepped into the other room.

The room was low-lit, with several pot lights illuminating only the water – which was as blue as the sea. The Mikvah was larger than I’d imagined, much larger than a Jacuzzi but not quite the size of a swimming pool.

Am I really here? Is this finally happening? I wondered, gazing in awe at the water that would soon immerse every bit of my being. It’s so beautiful.

I kicked off the bootsies and held still while Carol the Mikvah Lady inspected me in order to pick off any stray hairs that may have fallen down my back. I checked myself also and found an additional long hair that I handed her.

After she discarded the loose hairs, Carol came back and stepped behind me. “You can give me the towel and go in now,” she said, holding the towel I handed her up in front of her – as promised, to protect my modesty. Although I’d wondered what it would feel like being completely naked in front of a stranger, I realized that I didn’t feel embarrassed at all – this felt like such a perfectly natural, even maternal process.

I walked toward the Mikvah and began to descend the seven steps that led down to the main pool. I held the railing and stepped down the seven steps–each one representing a day in the Creation story. Then an unexpected challenge arose: by the fourth step I could already tell that the water was too deep. As in, over my head. I’m not a swimmer by any stretch, and have never managed to hold my own in the deep-end of a swimming pool. I would never be able to touch the bottom.

Over the past year I’d researched anything I could find about other people’s accounts of their conversion ceremonies, but had never read about the situation that confronted me now – being only 5’2” tall, by the time I reached the lowest step I was already immersed up to my chin.

I gazed into the shimmering depths of the main pool and realized, not without a fair amount of trepidation, that I would never be able to stand upright in it. The water was high enough to go over my head. Although I love splashing around in water, I’m not a swimmer and have never managed to tread water in the deep end of a swimming pool.

An irrational fear seized hold of my mind. Has anybody ever drowned in a Mikvah? I wondered, cringing inwardly at the ridiculousness of the question. Worst case scenario, Carol the Mikvah Lady was here, along with three rabbis on the other side of the wall partition. Surely somebody would pull me out if I didn’t resurface after a while, right?

My desire to become a Jew was now confronted head-on by my fear of drowning. The combination didn’t make for a particularly mystical experience. Did I want to convert badly enough to risk drowning? Would you rather live as a Christian or risk drowning to become a Jew?

The answer came hard and fast: YES. Yes, I wanted it that badly. Badly enough to jump off into the deep end, where the water towered above my head – not knowing if I would bob back up or sink right to the bottom.

Over the months that led up to this ceremony, I’d imagined this day to be a peaceful, holy, life-changing process. In a way, this was still partly true – with that tranquil blue water so warm and lovely, lapping at my skin, an aura of serenity had surrounded me. But suddenly another part of me was seized with fear. As anxiety mounted in my chest, I realized that in order to become a Jew I would have to conquer my terror.

I took a deep breath and tried to balance myself on the lowest step, which was really hard because the salt water makes you buoy about, making it impossible to keep your feet firmly planted onto the tiled ground.

“Are you ready?” Carol’s voice resounded behind me. “Take your time. When you’re ready, I want you to take a deep breath and jump away from the step. When you’re fully immersed under the water, lift your legs up so that you don’t touch the bottom to make sure that for an instant, you’re floating free.”

I sucked in a deep breath, steadied myself….and then stepped off the ledge. Water flooded into my eyes, mouth, over my head, and suddenly I was up again, sputtering and flailing toward the metal rail in the corner. I seized hold of it and clambered up onto the last ledge again.

Carol looked at my ungainly flop and smiled sympathetically. “We’ll have to do that one over again. Your hair didn’t go all the way under.”

Strands of my hair had floated to the surface since I hadn’t sank deep enough. “Does this happen a lot?” I asked her.

She nodded. “You’re very buoyant – we all are – so what you’ll need to do is really let go and try to jump up a little when you step away from the stairs. The force of you jumping up will ensure you submerge all the way down.”

I took another deep, shuddering breath, and felt determination flow through my entire body. I hadn’t come this far to allow fear to stop me now. I thought about my father, my grandmother, about our family friend Steve Bendersky and the relatives he’d lost in the war, about the numbers tattooed on his arm, about the heritage that had been denied me. I thought about the people who had been killed over the centuries for being a Jew, about all who had walked down this path before me as converts and embraced their Jewish neshama.

I had come this far. I was ready.

It still felt scary, taking that plunge – but I no longer cared about drowning. I wanted to leap as far into that water as I could, to take it all into my heart, to let it remind me of my strength and ability to survive anything.

I was enveloped in a cocoon of blueness and warmth – the perfect heat of a womb made of nature’s own waters that seemed to have always existed in and around me. I opened my eyes underneath the water which coated every pore of my being and thought, This is the day I was born. Back then, and then again today.

No sooner did that realization hit than a force propelled me upwards – the force of my own buoyancy. I hadn’t drowned after all. In fact, I felt stronger than ever.

Carol’s voice echoed throughout the small room: “Kasher!”

I repositioned myself on the last step, filled my lungs with air, and leapt up again. I sank down into the depths of the Mikvah and didn’t fight it this time – I gave myself to it in body and soul.

When I bobbed back up, Carol called out “Kasher” for the second time.

I half-swam back toward the steps, found my balance again and turned to face the blueness. This would be my third jump. When I came back up again, I would be a Jew.

“Take your time,” Carol said softly. “If you want to take a moment to say a silent prayer – just for yourself.”

I closed my eyes and felt tears brimming behind my eyelashes. I mouthed the words of the Shema silently, for everyone before me, and then again for myself – that I be worthy of that painful, beautiful legacy and that I might contribute toward making the world a better place.

And then I took the biggest leap of my life into the waters that had always waited there for me. I lifted my knees up to my chest and spread my arms out to my sides, and the Mikvah embraced me.

And as I came up to the surface as a Jew, Carol called out for the third time, “Kasher.”

My voice shook as I spoke the words of the final prayer, Shehecheyanu, a prayer uttered by Jews for two thousand years: “Barukh Ata Adonai, Elohenu Melekh Haolam, Shehecheyanu, Vekiyimanu, Vehigiyanu, Lazman Hazeh.”

As soon as I said the last word, “hazeh”, voices all around called out “Mazel Tov!” I heard the rabbis break out into applause from the other side of the partition carved in the wall, congratulating me.

I turned around and emerged out of the water slowly, its warmth following me. Carol was beaming at me, holding out the towel. “Mazel Tov, Elisheva.”

I pitter-pattered back to the bathroom where I was shaking as I toweled off, got dressed as quickly as I could, and put in my contact lenses once again. I was too impatient to take the time needed to blow dry my long hair, and as a result I was still dripping water when I re-emerged into the little room where everyone was waiting for me.

The rabbis surrounded me and put their hands on my shoulders, breaking into song. As they sang, said their blessings and gave me all the official conversion paperwork, tears started to course down my face. They sang the old traditional Siman Tov/Shalom Aleichem song and I just folded my arms across my chest and bit my lip to unsuccessfully stop myself from crying. The oldest rabbi, probably close to eighty, wrapped his arm around my shoulders in a way a father might comfort a daughter and as he held me while I cried, I felt the warmth of his joy – I had come home.

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Above: me with rabbis after the ceremony.  Right: a beautiful antique menorah – my conversion gift

In April 2015, a couple of years after my conversion to Judaism, I left for Romania in order to research my newest book, Remember Your Name. Because Bucharest is only a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, I decided to make my first journey to Israel. I also fulfilled a secret wish I’d carried since my conversion – to go to the Western Wall and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father.

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It took me a lifetime to realize that my parents had been a by-product of their time – they had suffered so immensely that they had absorbed their oppression and passed it onto others. They made others suffer because that was the only way they could relate, after the pain they had endured. They hurt me because they themselves had been hurt. And then I too, as a child of their hatred, had tried my best to keep that light of hate alive – because I’d never known another way. So many scarred, wounded people have created the world we live in today, where suffering and oppression breeds brutality.

When I was in Israel, a new understanding flooded me – that my story doesn’t end with dissecting my own family’s hatred and buried identity. It doesn’t end with me converting to Judaism. I’m also digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts in Europe, and the internalization of hatred, the transformation of victim into oppressor. We see this everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East.

It’s all a vicious cycle. A cycle where hatred and religion-fueled intolerance supresses the spark of divine essence, the oneness, that connects all beings. A cycle of hate and judgemental intolerance so brutal that it’s pushed me toward feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of suicide for most of my adult life. Until I realized that the future of humankind doesn’t rest with governments and profit-driven policies but within us – that love is stronger than hate. Unity is stronger than division. Kindness reveals much more courage than brutality. That is where everyone’s G-d resides. In deeds of loving kindness. In recognizing our mistakes and showing forgiveness to those who harmed us. And in understanding that our differences are nothing in comparison to the beautiful light that shines within us all.

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A Winter Wonderland at Grail Springs Wellness Retreat

Posted by E on December 12, 2016

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Grail Springs is a beautiful property with great energy in Bancroft, Ontario. Called “The Holy Grail of mind and body retreats” by the Toronto Star, this unique place has won the Best Retreat in Canada award by World Spa Association and ranks high on TripAdvisor’s 2016 Traveler’s Choice. And yes, that is an actual moat (crossing a little creek) that leads to the medieval storybook castle turret entrance!

With packages starting at almost $400 nightly per person, this place has acquired a certain reputation as an exclusive destination for pampering the mind as well as the spirit. It has only 13 rooms, an amazing lounge room that rivals Deerhurst’s, and several rooms for yoga, meditation, hydrotherapy and body works. Outdoors there are hiking paths, a large lake, horse stables where you can sign up for horseback rides, and a garden labyrinth.

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Photo courtesy of the Toronto Star, Dec. 2016

And now I’m here!

One of the perks of having a partner who runs workshops all over the place is that whenever we travel on business our accommodations are covered – and sometimes we get to visit some amazing places like this one.

While my partner teaches seminars, I explore the property and get an opportunity for some rest and rejuvenation.

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I’m convinced that we have one of the best rooms in the entire place  – it’s an upgraded deluxe room and faces this huge forest and a narrow creek that runs behind the property. The room has a fireplace, chaise lounge, a super-comfortable bed and a lovely carved wood desk where I will be spending quite a bit of time for the next four nights and three days working on my writing projects.

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This is the last week of my George Brown social media marketing classes. Tonight, after I submit my final project assignments for two separate classes, I will be officially done! I held back on publishing my social media guidebook because I had so much schoolwork to get through, but also partly because I wanted to graduate the program and get my official certificate so that I could include my new credentials in the book.

Tomorrow I will get back to working on said book, but in the meanwhile there is beauty to behold. Look at the view from our deck!

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The first thing I did when I got up this morning was walk around the property and take lots of photos of the woods and the frozen lake. Here are the outdoor sauna and hot tub, where we’ll probably hang out this evening. Also a view of the woods, stretching toward the lake (which you can’t see because it’s covered with snow).

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Everywhere I look around this retreat, there are woven tapestries and wood carvings, plush sofas and ornate furniture, soft music and aromatherapy candles.

Here is the incredible lounge – which is completely empty at most times since the guests are attending various classes and spa therapies (I’m not on a package, so I’m free to schedule my day as I wish). I can’t believe I had it all to myself – though later on I met Ojoe, the resident pooch 🙂

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The room has crystals, singing bowls, a tea station and a slab of natural amethyst that glows vibrant purple.

img_5884I spotted a deck of oracle cards that has been left out for the guests, and I decided to draw a card to see what message I would get from the universe.

This is what I picked: Metamorphosis.

The card’s meaning, according to the guidebook:

“You are in the process of deep and beautiful change.

Butterflies earn their wings through great effort. The process of change is often painful, for it is never without losses and sacrifices….

Despite your fear, you must accept that this is a transformational time for you. There will be some loss involved, but you’ll love what you become.”

It’s a winter wonderland here, and oh so beautiful. There is much peace and serenity in the air. After everything that’s happened over the last year, I definitely needed this getaway. And who knows – perhaps I am indeed on the brink of a beautiful transformation. 🙂

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The Truth about Bucharest School no. 19

Posted by E on December 2, 2016

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This note was originally posted in October 2016 on the Facebook wall of ‘Scoala nr. 19’ – the Bucharest elementary school I attended between ages 6-11.

This spring the nightmares came back. Hardly a month goes by without a flashback, but after my mother died in December 2015, everything that happened to me in Romania intensified. The last 30 years of my life have been a nightmare, and much of it stems from what happened to me in Bucharest, at Scoala Nr. 19.

I write this note in English because it’s the language I’ve spoken for the last 30 years. My parents are both dead, and I don’t have any Romanian friends in Toronto, Canada, where I emigrated at age 11 before the 1989 Romanian Revolution that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. I feel awkward expressing my emotions in Romanian, but the scars of what happened to me at Scoala nr. 19 still haven’t faded. Pain doesn’t fade with time. Sexual exploitation has consequences, especially at a fragile, tender age.

I was 9 years old when my mother defected from communist Romania, four years before Ceausescu’s regime was defeated. My father was 68 years old and didn’t want a child; his long-time affair with his mistress was all that he cared about. I was nine years old when my father began to lock me out of our apartment on Magheru Boulevard, and when I realized for the first time that nobody cared if I lived or died.

At nine years old I was skinny, always hungry, and most of all – afraid. The boys at my school started to pick on me – none worse than Marc Faur, the gang leader of a posse of boys who made my life miserable. He sensed who the most vulnerable, defenceless kids were in our school and honed in on me.

Those boys attacked me before and after school – kicked me, grabbed at my breasts, and Marc always made sure to punch me in the stomach with as much power and force as he could muster. They stole my innocence and at only ten years old, they made me feel that I was worthless, garbage and should kill myself.

Marc Faur hit me almost every day, making me feel dirty and afraid because nobody else tried to defend me. I know what it’s like to double over in pain, gasping – choked out of breath, feeling as worthless as a cockroach. Feeling that nobody gives a shit about me, that anybody can do whatever they want to me with impunity. I was alone, and Marc – well, Marc was the Pioneer President of Class E. His mother was a renowned opera singer, while my own parents were deaf. Worthless.

After my mother defected on a trip to Italy in 1985, my father and me were labeled political traitors. No teachers gave a shit about me.

The teachers knew better than to pick on Faur, and consequently he became our class bully. Marc Faur was a big, overweight boy and I was scrawny and unloved. Nobody cared how much I cried behind the school gymnasium, how hungry I was because nobody had packed a lunch for me.

Our teacher, Tovarasa Elena Hlatcu, sent notes to my father that my hair wasn’t brushed and I hadn’t washed my face. She sent notes after my period started, saying that “Someone should make sure the child is clean and doesn’t smell so awful.”

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My father didn’t give a shit. I lived on the streets most of the time, fending off pedophiles, depending on my best friend’s family to feed me. I was a proud girl and never asked for food, but I didn’t turn away any sandwiches or leftovers, either. Marc and Silviu Constantin abused me in every way possible – kicking me, spitting on me, grabbing my breasts, punching me in the gut, and Marc Faur went so far as to look for cockroaches and drop them in my hair.

Marc wrote horrible things on the blackboard, calling me a whore, and (as always) punched me in the stomach and in the breasts, with as much force as he could. Others, like Dan Popescu didn’t care about my abuse; they were too delicate to hit me themselves, so they looked the other way. Even as boys teased, hit and abused me, Dan (who was the only boy I ever had a crush on) looked the other way.

To this day, I am terrified of bugs. I relieve what Marc did every moment I step into the shower and wash my hair.

To this day, often I look in the mirror I am embarrassed by the size of my breasts. Silviu and Faur did this – they made me feel like garbage. They assaulted me while (at only ten and eleven years old) I felt too worthless and ashamed to tell our teacher or my father, who probably would have beaten me for causing trouble.

Thirty years have passed. I am forty years old, but the trauma those boys caused me was worse than a sexual assault – it has permeated every pore of my being. It made me feel ugly and unloved. It made me feel disgusted with my own body, which I felt had betrayed me. As a teenager, I started picking, cutting at my skin; I hated every bit of me. I was as worthless as they made me feel – even worse.

The trauma that I experienced at Scoala Nr. 19 is still part of my daily life. To this day, nobody has apologized for destroying my innocence and causing me the nightmares that still return today. Nobody has apologized for making me feel ashamed of my body, for the disgusting words I still hear inside my head today.

But I have nothing left to lose – and I’m no longer willing to remain ashamed and feel worthless just to cover up what those boys did to me. They physically and sexually abused me. They raped my innocence, and I don’t owe them anything.

I refuse to be silent anymore.

Writing this post is part of empowering myself again – reclaiming the power that they stole from me.

Postscript: after I came forward with the truth about what happened to me, on Oct. 27 I received an “apology” via email from the bully ringleader of the abuse, Marc Faur, saying he was sorry for “not being nice” to me.

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“Not nice” meant beating me during recess, among other things.

I rejected the apology because it wasn’t genuine and decided to write openly about it and post about it on his Facebook page this past week.

For the last 48 hours I’ve received hate-filled messages from his friends in Romania, telling me to “Go fuck yourself”, “you’re deranged”, and calling me terrible insults and names. This is without them knowing any evidence.

THIS is the reason women and girls don’t report abuse.

Soon they enlisted Facebook friends to attack me – friends who weren’t even Romanian and had no clue about what happened in the 1980s. Foreign friends who simply wanted justification to attack a stranger.

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In the last 48 hours I also received messages asking me to excuse the actions of 11-year old boys. But none of those requests acknowledged the trauma caused to a 10-year old girl. Just because this happened decades ago does not lower the impact, the pain, the consequences of their abuse on my life.

Why are girls considered worthless compared to boys?

Why is my trauma considered worthless?

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Former classmate Costin Craioveanu writes on Marc Faur’s Facebook wall: “I remember her…a superb being…it was impossible not to abuse her.”

This is pathetic – it’s bullying, and it’s NOT right. Abuse does NOT have an expiration date.

December 4 update: Other women have approached me with memories of being assaulted by boys at my old school. A model whose photos are pictured on Faur’s Photography page also contacted me privately. Another woman spoke about being raped by a boy from School no. 19, but from a different graduating year.

Last night I also spoke with an old classmate who was also beaten and abused by Marc Faur and shared the effects it had on her life. I hid her identity to protect her privacy and ensure she won’t suffer the abuse I’ve received over the last week. However, her story is important and needs to be heard. Her account is written in Romanian, but states that she was repeatedly emotionally and physically abused by Marc Faur.

We are not alone!

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Tracing the footsteps of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil

Posted by E on November 4, 2016

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Like many people, I discovered Elizabeth Bishop one evening in 2013 by scrolling through the newest offerings on Netflix, and choosing a movie called Reaching for the Moon. Unbeknownst to me, the story I watched that night would be the start of a new adventure – one that would lead me into foreign territory and transform my poetry in infinitesimal ways.

Much like Elizabeth’s own journey, in fact.

elizabeth-bishopWhen she was 40 years old, American poet Elizabeth Bishop decided it was time to leave New York. She had reached a dead end both in her personal life (after a break-up with a long-time lover) and in her stagnant creativity, which resulted in a dry spell from publishing. Also struggling with alcoholism, Elizabeth longed for a new start, some way to rejuvenate her spirit and retrigger her inspiration. Receiving a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College was a godsend, and she decided that she would travel around the world.

She telephoned the naval port and was told that the next available freighter was leaving for South America. Impulsively, she reserved a spot.

In November of 1951, Bishop boarded the Norwegian freighter S.S. Bowplate. Unbeknownst to her, the journey would change her life forever. The first port she arrived at was Santos, and what was meant to be a brief sojourn to visit with an old school chum from Vassar, Mary Morse, turned into an eighteen-year stay that would profoundly affect the rest of her life.

Toward the end of her vacation, Elizabeth fell ill from a violent allergic reaction to a cashew fruit and had to be hospitalized. While being nursed back to health, her relationship with Mary Morse’s Brazilian lover Lota deepened and grew more intense. Soon Lota de Macedo Soares, a self-taught architect from a prominent upper-class political family, broke up with Mary Morse and persuaded Elizabeth to stay in Brazil and move into Lota’s sprawling estate home at Samambaia, in the hills above Petropolis.

With Lota’s affection, Elizabeth flourished. It was there, amidst the lush jungle foliage and under Lota’s care, that Elizabeth wrote the poetry that would win her a Pulitzer prize and turn her into a world-renowned poet.

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After watching Reaching for the Moon, I was convinced that I couldn’t stand Elizabeth Bishop. Her weakness, her repeated cheating on Lota, her complete dependence on alcohol as a way to relinquish personal responsibility. But out of curiosity, I wanted to see for myself if she was all she’s cracked up to be. Soon I would discover just how inaccurate the film was, and run into interviews that revealed director Bruno Barreto’s obsession with stylistic themes over historical accuracy. Like many biographical films, truth and historical fact was sacrificed to the artistic vision of a straight male director who’d never heard of Elizabeth Bishop before he read the script.

I would also discover that Elizabeth’s characterization in the film paled in comparison to the real person, both in physique and in spirit. Bishop didn’t resemble the tall, slender, cool, passive-aggressive character played by Miranda Otto. The real Elizabeth was short (only 5’4) and stout, intensely emotional, at times difficult, with an inner fire that was apparent to all who knew her. As the years progressed, her relationship with Lota became increasingly codependent. Paradoxically, the stronger she grew, the weaker Lota became. It would all come to a tragic end after Elizabeth traveled back to the US to teach at NYU and recently hospitalized Lota (against medical advice) decided to visit her in September 1967. On her first night in New York, Lota took an overdose of tranquilizers and fell into a coma, dying a few days later.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

After Lota’s death, Elizabeth was shunned by her Brazilian friends and Lota’s relatives. She was forced to sell her Ouro Preto home and the Rio apartment bequeathed to her by Lota after Lota’s sister contested the will. Elizabeth soon realized that she had no future in Brazil without Lota and reluctantly moved back to the United States, eventually teaching at Harvard until her death in 1979.

Over the weeks and months to come, I would devour all Bishop-related material I could get my hands on. Soon I discovered that she had written much more than just poetry, and I was hooked. After Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring and Questions of Travel, I ordered her prose, correspondence, her incomplete, posthumously-published drafts and at least two biographies.

It started out as a hobby – reading all of Bishop’s writing. I spent an entire summer in my garden, reading book after book. Why? I still don’t know. Like Bishop’s feelings about Brazil, liking her didn’t come naturally. Some of her writing made me angry or befuddled me. I complained to my partner of how much I couldn’t stand Bishop-the-person, only to find myself returning to Bishop-the-writer’s work the next day.

It might sound crazy to most people. Why would I become inexplicably obsessed with a woman who died nearly forty years ago, a poet who was my complete antagonist? Why did I keep going down the Bishop rabbit hole instead of putting away her books? What kept me so engaged even as I complained about how weak and conflicted she was?

For all its flaws and incorrect depictions, Reaching for the Moon was a watershed moment for Bishop’s memory, leading many to look up her biography and (re)discover the small body of writing she had left behind. Until the film came out Bishop was a minor poet, largely forgotten by the masses and hardly ever studied in creative writing classes.

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Elizabeth Bishop in college

In all my writing classes over the years, Bishop’s poetry has never been covered. It’s easy to see why – shy and reticent to share the personal or make it political in an age when her compatriots (see Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) found their stardom by turning their inner angst into poetic magic, she isn’t exactly an obvious choice for later generations, for youngsters who have been taught that the personal is political.

In contrast with the passionate, vibrant experimentation of the Beat Generation, Bishop’s classic approach to literature and her staunch avoidance to confront political and feminist discourse in her work rendered her an almost obsolete vestige of a repressed generation.

As a young poet, I was dazzled by the raw honesty of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski, swept away by Plath’s confessional brutality. Writers like Bishop and her idol, Marianne Moore, did nothing for me. I saw them as Vassar-reared, elitist upper class dilettantes who refused to address the sweeping changes of their time – they met in cafés and parlours to exchange and review each other’s couplets rather than discuss the Second World War that raged around them, the civil rights movement that brought equality to racial and sexual minorities.

Our poetic styles couldn’t be more different. I was as bold as Bishop was reticent; I challenged the establishment with the same ferocity she had retained while ignoring any criticisms of the government of her day. Her refusal to be included in feminist or women-only anthologies (underscored by the belief that it would somehow reduce her worth as a poet), her reluctance to openly come out as a lesbian even after the advent of gay liberation, all go against the grain of my own belief system.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

Only in my late thirties could I have begun to appreciate the quiet strength that resides in Bishop’s poetry. I still can’t say that I like the woman on a personal level, but there is something about her that fascinates me. I’ve read passages of her letters (as addressed to Robert Lowell) that I found incensing, even borderline racist and contemptuous toward those less privileged than her – opinions no doubt amplified by being in the company of the Brazilian elites of the day. But there is also an overwhelming defiance in her writing, interweaved in equal parts with fear, hope and childlike wonder all at the same time.

Emboldened by my connection to Bishop’s work, I wrote my first villanelle One Europe after being inspired by One Art. And as soon as I submitted it, it was accepted for publication in Canada’s oldest poetry journal, CV2 (Contemporary Verse 2). I wrote a second poem, set in Brazil, and once again it attracted attention and a mentorship with a renowned Canadian poet. Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop’s influences on my own writing had produced results.

A year later, after I’d made my way through her entire correspondence and translations, going so far as to acquire some first editions of her books (including Life World Library’s Brazil), I realized that I had become a self-taught Bishop scholar. With that realization came the knowledge that I had to confront my own feelings and try to understand what it was about Elizabeth Bishop that both attracted and still repelled me. As it often is, people who trigger strong feelings in you are actually reflections of your own self, mirroring some part of self-identity that you refuse to see.

I realized how much I was like her. All the things I hated about her work were things I hated in myself. I wished she had been stronger, that she could have come out as a feminist or lesbian poet, but it took me years to allow my own identity to seep into my writing.

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Elizabeth Bishop with Tobias the Cat in 1954

We live in an age that worships youth and carries the unspoken message that if you haven’t “made it” as a writer by your late 30s, you’re a nobody. Her success later in life, in spite of depression, personal struggles with a dark past and substance abuse, inspired and rejuvenated me in all those dark moments that come to all writers, when I felt down and hopeless.

And then came the day when I knew, more than anything, that I had to travel to Brazil.

I craved to see for myself the influences that had created the greatest phase of her career, and the years that she admitted were the happiest of her life. Brazil was where Bishop’s path took a new turn, where she produced work whose lasting power would outlive her.

I was 40 years old too. I often felt hopeless and burnt out.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wished to touch the same spark – that intangible, luminous magic – of inspiration that had struck Bishop. Some places have that effect, you know; just like some plants only bloom in certain soil, the fertility of creation comes easier in certain spots than others.

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A view of Guanabara Bay and Flamengo Park – Lota’s vision. Taken from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The 2016 Rio Olympics made it easier to travel to Brazil. The visa requirement was waved for the summer, security was at its best, and by booking far ahead I was able to line up affordable accommodations both in Rio and in Ouro Preto. Ignoring the dreadful headlines about killer Zika mosquitos and roving favela gangs, I spent most of August and the first week of September in Brazil, working on various projects which included researching the life of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares. Needless to say, I skipped the mosquito repellant and was not bitten once.

During my Brazil sojourn I wanted to stay a few days on Copacabana beach, just to take in the atmosphere, but didn’t realize that the hotel I’d booked was literally next door to Elizabeth and Lota’s old Leme apartment. Its street address and entrance might have been on Rua Antonio Vieira 5, but the balcony actually fronts onto Avenida Atlantica.

It was an amazing coincidence. Every day I’d look outside my window onto Leme beach, I realized it was essentially the same view they’d had back then. Every evening I went downstairs to have dinner and cashew fruit caipirinhas on the patio at Jaquina’s, which is actually on the main level of the same building. Lota’s apartment was the penthouse – which you can see on the highest floor. It’s the unit with the wraparound balcony and a walk-up to the rooftop (click photos to expand).

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The view from a similar balcony at Av. Atlantica and Rua Antonio Vieira, 5.

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Copacabana beach – on the left is Leme hill, and on the right is Sugarloaf Mountain.

A few days after I arrived, I hired a driver and guide to take me up to Petropolis and the hilltops of Samambaia. Once the depressing urban jungle of Rio’s favelas gave way to mountainous vegetation, the road turned steep and narrow. I could only imagine how precarious it must have been back when Lota had to maneuver her Jaguar regularly on a winding, partially-unpaved road; now a two-hour drive, it took nearly twice as long back in the 1950s.

Here are some photos taken on that day. The actual Samambaia house is private property so we were not able to go inside, but the hilltop views reflect the fierce beauty of its surroundings. I also took photos of downtown Petropolis, Quitandinha Hotel (a Grand Hotel-type place where the millionaires, celebrities, movie stars and the elites of Petropolis congregated in the 1950s) and the Crystal Palace (click to expand photos).

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During the last week of August, I flew to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Minas Gerais region, and hired a car for the two-hour drive to Ouro Preto, which was even more spectacular, quaint and tranquil than I’d imagined. Once known as the biggest city in the New World, Ouro Preto is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and the soul of Brazil’s 1700s gold rush. Its surrounding hills are stippled with gold mines and reddish clay earth.

It’s hard not to fall in love with its timeless, rustic beauty, which (oddly enough) reminded me quite viscerally of my grandmother’s Transylvanian village, where I spent many childhood summers. Safe and friendly, it’s easy to imagine living here for an extended stretch of time and just write. If I could afford it, I would return in a heartbeat.

Ouro Preto is a quintessential village with sloping cobblestone streets and several white stone bridges connecting different parts of town – a tapestry of eighteenth-century dwellings and ornate churches standing next to simple, whitewashed colonial houses. A sprawling main square dotted with baroque buildings next to an arts-and-crafts market.

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The sunshine spills over an explosion of tropical plants sprouting prickly red flowers, then flows downwards to an abundance of purple-and-yellow wildflowers that grow in the sidewalk nooks. A smell of smoke and burning wood lingers after sunset, a dog barks in the middle of the night, the cackling rooster screeches at the crack of dawn.

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A narrow, cobbled road connects Ouro Preto to its sister city Mariana, located a fifteen-minute drive away. High up in the hills overlooking the town, Elizabeth Bishop’s former home boasts an incredible vista that overlooks lush foliage, baroque churches and coppery-red shingled rooftops. In 1960 Bishop purchased a home here, at 546 Mariana Road; she called the house Casa Mariana (click on photos to expand).

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It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Brazil, and I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for Bishop to leave her adopted home, everything she had loved and lost here. But what made me sadder was how few people remembered Lota de Macedo Soares. Although her spirit is embedded in the beautiful Flamengo Park which circles Guanabara Bay, nobody I talked with in Brazil knew who I was speaking about.

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My guide, a gay man who prides himself on having a history degree, announced that the park had been designed solely by Burle Marx. Even when I tried to impress upon him the significant work Lota did in the design and construction of the park, he (like others) wasn’t particularly interested in knowing about her. Even the small commemorative plaque in Aterro do Flamengo has misspelled Lota’s name and was never corrected. Sadly, in death Lota’s memory has been brushed aside and replaced with the names of powerful men who were determined (and arguably succeeded) in erasing her identity from the history of the city she loved and helped to transform.

Someday all our memories will be forgotten and lost – such is the fate of time and mortality. But I do hope that in the beauty of a blossoming garden, in the delicate verse of a poem that takes someone’s breath away, a shred of ourselves still remains.

Surely this is what Elizabeth and Lota would have wanted.

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Traveling through Transylvania in Search of the Real Dracula

Posted by E on October 18, 2016

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Transylvania, courtesy of Go Visit Transylvania tourist board

I woke up yesterday to see #Transylvania trending on Facebook. After a momentary surge of excitement (how often is Romania ever in the news?), I figured it probably had something to do with Halloween. Sure enough, I clicked on the hashtag to discover that Bran Castle was now accepting overnight guests. More specifically, Airbnb – my favourite way to travel, btw – just hit the marketing jackpot by being featured in dozens of newspaper articles for offering a contest where “two brave souls” will get the chance to have a sleepover in Dracula’s old digs.

bran-castle

Bran Castle, courtesy of its official website

Maybe it’s because I was born in Romania and half my family hails from the Transylvania region. Maybe it’s because I’m a history buff. But around this time of the year I always get a little ticked off at the hoopla made over a fictional character who bears no resemblance to Vlad Tepes, the fifteenth-century Prince of Wallachia, a man whose actions shaped the history of my homeland and the entire European continent.

For more than two decades, Bran Castle has been a cash cow for its millionaire owner and the Romanian government, neither of whom bear any shame for whoring their history and national pride. Thousands of tourists visit every year, led to believe that they are visiting the Prince of Wallachia’s medieval castle, without realizing that Bran has never been Vlad Tepes’ principal residence. The reality is, Bran is pretty enough but inauthentic – a virtual Dracula Disneyland that has little to offer in terms of historical fact.

bram-stoker-dracula-fluoritlaufer-public-domain

Bram Stoker, cc public domain

When Dracula-the-novel was first published in 1897, few readers bothered to check the accuracy of its depictions. The fact that English writer Bram Stoker never stepped foot in Transylvania did not abate the thrills of readers for over a century, spinning off countless horror films, cheesy sparkly-vampire pulp romances and pretty much the entire Goth subculture as we know it.

House where Vlad Tepes was born

House where Vlad Tepes was born

It helps that Romania is a remote land where few foreigners have stepped foot in. After centuries of serfdom and communist oppression under the totalitarian regime of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, it is a place still shrouded in a fog of mystery – a place where horse-drawn carts still ride on the highway alongside cars, where wolves still howl through the forests at night and smoke curls from the chimneys of village houses untouched by modern electricity.

Not that I want to burst anybody’s bubble, but vampires are not real. The original ghouls of Romanian folklore, the strigoi, were awful dead zombie-like creatures that didn’t have the romantic appeal of an Edward Cullen. Like the Russian witch of the woods, Baba Yaga, these were stories you told naughty children to keep them from wandering through the woods after sundown.

But let’s say you really want to know who Vlad the Impaler was and why he was so bloody. You want to figure out why he became so feared by his Ottoman enemies and beloved by his people. If you were determined to walk through his footsteps and discover the real man behind the legend, you would begin in Sighisoara, the UNESCO protected village where Vlad was born. Here are some photos I took last year when I was in Romania researching my memoir Remember Your Name.

img_4809 img_4925  elisa-sighisoara-yellow-street vlad-tepes-statue

Next, you would take a drive up the narrow winding road that leads to the Biertan fortified church, a perfectly preserved medieval church that overflows with history (and likely ghosts). You would observe the ancient villages that dot this beautiful and pristine countryside where peasants still live off the land, gypsies still tell fortunes, and where sheep and goats freely roam the green valleys of the Carpathians.

elisa-biertan-tower2 biertan-church

And then you will invariably find yourself in Sibiu, the capital of the Transylvania province. Sibiu is a beautifully-preserved medieval town built by the Saxons in the 14th century, and brings together German, Transylvanian and Wallachian influences that have coexisted here for nearly a thousand years.

Sibiu

But to know Vlad Dracul, there is one last place you must still visit – his real castle and main fortress, the Poienari Citadel. By observing this imposing mountainous fortress, you’ll catch a glimpse back into history, to a land forever under attack by nomadic tribes and religious zealots. A land whose people still suffer the scars of brutality, whose hearts have been so hardened by suffering under decades of oppressive communism that they allow intolerance and xenophobia against religious and sexual minorities to thrive rampantly.

poienari-citadel

Not much has changed in six hundred years. The war between the East and West still rages, a war of ideology and barbarism, but sabers and maces have turned into chemical bombs and nighttime air raids.

The same hatreds continue to thrive.

If you ask a villager about Vlad Tepes, you’re bound to hear that if it weren’t for him the reach of the powerful Ottoman Empire would not have ended at the Black Sea. Although he has largely been reduced to a cartoon character by the feverish imagination of a nineteenth-century Englishman, the bloody, merciless actions taken by the Prince of Wallachia in the fifteenth century directly impact the shape and history of Europe as we know it.

So when you dress up like a vampire for your Halloween party or open your door to a trick-or-treating mini-Dracula, remember that sometimes fact can be more interesting than fiction.

Happy Halloween! 😀

If you enjoyed the read, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂 

sighisoara

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Introducing my new Social Media Marketing book!

Posted by E on June 10, 2016

Art of Social Media COVER mockupSMM Cover small

I’m excited to pull back the veil from a project that has been in the works for the last few months. It’s been so hard to keep this baby a secret, but no more! The idea for this book spun off from my series on Social Media for Writers and took off like a rocket. After lots of positive feedback, questions from new clients and the need to elaborate on several points, it seemed logical to encapsulate all valuable information into a single book – The ART of Social Media: An Essential Guide for Writers and Artists.

There are probably thousands of marketing books out on the market about building your platform, launching your brand into the world and getting noticed. What makes mine special is that I write from experience – for over ten years I have developed both my own and other artist and business brands. I’ve met with publishers, was offered book deals, hired and fired literary agents, published poetry traditionally and self-published a number of books that sold very well.

In essence, I will be taking over a decade of experience as a writer and combining it with the knowledge I’ve gained in my Social Media Marketing studies at George Brown College in Toronto. Yes, after years of offering social media consulting to clients, I’m finally getting certified! I don’t believe it’s necessary to have a framed piece of paper on a wall in order to lead an effective marketing campaign, but it doesn’t hurt to have it.

So before you pay for marketing lessons or books written by well-meaning indie writers who don’t actually have a marketing or advertising background, consider getting a copy of my new book. As both a writer and working social media strategist, I can give you a hard-earned perspective that combines artistic creativity with marketing knowhow.

I will write about mistakes I’ve made and lessons I’ve gained, and share a recommended campaign plan and marketing strategy across most popular social media platforms. I will also cover what you absolutely have to do today to ensure tomorrow’s success, and what you’ll need in order to build a solid platform that reaches your target audience.

There will be lots more nitty-gritty stuff and specifics tools covered, but the basic gist and intent is to help you uncover the best (and secret) strategies for developing your artist brand. Trust me, it’ll be more than worth it, especially since I’ll be pricing it under $10.

Ok, I’ll let the book speak for itself. It should be available for pre-order in the next week or so, with the official release date set for December 1st. I can’t wait to share it with you guys 🙂

PS as always, any Patreon supporters at the $5 or more level will receive a free copy!

 

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The Latest Poetry News

Posted by E on May 13, 2016

CV2 coverLast month (April) was all-together a great month as far as poetry goes. My first – and so far, only – villanelle poem was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I am so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition.

I first heard of the acceptance last year, and didn’t know which particular issue my poem would appear, so I kept waiting. After nearly a year, I was starting to wonder if it had been back-burnered forever (what should I do? Would it be a major faux-pas to query the editor? yikes). But then – as if by magic – a small, nondescript white envelope appeared in my mailbox. It was just thick enough to contain a magazine, and there it was – CV2’s annual poetry-only edition!

In this day of online publishing, I consider myself fortunate to have my poetry appear in print. There’s no comparison to the great joy of holding a periodical or a book in your hands, a palpable thing you can touch, smell and (after much pride and celebration) put on a shelf. If you’d like a copy, you can pick up the latest CV2 edition in any major bookstore or order it online directly from their website. I’m in the company of some really great writers!

I first tried my hand at a villanelle after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, a poignant piece about loss and heartache. The most famous villanelle of all is, of course, Dylan Thomas’s eternal Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night (one of my favourite poems of all time). Nothing compares to the sheer power and awe that poem contains, the magic cast through its hypnotic (heart)beat of repetition.

CV2 poemAs I soon discovered, villanelles have a notoriously difficult pattern and have fallen out of use largely because of the time and labour involved in creating this haunting pattern. Wikipedia defines a villanelle as:

“a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern goes like this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.”

I wrote One Europe soon after returning from my journey to Romania, where I researched my father’s past and tried to access his dossier from the Securitate archives. It was also an observation of the current state of emotional numbness and brutality that lingers in the post-communist era.

It was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this difficult complex was incredibly rewarding. My recommendation to all you poets out there is to try your hand (at least once) at an ornate, complicated archaic format just to experience what poets of other generations had to work with, back when rhyme was the only accepted form. If anything, it will whittle your words into a sharper, tighter poem. It’s worth the exercise, believe me.

Given the fact that my first-ever villanelle was accepted for publication so quickly (most poems get peddled through quite a few editors before they find a home), I plan to write a few more this summer. But first, I need to work on edits for my existing pieces.

This brings me to another piece of good news: a few months ago, the in-house editor at ARC Poetry Magazine recommended me for a free mentorship program with their resident poet, a renowned and very established Canadian poet who gave me some really useful tips for revising my poem Voyage to Brazil, which they are considering for publication. So hopefully (fingers crossed) it will appear in ARC sometime this year – but either way, the mentorship and keen eye was invaluable. The poem is that much stronger and powerful thanks to ARC’s help, and I’m sure it will find a home soon.

And speaking of Brazil, it’s where I’ll be spending part of the summer working on my book and other poetry & research projects. Stay tuned for details.

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Genetic Memory: Remembering Your Ancestors’ Lives

Posted by E on April 25, 2016

intergenerational-trauma babushka dolls

Fifteen years after my family emigrated to Canada, I decided to spend the summer after my university graduation backpacking through France and Spain with Dina, my closest girlfriend. We scoured Paris together, rode the overnight trains, sweated under the intense heat of the Andalucian plains, took countless photos of Gaudi’s wonderful modernist architecture in Barcelona, ate churros con chocolat in the back alleys of Madrid.

I was drawn to the south of Spain, in part because Federico Garcia Lorca influenced so much of my poetry that I just had to see the house where he was born in Fuente Vaqueros, to see the mystical Granada he had loved and hated. I wanted to breathe in the same dry, white-hot air that had filled his lungs and infused his verses. And it was there in Moorish Spain, at the foothills of the Alhambra, that I heard the ancient Judaic language of Ladino for the first time.

Elisa AlhambraThe song was “Durme, Durme,” an ancient lullaby sang by the Sephardic Jews of Spain before they were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula by Queen Isabella’s decree. I don’t remember exactly how I came to hear it – I might have been standing under the awning of a shop, taking a break from the unrelenting heat, or while eating cold gazpacho out on a scorching patio. But as soon as the words entered my consciousness, I recognized them. I knew the song, somehow. I started to hum along with it; my mouth began to shape the words, almost as though they were a memory just hanging on the tip of my tongue.

The trouble was, I wasn’t Jewish. I didn’t have any Jewish ancestors that I knew of and my father had died long ago, when I was 13 – before I could ask him any questions about his background. So I chalked up the experience as a déjà vu oddity, one of those freakish yet ubiquitous experiences we all have once in a while, like thinking of someone just as the phone rings or dreaming of an old friend who happens to email us the next day.

A few days later I parted ways with Dina. We said goodbye in Marseilles, a sun-scorched, dusty place just outside the Italian border. I journeyed on to Rome, then Venice, where I found lodgings in a spartan Benedictine nuns’ convent and spent my first afternoons on the lagoon sitting on bridge steps near the canal, gazing at the mossy green water, writing poetry and sketching the images of stray dogs against alabaster buildings.

barracksThen it was time to travel eastwards into Europe. My ultimate destination was Romania, where I planned to track down relatives in my father’s old village and find out more about my family’s past. But before that, I wanted to visit Krakow, Poland so that I could make a pilgrimage to Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp where millions of people met their deaths. I wanted to see the place in order to understand the scope of the brutality that had swept Europe only two generations earlier.

On the day I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau, the sun was high up in the sky. The grass was knee-tall and swayed against my bare legs. The floorboards underneath my feet crackled and snapped as I walked among the barracks crammed with three-tiered bunk slots. Sunlight filtered in through gaps in the planks that formed the walls, smearing long, arrow-like shafts along the ground.

I thought of those nameless prisoners and something deep inside me stirred – the same familiarity I’d experienced when I heard that Ladino song back in Granada. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, and I swear I recognized that smell. The smell of burning ashes and wet wood, of fear and lost hopes.

I was here before.

I was twenty-five years old and World War Two had been over for close to sixty years but somehow I had been there, or someplace equally terrible. In the intense heat of that August afternoon, an ice-cold shudder passed right through me.

Elisa Jewish family historyI hadn’t expected this. At sixteen years old, I was recruited by a Canadian neo-Nazi group called the Heritage Front and sent to work for Ernst Zundel, renowned Holocaust-denier and publisher of anti-Semitic propaganda that was distributed worldwide. I left the group at age 18 and testified against its leaders in court, but it took several years for me to get over the guilt of having been part of such a hateful thing. To understand that as a minor girl, I had been exploited by group leaders.

In the years that followed I lived in hiding, and during that time I used many aliases. The surname I used the longest was Cohen – for whatever reason it felt natural that I would adopt a Jewish surname, and that one in particular seemed to speak to me.

Years later, after I managed to track down my uncle in my father’s village and started piecing together my father’s past, the truth came out. It came in the form of a pretty lacquered box that had been my grandmother’s most prized possession. It was inscribed for her, bearing the name “Anna” on its bottom. And when I opened it, the name Kohan was etched inside its lid – a Hungarian version of….you guessed it, Cohen.

Discovering that my father had been Jewish was a surreal experience. For so long I’d wanted it to be true, because so much would make sense. My collection of babushka dolls and Russian things, my affinity for Ladino music, my connection to Jewish people, klezmer and food, the fact that the Transylvanian region where my father’s family came from was a known place where Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews had intermingled.

For ten years I’d wanted to convert to Judaism, but it was only after I took a 23andme DNA test that the choice to become a Jew became simple. The results showed I had Romanian, Russian, Polish, Hungarian and Italian/Greek roots, and confirmed my heritage as a blend of Ashkenazi, Balkan and Sephardic. The Relative Finder tool even matched me to over two dozen third and fourth cousins with the surnames Cohen, Cohn, Kaplan or Kuhn.

For me, the process of conversion wasn’t simply a matter of embracing the hidden religion of my ancestors and their multigenerational persecution – it also allowed me to accept that the genetic memories I’d experienced all my life were real.

GENETIC MEMORY, AND WHY IT MATTERS

genetic memoryWikipedia defines genetic memory as a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.

Why should it matter to you?

Discoveries in the field of genetic memory have immense ramifications on our society, particularly among previously-subjugated persons. What would happen if science proved that trauma was passed down in our cells, from parent to child? What if the anger and mistrust harboured by Aboriginal or African-American peoples isn’t something they can just “get over”? What if they are given a reason to sue governments for restitution based on genetic stressors that have impeded their ability to function?

Sure, one could argue that generations of abused and exploited people will produce offspring who mistrust their government because they grew up hearing tales of discrimination and injustice from their parents and grandparents.

But what if that pain goes beyond anecdotal tales about deceased ancestors absorbed by a marginalized community? What if the pain of a massive traumatic event suffered by a parent or grandparent continues to live within your body, in your physical tissues, in your subconscious anxiety and reflex reactions?

Increasing evidence shows that it can, and indeed it does.

I have researched genetic memory for the last decade, and especially over the last two years as I began working on a memoir that discusses the imprint of multi-generational trauma and suffering. Time and again, my research led me nowhere. The scarcity of scientific data is easily due to academic biases: which scientist is going to study the field if he/she expects their work to be derided by fellow academics who pledge irrefutable allegiance to the Darwinian model?

The History of Genetic Memory

Jean-Baptiste_de_LamarckIn the late eighteenth century, there lived a French biologist by the name of Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck. He was both a predecessor of Darwinian theory and one of its competitors. He was, in fact, one of the first men in history to propose an evolutionary structure to humanity’s existence. Darwin was a mere babe in the cradle when Lamarck began to experiment on organisms using the theory of genetic memory – rather than natural selection – to account for much of the evolution of all species.

He basically asserted that an organism can pass on its memories and experiences to its offspring, and that in and of itself constitutes our evolution.

A new biologist by the name of Paul Kammerer took up the Lamarckian torch in the 1920s, when he experimented on toads in order to prove the validity of genetic memory. Before his results could be released, however, the experiment was tampered with by Nazi sympathizers who sought to bury Kammerer and his work because of his political beliefs.

Since Lamarck and Kammerer’s work was dismissed and/or destroyed, the study of genetic memory has been dormant. At least, until the 21st century.

That’s when a miracle happened. It started with the new and exciting field of Epigenetics, which explores the concept that traits can be passed down to successive generations without alteration to the genetic code but via some other means, and that the experiences of one’s ancestors have a direct effect on our physical and emotional development today.

Sweden epigeneticsOne of epigenetics’ most quoted (and explosive) studies focuses on a 19th century province in northern Sweden which experienced seven years of famine followed by good harvest and abundance of food. Scientists from the Stockholm-based Karolinska Institute evaluated this history of feast and famine to see how it affected the lives of offspring, and found that “life conditions could affect your health not only when you were a fetus, but also well into adulthood.” They concluded that parents’ experiences early in their own lives change the traits they pass on to their offspring. Scarcity of food in grandfather’s life was associated with a significantly extended survival of his grandchildren for many years, whilst food abundance was associated with obesity and a greatly shortened life span of the grandchildren.

intergenerational traumaBut genetic memory is more revolutionary, and goes beyond trait inheritance to argue that memories can pass between generations. In 2013 several animal studies suggested that behaviour itself can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory. There is evidence that phobias are also derived from ancestral memories.

In 2013, new research was presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego. Brian Dias, a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University, reported that mice inherit specific smell memories from their fathers — even when the offspring have never experienced that smell before, and even when they’ve never met their father. What’s more, their children are born with the same specific memory. Skepticism and quips/tweets such as “Crazy Lamarkian shit,” formed the kneejerk reflex of many scientists who preferred to stick within their comfort zone and deny that genetic memory could ever exist.

Even when faced with new evidence.

IMPRINTING PAIN AND TRAUMA

multigenerational traumaI don’t blame the scientific community for being afraid to pursue what many of us intuitively sense is a reality. Just imagine the floodgates of victims tearing open – the children of indigenous people who were massacred or sent to residential schools. The descendants of African slaves. The children of “comfort women” who were held prisoner and raped by the Japanese during WW2. The offspring of Holocaust survivors. All potentially suing the governments that exploited their ancestors for the brutality, fear and exploitation that still courses in their veins today.

It’s called Intergenerational Trauma.

Lamarckian theory drove the study of Orthogenesis, which nowadays has been called progressive evolution or autogenesis. This is the hypothesis that life has an innate tendency to evolve in a unilinear manner due to some internal, intrinsic driving force.

Do you know what this means?

It means that the fire inside us, that drive to survive and succeed that burns in our hearts and defines our species, that propels us to create art, to reach sublime peaks of achievement, is based on the building blocks of what has come before, but is still part of us.

There are so many trends in evolution that simply cannot be explained by natural selection alone.

IMG_9131How can you define, through Darwinian natural selection alone, that mysterious inner force in all beings to reach up to the sky, to conquer the universe? That emotion that wells up inside us when we look at a magnificent mountain, when we walk along the shoreline of a vast ocean, when we gaze up to the stars and feel something stir up inside our chest, something that cannot be defined in words alone.

Although I converted to Judaism, I don’t consider myself particularly religious in the sense that I don’t go to temple. Both my parents and myself experienced so much trauma in our early lives without ever being saved by divine intervention. I believe that organized religion and its stringent rules has contributed to more suffering and death than any natural disasters in the history of mankind. So I am not talking about God here.

What I am saying is that we are all connected on some level. We are all part of a grand design that is bigger than the archaic mythology that passes for organized religion. Rooted inside our cells reside the desires, heartaches, and yes – even the memories of every one of our ancestors. And it is this combined force that propels us forward, toward bettering ourselves and the world around us.

Carl Jung talked about racial memory, a collective memory of humanity as a species. To him this meant that the ancestral memories of our forbearers have become part of our collective unconscious and are in fact, continuing to shape our world.

Let me put it in a different way: every single thing that makes us who we are is shaped by our ancestors. Our food preferences, our penchant for hot or cold weather, our phobias and inexplicable fears, even our food sensitivities and idiosyncratic habits lie in our genes. A kitten will instinctively search for the litter box before its mother nudges it; it will automatically salivate at the sound of a can opener or an egg being cracked over a frying pan without ever having tasted eggs or canned food.

In the absence of any actual experiences, genetic memory is carried within our DNA, within the genome of our species.

Just as all rivers flow toward the sea, the blood that flows within our veins carries the memory of its first drop. It REMEMBERS – and makes us who we are.

If you would like to help me write my memoir REMEMBER YOUR NAME, please join me on Patreon.com and become part of the journey.

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