Incognito Press

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

Archive for the ‘ancestry’ Category

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 »

My Little Girl – The Wildflower of Alexandria

Posted by E on January 14, 2016

Cu Mama Iablanita bridge 2

When you’re on the brink of death, common lore says that your life flashes before your eyes. But what they don’t tell you is that the same thing happens when someone you love – or at least someone who was a tremendous influence in your life – dies.  Take for example, my mother – who died only a month ago.

Parinti meiMy mother Lucia and I weren’t close – if anything, I was a parent to her: because both my parents were deaf I was paraded around like a hearing aid dog, interpreting anything they needed to know, translating back to them the often stressful or painful things a child shouldn’t be privy to. And yet this happened – I was there when my mother was arrested by Romania’s Securitate police and escorted off a plane because she’d made the mistake of confiding in a childhood best friend, Dida Tufeanu, the fact that she intended to declare political asylum. I was there when my father beat her brutally, when his fists rained upon her even as I tried to wedge myself between them.

On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

When someone you love dies, your entire life flashes before your eyes – every memory you shared between each other. Every kiss, every blow. The lightest, earliest caress glimmers behind your eyelids – like the time my mother read me fairytales. The time she pretended that Mos Gerila (Father Frost) was at the door and he had brought me two new book volumes of fairytales. The moment she put scars on me for the first time.

Lucia was the mother who kissed my forehead every night. The mother who hit me until she drew blood, whose nails clawed at my skin until new scars were left on my hands and arms. The mother who caressed me as I slept and told me I was the smartest little girl in the whole wide world. The mother who let my father hit me and joined in sometimes.

Sibiu 1My mother Lucia confessed that my father hated children and at the age of 55 he didn’t want a new life in his new, Securitate-given apartment. Over and over again, she told me that my father kicked her in the stomach throughout her pregnancy – determined to abort the fetus who was sure to cause him troubles.

Whenever I didn’t do my homework or play the part of the perfect little daughter, my mother told me that she wished she had indeed aborted me – and shared her regret that my father (who she had married only to obtain a Bucharest city permit) hadn’t managed to kick her stomach hard enough to get rid of me.

Elisa Sibiu deaf school

School for the Deaf, Sibiu spring 2015

But when she loved me, my mother touched my cheek and told me that I was her little girl forever – despite the fact that my brown eyes (my father’s eyes) disappointed her. Despite the fact that she had always dreamed of a Shirley Temple doll – blonde and blue eyes – and her happiest time was right after I was born and when my eyes had (almost) looked bluish. But then my baby blue eyes turned brown and her love for me waned, and then she turned into the same little girl nobody wanted.

Nobody ever wanted my mother – as a small child, she was the wildflower of Alexandria in Teleorman county, Romania – a deaf and dumb little girl who was raped around age 12 by brutal villagers – monsters who in turn transformed her into a monster. She grew to love only animals – kittens, puppies, baby goats – but never trusted people, and it showed.

Lucia was a deaf little girl whose own mother didn’t want her. Who was sent away to her uncle’s estate where she spent years living in the barn next to the outhouse, among the sheep and goats she tended because as “deaf-and-dumb” in the old country she wasn’t deemed human enough to sleep inside the house.

My mother lived in barns, next to sheep and goats, for most of her childhood. She slept in haylofts oblivious of the mice and rats that scurried at her feet. Having fallen off a changing table when she was two, her tympanic membrane had shattered and she was rendered deaf. Once she was deaf, she was useless. In 1940s Romania a deaf child was a curse, a useless mouth to feed. So her mother abandoned her on her uncle’s doorstep, and after that she slept inside a barn for years, unworthy of a bed inside their house – a feral child exposed to all elements except a human’s love.

All my mother ever knew was pain and hardship, and that is all she taught me.

Lucia fetita smallAnd then, the rape by village boys. She was barely twelve. The rape that caught the village priest’s attention and got Lucia sent away to a girls’ Boarding School for the Deaf in Sibiu, the heart of Transylvania. There she would learn to read and write despite having lived as a semi-feral child through critical stages of development.

That school would be the happiest time in her life – she made friends for the first time, learned to sign, lip-read and communicate with others. But the best part was when her and her friends raided the kitchen at night, or when they snuck out the window of their dormitory and went to the movies – when they enjoyed the brief freedom their fleeting youth had to offer.

But those early brutalities never took away the sting of her strap, the sharpness of her nails. My mother clawed and tore at my innocence because she herself never had the chance to be innocent.

She hit me because she was never caressed – she abused me because nobody ever taught her the importance of being loved.

My mother hurt me because everybody in the world had wounded her – because when you live with unkindness, you don’t ever learn how valuable we all are, how each of us without exception deserve love. She was deprived of love and learned that the only way to overcome her worthlessness was to wound others – and wound me, she did.

If I could see you one more time, Mama – I would tell you that you weren’t worthless. You didn’t deserve the pain and horror that others in that brutal world inflicted upon you, making horror be the only thing you knew.

I wish my father hadn’t raped you, Mama. I’m sorry that he impregnated you through rape and made this child that neither of you wanted. I’m sorry that he kicked your belly and convinced you that abortion was the only way – only to give birth to me, an inferior little girl who would never match your desperation for a Shirley Temple doll who might actually bring you happiness.

Iablanita bridgeI brought only pain, because that is the only thing you taught me – I still look at the thin white scars across my hands and arms and cry for you, Mama. A little deaf girl unwanted by the world. A little deaf girl sent out to feed the sheep and goats from daybreak to night, just skin and bones, a feral little thing who slept in the barn next to the animals you tended without anybody ever wandering if you were thirsty or hungry. Without ever wondering how you were in those cold hills when there was nothing except you, a little girl, and the brutal winds of Alexandria county, Romania.

I’m sorry that I told the police what you did, Mama. I was only fourteen years old, and I didn’t understand – but within a week I made sure to recant my testimony because I didn’t want you to get arrested. I didn’t want you to suffer more than you already had, more than a human being could ever suffer. You made countless mistakes that changed both of our lives, but in the end you loved me more than you loved anybody else in the world. You loved me as much as you were capable of loving, despite nobody ever having loved you. You did the best with what you had, and that was so very little.

Elisa Biertan tower2I inherited your pain, Mama. It was seeded inside your DNA, inside the epigenetic code your passed into my blood. Your pain shines in my eyes, Mama. Your wounds are my wounds, just as my father’s ancestral pogroms flow through my bloodstream.

In your later years, you were MY little girl – I tried my best to be there for your needs, despite my failures. I brought you food and paid your bills and tried to understand your needs, although I couldn’t. I’m sorry I put you in the hospital – I thought that after you broke your leg, that was the best thing for you. I wanted you to eat and be cared for, and the waiting list for the Deaf nursing home you wanted to go to was oh so long. But now I think I made a mistake. I should have made sure you stayed in your home, I should have figured out a way for you to trust the help that might have been arranged. Even if you wouldn’t open the door for social workers and Meals on Wheels, even if you didn’t trust anybody but me. Maybe you might have lived longer – although we all die. Although after all, nothing matters.

bob rumballThe month after you died, I tried to kill myself. We all die anyway, right? – so what’s the point? I felt that everything I ever did was wrong, and that you died because I forced Mount Sinai Hospital to keep you and look after you until you’d get a bed inside the nursing home of your choice, Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf. But neither of us knew back then that Bob Rumball nursing home had come to accept hearing people, and in some cases placed deaf people lower on their list in favour of hearing applicants. I didn’t know that in the end you would die in hospital while waiting 13 months for a bed at the Bob Rumball Home for the Deaf – after having waited another year before that also – in total, close to 2 years overall on their waiting list. For whatever reasons which I strongly believe involve either mismanagement, corruption, bribery or God knows what, the Bob Rumball nursing home in Barrie, ON kept taking more and more hearing people in instead of a deaf person like you, who most needed their help.

Elisa Sighisoara yellow street

Walking the same streets my mother had walked

I miss you so much, Mama – the wildflower of Alexandria county. The skinny little girl who herded goats barefoot, thirsty and afraid, and nobody ever loved because they all thought you were worthless. I understand now why you didn’t know how to love – because nobody ever loved you. Because you were born and eventually died alone, like a parched little flower, so tender and beautiful but unwanted by the world, in the foothills and plains of Teleorman county.

You were somebody, Mama. Even in this awful, ugly world where the rich are everything and the poor are considered worthless, you were an innocent little soul who deserved more but was never loved and was abused in every way imaginable. I’m sorry this happened to you, my little girl. I’m so sorry that you didn’t understand the meaning of compassion because you never felt it yourself.

Lucia July31And after all that pain, life cheated you by cutting your life short through early onset dementia (Alzheimer’s). Although your last wish was to return home, there was no money. You worked more than twenty years for Canada’s CIBC bank, never missing a single day of work, and they packaged you out without a pension, leaving you to die in poverty. Leaving me an orphan in a cold, indifferent country I was forced to come to as a child – a country that has brought me only pain.

You were only 71 when you died – an unfair, ugly death you fought with all your might. It wasn’t fair! You didn’t want to die – you struggled so hard against the darkness that seeped into your existence – that made you forget how to eat, how to drink. The darkness that made you become weaker by the second, that fought me so hard whenever I tried to feed you, to keep you alive. But through it all, you didn’t want to die. You raged against the dying of the light – you fought to hang on, no matter what.

In my heart you will be both my mother and my little girl forever. On December 2, 2015, I lost both my mother and my little girl.

I couldn’t even afford to bury you, and I know how scared you were of being cremated. In your later years you regretted so deeply that you couldn’t return to Romania, and I shared your pain. In the end I was just as worthless, just like those who were supposed to protect you – I’m sorry that I failed your wishes, Mama. I’m sorry that in the end I didn’t have the money to abide by your wishes. In the end, I failed your last wish not to be burned.

I think of those little white hands, their skin so translucent and frail. A little nest of bird bones, a tiny sparrow limp inside my grasp. No semblance of the beautiful lady you once were, or the spiteful young mother who clawed my skin to shreds. No more heavy tears, no more regrets. We had made peace with each other, and I could finally see that beautiful light of your soul, the light that had never had a chance to shine.

My little girl, I told you as I kissed your cheeks, your forehead. Goodbye, my little girl. My little one.

I can’t wait to see you once again. I can’t wait until this pain is over – we live in this horrible world where indifference reigns and nobody gives a shit about the fragility of life, the tenderness of vulnerability, the frailty of hope.

You were innocent. You deserved to be loved. You deserved it, but everybody failed you. And then you failed me – because you didn’t know any better. Because nobody ever taught you how to love.

Goodbye, my little girl. Goodbye.

imagini-cu-ghiocei  Stefan Luchian - Pastorita

Posted in abuse, ancestry, deaf, death, indifference, mother, personal, romania, sadness, suicide | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Heal your Wound, Transform the World

Posted by E on May 6, 2015

By now it seems that everybody in the world has seen yesterday’s Toronto Star article, which featured me and my journey toward understanding hate and its visceral, personal roots. I’m very grateful that Rachel Mendleson, a journalist at Canada’s largest-circulated newspaper, saw value in what I am trying to accomplish and worked so hard to share it with others.

Metro Toronto Screenshot 2015-05-06 2

The sad and painful truth is this: I have had hundreds of hits on my blog and website yesterday, but not many donations to the book campaign mentioned in the Toronto Star article. Which is the whole crux of the matter – for the last two months I’ve begged, borrowed and bothered people in order to fundraise for a project that I truly believe will make a difference in this world. But, with the exception of a few close, dear friends and a handful of people who believe in me, it’s all gone on deaf ears.

I cannot do this without your help. I’m not just talking money here – although without it, the research involved in this book simply cannot take place. But even dropping a word of encouragement. Sharing the story with others. Telling people on Facebook. Or just believing in me.

Anything at all.

But until now, everybody – yes, even YOU reading this – is probably thinking, Hey, this sounds like a cool project, so SOMEBODY’S going to help out. But the reality is, nobody will. We live in an age of indifference and self-absorption, where a guy on Kickstarter gets $50,000 to buy ingredients for a potato salad, and worthwhile projects and causes are bumped from the limelight in favour of potato-salad-guy or kong-fu-baby. It’s the reality of our time, where the trivial and the insipid have come to dominate social culture as we define it today.

So that somebody you’re thinking might be able to help me, after you leave this blog – well, that’s YOU.

There’s nobody else. If I had a dollar, even five dollars, for everybody who has checked out my blog over the last month but didn’t contribute anything, my book would have been funded by now.

There is just me. And you. And this moment – where you can decide to help me or you can walk away. This is, after all, your choice. But please don’t diminish that choice by assuming that there’s somebody else in line to help me out.

Because there isn’t.

If you DO decide to walk away, I don’t resent you. In fact, I’m kind of wishing I could walk away from it also. But the thing is, I can’t. My entire childhood and my adolescence was filled with hate, abuse and continuous trauma, and I realize today, in my 40th year, that running away from ugliness changes nothing. It’s cosmetic surgery of the heart, but doesn’t repair the wound inside your soul.

My wound goes deeper than my own childhood – it goes into the lives of my parents, and grand-parents, and great-grandparents before them. An epigenetic history of hate, oppression and suppression of the self. I carry in my blood the genetic memory of six hundred years of hatred, pogroms, wars, abuses and oppression. It’s a huge family tree of despair and longing to be remembered. Hence the name of my book.

remember meme

In Remember Your Name, I’m digging back into the personal transformations of innocents into monsters, as well as digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts (Sephardic conversos) in Europe, and the internalization of hatred and the transformation of victim into oppressor.

We see the consequences of this legacy of hate 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. Whether it means torching a police car or turning around and inflicting violence upon someone else, we as human beings are collective beings – which means that, even at our worst, we cannot constrain our emotions. They will spill out, for good and for bad, and impact the universe around us.

Right before I converted to Judaism in 2013, I had to write an essay for the rabbis at my Beit Din (Rabbinical Council) to explain why I wanted to become a Jew. This is a segment of that essay:

“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 feel terribly sad that 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 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. But I aim to reclaim that heritage.”

By reclaiming this heritage, I reclaim the pain and the beauty of everyone whose blood gave birth to me today. Maybe I’m being idealistic or naïve, but I keep feeling that if I could SOMEHOW depict how pain and oppression, innocence and brutality, are so closely intertwined, then I might be able to show that there is no such thing as black or white in this world.

There is no ME or YOU. There is no Jew, Arab or Christian. We all laugh, we all cry. We all bleed.

We are ONE. Your pain is my pain, and my memories are your memories now.

Within each and every one of us there is the potential to be a victim and a victimizer, a tormentor and a tormented soul. There is love, and there is hate. And it is the uniqueness and beauty of our human experience which allows you to make that choice – the choice to get involved, to show kindness and compassion, or the choice to walk away.

Ultimately, it’s your choice.

Posted in ancestry, canada, commentary, hate, heritage front, history, jewish, journalism, love, media, news, racism, religion, revolution, romania, toronto, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The most important book I’ll ever write, and it needs YOU

Posted by E on March 20, 2015

remember meme

“This story needs to be told and widely read” – reknowned human rights lawyer Paul Copeland

Dear friends, supporters and occasional voyeurs 🙂

everyone who knows me is probably aware of how reticent I am to discuss the details of whatever it is I’m working on – it’s a weird idiosyncrasy common mainly among writers and is the result of a befuddling combination of nerves, superstition (if I talk about it, I’ll jinx it!) and just plain discomfort at being asked questions that demand answers you haven’t quite worked out yourself.

But it’s time for my manuscript to come out of its closet and introduce itself – until now, only a handful of close friends ever knew of its existence. Until last night, I kept it under wraps for many reasons – but now circumstances force me to appeal to all of you and share my first-ever crowd-funding effort for this book.

Please, PLEASE take a moment to click on this link and check out the detailed story behind this manuscript. I feel so strongly about it that I have no doubt it’s the most important, and powerful, book I will ever write. So please – even if you can’t spare a dollar, at least share the Project link among your friends, relatives and whoever you think would be interested in supporting a book that will hopefully make a difference.

REMEMBER YOUR NAME is a memoir that depicts a journey into the roots of hate, identity, human trafficking and self-discovery in Eastern Europe.

It’s also the story of my family, the story of my country, the story of my people.

We all have our own story, but that story doesn’t belong to us: it’s the story of the hometown we came from, the people who gave birth to us and the people who came before them; the kids we went to school with, the neighbors across the road. It’s the story of every individual who came into our path, who added their own presence, experience, emotions, light and darkness to the universe that became our own.

I picked GoFundMe over Kickstarter because of its flexible funding model – which means every single dollar you donate WILL actually reach me, whether I meet my funding objective or not. So please be part of my team and together, let’s make this book happen!

Remember Your Name is a memoir about memory, heartbreak and belonging. Tying together six hundred years of revolutions, cruelty, despair and transformation, this is a luminous journey of love, loss and hate into the heart of a memory that refuses to be forgotten.

I am deeply grateful for anything you can do to help. Thank you.

Posted in abuse, ancestry, hate, jewish, love, manuscript, media, revolution, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A year of new beginnings

Posted by E on January 1, 2013

new year

May this year bring all of us the fulfillment of all our dreams and ambitions. I will be mostly absent from this blog over the next little while. I am embarking on both a new manuscript and a new exploration of my family’s past — and these two paths will hopefully interact in some significant, as-of-yet unknown way.

My results from my DNA test at 23andme have returned with a bang — something I have always known within myself, yet never had any confirmation of before now — that I am indeed of a Ashkenazi Jewish background. I have over a hundred cousins with the Cohen surname from the 2nd-3rd cousin level and up. Several other spellings of Cohen, Kohen, Kuhn and Kahan also pop up, as well as similar variations. (Also related to a significant portion of Kaplans, Friedmans and Rosenbergs). Although I’ve always known I was Romanian (born there, after all!) and Hungarian on my father’s side, now I have just discovered that I am of Polish and Russian Jewish backgrounds (with some German thrown in)….as much as 40%.  From the levels of my matches, the Jewish connection comes from BOTH of my parents, which is a shock given how anti-semitic and racist my mother has been throughout her life. But sometimes the strongest persecutors are those who have something to hide. There is also notable Southern European percentage that traces back to the Iberian/Spanish peninsula, and leads me to believe there’s an influx of Shephardic blood in my dna as well.

Like I said, it’s a confirmation of what I’ve always felt — and yet to see this in person, like this, decades after my father’s death, just made me weep. I just found out a couple of days ago….transferred my raw data to FamilyTreeDNA last night, so in another couple of weeks hopefully I will have more family matches. I strongly believe in genetic memory, and after the reaction I experienced in Kracow, Poland 10 years ago, and once again in Budapest and Debrecen, Hungary, it all begins to make sense. The fog is clearing, and it feels surreal to finally catch a glimpse of the truth that lies beyond the window that was obscured to me all of my life.

So the question remains — with nearly all of my 985 relatives on 23andme bearing Jewish surnames, and both the sides of my family descending from a Jewish line, does my heritage reside in my DNA, blood and ancestry, in my dreams and my senses, in my deja vus and my physical appearance, or in what a rabbi declares I am (or I am not)?  The answer, at least to me, is pretty obvious. And such is the way of the future, both for Israel and for the notion of what makes one a Jew.

Posted in ancestry, belonging, history, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »