Incognito Press

truth. knowledge. freedom. passion. courage. Promoting free-thinking, activism & rogue writing.

Tracing the footsteps of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil

Posted by E on November 4, 2016

elisa-ouro-preto-bridge-2016

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.

elizabeth-steps elizabeth-b reaching-for-the-moon

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.

lota-house-photo

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.

elizabeth-bishop

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.

lota-de-macedo-soares

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.

elizabeth-bishop-with-tobias-cat-1954

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.

img_5629

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).

dsc00354 dsc00352 dsc00353 dsc00347

img_5272

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

img_6059 img_5110

img_5026

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).

elisa-petropolis petropolis-downtown  crystal-palace petropolis-samambaia-hills

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.

img_5107 img_6294

img_6283 img_6282

dsc00514 ourop-vista

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.

img_5054

dsc00737 dsc00733-2img_5049 img_5051   dsc00518 ourop-street

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).

elizabeth-bishop-house dsc00622 elisa-elizabeth-bishop-house

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.

img_5631

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.

copacabana-rio-de-janeiro

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

Posted in literature, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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 16-year old 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 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.

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 cbc, dennis foon, elizabeth moore, heritage front, thelizbuzz | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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.

Years later, 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.

Elisa and rabbis my menorah

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.

IMG_9298 Jerusalem arches IMG_9131

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.

Elisa TelAviv sunset yad vashem vista

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

Posted in anti-semitism, family, hate, identity, jewish, life, news, religion, romania, thoughts | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Truth about Bucharest School no. 19

Posted by E on December 2, 2016

scoala-19

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 made me feel that I was worthless, garbage and should kill myself, every hour of every day.

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.”

267935_10150300973003338_4430680_n

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 after my last suicide attempt, I have nothing left – 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.

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.

marc faur apology

“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.

marc-faur-threats

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?

costin-craioveanu

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!

marc-faur-abuse

Posted in abuse, marc faur, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Traveling through Transylvania in Search of the Real Dracula

Posted by E on October 18, 2016

transylvania-by-solowanderers

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

.

Posted in history, romania | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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!

 

Posted in books, marketing, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in poetry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in ancestry, DNA, jewish | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Colonia Dignidad – An Experiment in Terror and Behavior Modification

Posted by E on April 18, 2016

Emma Watson Colonia

If you’re planning to see the new Emma Watson film Colonia, please don’t watch the trailer first. Punctuated by the groan-inducing line “When they took her man”, this has to be one of the worst trailers I’ve ever seen. Its weakness resides in the fact that they take an empowered, arguably feminist main character and make her out to look like a desperate flower, someone who cannot survive unless she finds “her man”. But since I’ve just told you not to think of a pink elephant and piqued your curiosity, here’s the trailer so you can see for yourself:

Hollywood is no stranger to using contrived romances that push the boundaries of cheese in order to serve up an important social or political event as backdrop. Think the fictitious, ill-fated romance of Jack and Rose to showcase the spectacular sinkability of the most unsinkable ships of all, the Titanic. But there’s a fine line between using romance to build up a film and gratuitous humping, and that line was blurred for the first 12 minutes of Colonia, as Lena and Daniel went at each other worse than the cats in heat outside my place at night. Fighting against the urge to hurl a glass of cold water at the screen and shout “Break it up already!”, I gritted my teeth and stuck it out. (Am I showing my age here or what?) Oh, and to all of you asking on YouTube if Emma gets nude in this flick, sorry to disappoint.

It took a while for the movie to get better. It didn’t help that the main characters’ downfall begins with a series of utterly idiotic moves. Hey – there’s a violent riot outside! Let me grab my camera, run right up to cops in combat gear and shoot photos of them beating up people! No way are they going to kick my head in or beat up my girlfriend! Oh, and just keep standing in the front row at prisoner roll-call when the wiser move would be to blend at the back of the crowd and hope you won’t get noticed, especially since you’re a political activist and agitator.

But alas, after the lovebirds (or cats in heat, depending on your perspective) get separated, Emma Watson’s Lena sacrifices herself by travelling to Colonia Dignidad in an attempt to infiltrate them. Note: I’m not spoiling the movie here since the trailer basically gives it all away.

Without any solid proof that her boyfriend is still alive or even at Colonia anymore, Lena stays for an unbelievable 130 days working slave labour in scorching fields, spending long days without any water, being beaten up by a matronly, sadistic female camp guard. By then, anybody in their right mind would’ve left already or at least made serious attempts to fly that coop. Instead, Lena purposefully – or shall I say masochistically – manoeuvres to get beaten up (and potentially murdered) at the men’s gathering in a fleeting attempt to see if Daniel is among them.

Colonia movie Emma Watson

OK, so reading this far in my review you might think I really hated it, but you’d be wrong. In truth, Colonia isn’t bad at all (though it had potential to be even better). Its strength lies in the second half, the part that is based on fact rather than fiction – when the full horror of the camp begins to unfold. The brainwashed residents, the hard labour, the dirndls and Eva Braun-type of bun-braids, the children wearing lederhosen who are separated and isolated from their families and grow up not knowing who their parents are.

This was a gripping film with amazing cinematography and a very effective build-up of tension. These days, you practically have to make a deal with the devil in order to shine a spotlight on an issue everybody would otherwise have ignored – the devil in this case being the Harry Potter brand incarnated in Emma Watson, who I should say did a great job with what she was given. The harrowing ending was particularly intense and well-executed.

I’ve always believed that the true mark of a good movie is the lasting impression it has on you – how long it stays in your mind after you’ve left the theatre. Also, that it should teach you something you didn’t know before. This movie checks both these all-important boxes: it lingers with you as well as makes you think and want to learn more, which makes it a success.

I am grateful that it got made, despite the contrived love story and the fact that these days you can’t make a film about an important issue or historical event without the backing of a Hollywood A-lister. In this day and age, being a “celebrity” (i.e. someone who reads lines written by others and performs on cue, like a trained seal) has more weight than the scientists silently toiling away in labs across the world to discover the cure for cancer or dementia. But I digress.

THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE FILM

colonia-dignidadAlthough I’m fairly familiar with the history of the ex-Nazi diaspora and the communities they established across South America, particularly in Argentina and Brazil, I hadn’t heard about Colonia Dignidad before I watched the film. Now called Villa Baviera (Bavarian Village), in its heyday (and under the leadership of Nazi psychopath Paul Schafer) it was home to hundreds of residents. The 137 km property was surrounded by barbed wire fences, searchlights and a watchtower, and was full of weapon caches and explosives, serving as an impromptu prison for political dissidents brought there by Augusto Pinochet‘s DINA, the Chilean Secret Police.

My immediate thoughts after the movie (and my gut impression) was that there had to be more to Colonia Dignidad beyond providing a means for ex-Luftwaffe officer Paul Schafer‘s cold-blooded sadism and his sexual abuse of children. I know Wikipedia says it’s considered to be a cult of some sort, but this was (and possibly still is) more than just a cult.

Certainly this is evident in the German government’s tacit approval of Schafer’s methodologies, his connections with people high up in the German embassy, as well as deep roots within Pinochet’s secret police. A man who is simply an egomaniac pedophile wouldn’t have this sort of clout. No, there had to be much more to this place for him to get away with all that he did.

It seems to me that Colonia was both a continuation of the concentration camp model, as well as an experiment in behaviour modification – both at the macro and the micro level. Prisoners were brought in and were never seen again. It’s clear that torture happened, but given the cultish obedience and knee-jerk reflex of fear instilled in the residents, the colony may have been a living laboratory in mind control.

Colonia Dignidad Villa Baviera originalI don’t like to throw words like “mind control” around lightly, because there are far too many nutcases and conspiracy theorists like the folks who hang out on Godlike Productions and think a secret brotherhood of shape-shifting reptiles rules the world. The term “mind control” is synonymous with all sorts of crazy, despite the fact that there’s no denying the truth behind Operation Paperclip and the experiments that were carried out both in the West and behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War years.

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to – both the CIA and Simon Wiesenthal have presented evidence that shows Josef Mengele had resided at the colony for some time in the 1960s. Mengele was just one of several other high-profile Nazis to have stayed there, the other being Martin Bormann, once the highest ranking Nazi in the world after Adolf Hitler. According to historian Ladislas Farago, Bormann lived for a period of time in seclusion at Colonia Dignidad, having “sought a place where he could be at peace.”

There is something sinister about Colonia Dignidad that leads me to believe this was a place where behavior modification experiments happened, if only because the doctrine was rooted in brainwashing of its residents and because medications were often administered, along with severe forms of punishment. But it was also connected with the disappearance of political prisoners who were transported there and were never seen again.

Boris WeisfeilerI think there is more than meets the eye because of the length of time – decades – that Schafer and his goons were able to operate with immunity. Even after Boris Weisfeiler, a Russian-born American mathematician, disappeared and was believed to be murdered by Colonia residents, it took until 2012 (and after Schafer’s death) for a judge to call an indictment against eight retired cops and others involved with the disappearance.

And just one month before the movie Colonia was released, Weisfeiler’s case was deemed a “common crime” whose statute of limitations had passed, and was officially closed.

It’s not difficult to speculate as to the reason why.

Pinochet ruled as dictator of Chile until 1990, but remained the army’s Commander-in-Chief until 1998. The 1970s, 80s and 90s were not that long ago. Many of the officers involved in Pinochet’s regime are well-established men now, men whose power likely still extends all the way up to Chile’s current government. Clearly, there are too many who might have something to lose if the facts behind Colonia Dignidad come out, and they will do everything in their power to sweep the truth under the carpet.

 Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Chile

If you enjoyed this review, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar 🙂

Posted in movie, movie review, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Author’s 10-Step Guide to Creating a Media Kit

Posted by E on April 8, 2016

Media Kit InfographicPress kits should be part of every artist’s marketing and branding program. I’m not here to sell you on why you should seriously consider putting such a kit together – the fact that you landed on this page shows me that you already know the importance of creating a ready-made document that outlines key facts and statistics about your work. That’s why I decided to tackle this subject in Part 4 of my ongoing series The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence.

Although you can share it with readers or fans, the target audience for your media kit is, well, the media – journalists, interviewers, publishers, book retailers, as well as potential advertisers and sponsors. The kit conveys a polished, professional image of you as a writer and informs them about your Platform – the golden word of the publishing industry.

Everyone working in the arts – no matter your medium – should have a professional bio and press kit ready. Even mainstream journalists I know have their own prepared kit.

So what should you include in your Media Kit?

There are many tutorials on the web which address media kits and their importance. But in my opinion, it all boils down to three simple questions:

1. Who the heck are you?

2. Why should we care about your work?

3. Why does this book matter?

If you can answer these three questions in a friendly and professional (but not too salesy) manner, you are on your way to establishing yourself as a subject matter expert.

THE 10 MAIN COMPONENTS OF A PRESS KIT INCLUDE:

media kit anatomy1. Biography – As part of any press kit, the first and most important thing you should have is a well-written biography of approx. 200-300 words. A professional-looking headshot is not optional – you must include a photo if you want to gain traction in your career. Make it a PDF so it maintains its formatting when you email it. The Bio should include your contact information. This is basic stuff: name and email address, and if you’re not shy about receiving phone calls, you can also add your phone number and mailing address (I recommend getting a PO Box). Basically, have some means that someone can contact you. Make sure that this information is always up to date.

2. Leverage your Expertise: mention any previous awards you’ve won or publicity you have already received. Have you attended artist residencies or colonies? Include copies of any significant press clippings or tear-sheets – I provided photos of feature articles where I was interviewed, and listed scholarships I won to creative writing residencies.

3. Include a direct link to your website, portfolio and blog. I’ve harped on this before, but I can’t say it enough times: buy your own domain. It’ll only cost you about ten bucks a year and it’ll come with a professional email. If you can’t afford hosting, just point the domain to a free website where you can profile your work and establish a social media following: sites such as WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr. I discuss this process at great length in Part 1 of this series. If you have a website, you can use it to upload samples of your work, video clips, podcasts, new photos – any multimedia stuff that now becomes your calling card.

4. Artist Statement – For visual and multimedia arts, an Artist Statement is an absolutely necessary part of the business. It’s meant to allow others to understand why you are creating your art and what you are trying to achieve. Although writers don’t usually present artist statements, I’ve chosen to adopt the practice for myself. After I wrote mine several years ago, I have really appreciated how much it’s helped to define the influences and scope of my work.

laptop keyboard roses15. Exhibitions & Shows – For visual or performance artists, it’s vital that you include any exhibitions you have participated in, both group and solo, no matter how long ago or minor they might seem. Link to the galleries or theatres whenever possible, and don’t forget to include previous postcards or prints that were part of previous exhibition promotional material. Also, don’t forget to keep updating your kit as new exhibitions & shows come up.

Writers will want to list a publication history – published books, any places where your work might have been featured, etc. Even if you’re a novelist, include any poetry and/or short fiction that might have appeared in reputable literary journals. Don’t list contributions to your friends’ blogs; list only publications that have paid you for your work.

6. Current Press Releases – This is where you unveil new work; you must keep them succinct and limited to one page. You can also list press releases announcing appearances, awards, talks and any future shows. Remember to keep them up to date, especially if your data sheet includes site and social media traffic statistics –you don’t want to keep growing your following but neglect to update your stats and reflect this growth.

7. Postcards or Bookmarks. You can get fairly inexpensive, good quality postcards that will have your book cover on one side and a brief synopsis of the book on the reverse, as well as the book’s ISBN and places where it can be purchased.

RaceTraitor postcards - small

8. An Author Q&A: you can compile a short list of interview questions and responses about you and your work. This can include questions about yourself, your background and what makes you uniquely qualified, your inspiration for writing this book, your future projects, etc. This is even more useful for non-fiction titles, where your knowledge and subject matter expertise are intertwined with the value of your book.

sample press kit9. Reviews and Testimonials – this is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re popular and have a significant social media following (read: have 10,000+ Twitter followers or blog subscribers) don’t forget to mention it in your kit. Include positive reviews, buyer testimonials, and pretty much anything that shows that people want to hear what you have to say.

10. Sample copies: you can choose to offer samples of your book, i.e. a couple of chapters presented into a ready PDF, or full-length review copies. Personally, when I deal with establishment media I like to provide them with giveaway copies of my book in order to make sure they actually read it. This is what publishers do and it’s pretty much the modus operandi of the arts industry – for instance, recording studios give away tons of free tracks at a CD launch. This of course is highly dependent on your budget. To keep costs low, I don’t recommend giving free copies of your book to anybody but established journalists and bloggers with a significant platform.

Elisa Hategan bio June2016

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce my own media kit – you can browse through my kit on my website, elisahategan.com, but here is my bio in PDF: Elisa Hategan Author Media Kit.

It’s still a work in progress, in the sense that I still have to create a Q&A and add a couple of other items, but in lieu of that I might just link to a Q&A interview I did last year with a US blogger on a prominent anti-racist site.

A final word about media kit templates – you don’t have to buy an expensive template or build a bio with Photoshop. I created my Author Bio in Microsoft Word and it only took an afternoon of tweaking to achieve something I’m satisfied with. So just get creative!

Ok, I hope you find all this stuff useful and have fun putting together your own media kit!

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

work on media kit

Posted in art, artist, media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Esther and Easter: How One Human Being Can Change The World

Posted by E on March 27, 2016

Elisa Purim Easter2016By a conspicuous alignment of calendar dates, 2016 is a year when the Jewish holiday of Purim, a holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people by Queen Esther, coincides with Easter Week (and also with Holi in the Hindu faith – the Festival of Love). Only this week, when the stars have aligned Purim and Easter, does it strike me how many parallels there are between these ancient holidays. Not just in the acts of charity toward the less fortunate that both Jews and Christians engage in, but also in the flourishing spirit of hope that surrounds us all.

It was a couple of summers ago, when I was visiting an old friend from university at her place in Cornwall, that I rediscovered the story of Esther. It was the summer I was studying in preparation for my conversion to Judaism, but that week religious texts were the last thing on my mind. I had stopped for an overnight visit at Joseé-Anne’s house on my way to Massachusetts, where I planned to spend the better part of a week in Provincetown and Cape Cod. I hoped to find inspiration for my new book Daughters of the Air, a retelling of The Little Mermaid, along the grassy dunes of Provincetown’s beaches.

We had just finished dinner and were sitting out in her backyard, sharing a bottle of red wine, as twilight painted mauve streaks across the skies. Joseé-Anne was chain-smoking, as she always did when we talked poetry. We gossiped about old schoolmates and professors and chatted about how hard it is to get published these days. I had just told her of my Judaism course when she turned to me and asked abruptly, “Do you know the story of Esther?”

flower of hopeI nodded yes, although at the time it was just a passing familiarity. An orphan raised by her uncle, kind-hearted Mordechai, in many ways Esther was the original Cinderella – chosen above all other maidens as the king’s new bride. Chosen for her beauty and quiet intelligence, Esther not only captured the king’s heart but was able to spark his compassion and thereby save her people from being put to death after an evil plan had been hatched by the king’s close advisor, vizier Haman.

“You need to learn about Esther,” Joseé-Anne repeated. “You need to absorb her spirit into yourself. This was a young girl who had nothing, whose people were persecuted, who was secretly Jewish and in danger. And yet she saved the nation of Israel. She didn’t do this with connections or money; she had nothing but her desire to change the world and save her people. And she did it.”

We fell quiet. Joseé reached over and wrapped her arm around my shoulders. “Find the courage that Esther had. If she could find it within herself to stand up against a king and be so brave, any of us can do whatever we put our minds to. It’s a matter of faith – being alone in the world and having faith that something greater than yourself is there, watching for you. Even in the darkest moments, when there is no light or hope on the horizon, if you believe as Esther did, you will find the strength.”

sunny_daffodilsBoth Easter and Purim are about hope. About rising out of the ashes of humanity’s frailty and finding kindness and compassion when faced with hatred, which almost always stems from fear of the unknown, of things and people who we perceive are different from us. Whether it was Jesus forgiving his Roman executioners, or Esther who managed to save the Jewish people from their executions, both holidays depict the triumph of a single person’s empathy and fortitude over the hatred of the many.

Purim and Easter both signify a new beginning, as well as the end of winter and the birth of spring. Along with Holi in the Hindu religion, they celebrate love toward all human beings. Together, they are holidays infused with happiness and hope for a new future.

This is a message I need to take to heart more than ever before – I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease back in December and survived a major depression and suicide attempt this January. A symbolic spring – the rebirth of dreams and possibilities – is something I need more than ever before.

If you can find it within yourself to help me on this journey, please send a message of support through Patreon.

Happy Purim  phoenix

Posted in depression, jewish, judaism, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Become a Patron and Make a Difference

Posted by E on March 22, 2016

green valleys red tree

I really need your help, folks. As a rule of thumb I don’t like to depend on others’ generosity and I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t absolutely crucial. But honestly, it is.

The first and last time I begged for spare change was a year ago, in order to finance my research trip to Eastern Europe. My crowdfunding efforts and book project were publicized in a front-page section of the Toronto Star on May 5, 2015. I managed to generate approx. $2000 through private and online donations, which was enough to pay for my flight and most of my rental accommodations in Bucharest. However, while working on the book I experienced a major depressive episode which was worsened by my mother’s death in December.

Researching in Romania, 2015

Researching in Romania, 2015

I’ve found it extremely difficult to work on my manuscript, which is all kinds of awful since it involves stripping away layers of multi-generational pain and heartache in my family. It didn’t help that my research into my father’s Securitate archives in Bucharest this past spring led me on a path toward discovering that my father had actually been killed by Ceausescu’s secret police.

In January I ended up in hospital after a suicide attempt, and my road to recovery has been rocky. To put it bluntly, I’ve found it extremely difficult to see a point for my life, for the traumas my parents went through…. I know we all feel like this sometimes, but I honestly didn’t see a purpose to my existence; I didn’t feel that anybody would care whether I lived or died.

An acute example of this manifested in the weeks right after my mother died – two of my closest friends didn’t care enough to phone me in person and see if I was okay. It was a brutal thing to discover – that people I really cared about, who I’d helped generate thousands of dollars in grants and helped immensely in the past – people who I thought cared about me also – seemed more interested in posting selfies of themselves in new outfits than in sending a single message of condolence. However, in the last couple of months I have come to realize that it was a blessing in disguise – it’s only at hard times that you discover who your real friends are.

I won’t deny it; it’s been awful trying to understand the roots of cruelty – whether the source of my parents’ childhood traumas or my own, or even to understand indifference and lack of empathy in people who I thought were good friends. And then there’s the issue of figuring out how to get out of bed in the morning. Believe me when I say that trying to self-motivate yourself after a suicide attempt, when you don’t see any value in your own existence, much less in your own work, is one of the hardest things in the world.

But recently I’ve stumbled onto a new means of both inspiring AND supporting myself while writing – by surrounding myself with people who actually want to be part of my artistic process. People who care about contributing to the arts, even if it’s with a single dollar every month. So this week I set up a new crowdfunding site on Patreon.com and I hope that I can connect with new people who will be my new family.

My Patrons are the family I never had – a family that supports and sustains me through the process of creating writing that aims to make a difference. I need each and every one of you, and everything I create is dedicated to you. Please support me by becoming an Arts Patron and make a difference.

Those who know me are aware of how badly I was exploited as a teenage girl – first by a radical homegrown terrorist group called the Heritage Front, and afterwards by Canada’s own CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Network), who exploited my story as a teenage kid and stole my identity for a 1998 film called White Lies, which starred Road to Avonlea’s Sarah Polley. While I lived in hiding after sending white supremacists to prison, dumpster-diving for survival, CBC producers were enjoying the limelight and financial benefits, along with Emmy and Gemini nominations, for a movie that wouldn’t have existed without my suffering.

I’ve never had any breaks in life, and I don’t say this because I expect any sympathy, because I’ve seldom received it. I am only stating a fact – that I need every single one of you because I have no family or fallback options. I put myself through university and graduated Magna cum Laude, I published in prestigious literary journals without knowing the editors, I won every award I’ve ever received with sweat and hard work, without any connections. I have nothing at all but my mind and my writing.

I ask only for a $5 donation every month, and you will be first to know about new books and artistic projects I’m involved in. I will give you an advance copy of every new book I create, and my promise that I will continually work on producing writing that aims to make a difference in the world.

Little-Match-Girl-Illustration-By-Rachel-IsadorI appreciate any contribution, no matter how big or how small. You can donate any amount you feel like. Even $1.00 can make a difference, if enough people contribute.

In centuries past, artists depended on the generosity of strangers and art patrons to fund their creative processes – and although we might live in the 21st century, little has changed. The Arts is still a field marked by poverty and uncertainty – most of the time you don’t know where your next funding source will come from. Often you don’t even know if people appreciate what you are trying to do until the work is out there.

But in those dark, rainy days where you are alone with your doubts and your demons (and those bills that need to get paid), it sure would help to know that someone out there cares about your work.

PLEASE consider being a part of my life. Help me find the inspiration I need by letting me know that others see value in my art. Please tell me that my work matters.

Please help me by becoming a Patron.

Posted in art, grief, inspiration, romania, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »