My mother died on December 2, 2015. She was 71. What was to be a joy-filled holiday season turned into a time of horror and desperate sadness for me. Not only because of the passing of my last surviving parent, but because of the indifference of people I’d trusted and held closest to my heart. Some of my closest friends, whom I’d counted on for emotional support in such a difficult time (mistakenly assuming they would reciprocate in empathy because I was always there for them) didn’t so much as phone me to see how I was, conversely finding enough time to post countless selfies and memes on Facebook.
I broke down. I blamed myself in a million ways – if I hadn’t insisted that my mother be hospitalized because of her advanced dementia, maybe she could have lived another year. Lots of studies state that living in one’s home prolongs one’s life – maybe I killed her in some way. Maybe it was my inability to visit more than once or twice per week (because I live out of town). Maybe because I still blamed her for the abuse I suffered as a child, for not protecting me when I needed her most. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I hated myself, I crucified myself….and in the end, I realized that the only person I was accountable to was myself.
My mother’s harsh death (she passed away in my arms, in a dimly-lit private room, after I told her that I’d forgiven her and that I loved her) and my friends’ shocking indifference taught me about the importance of being real – of authenticity and living in the moment, as raw and unfiltered as it might be. And, maybe because I’m still in shock or traumatized by the indifference of those closest to me, I realized that my first article of the year has to be about authenticity and integrity – especially in the golden age of apathy and indifference.
We live in a time when technology has connected humanity more than ever, but paradoxically we have drifted apart in inexcusable ways – ways that will eventually lead to the decline of our humanity. We live in an age where we have the power to take to the streets and end the wars our governments wage against innocent nations in the name of oil, but we are too busy sharing Youtube clips of kittens, Drake songs and Kardashian “booty twerking”.
This is why I write this post, and this is why I am asking all of you to take a moment and reflect on your own authenticity. At the end of the day, what do you want to be known for? What would have been your purpose?
Are we really the people we think we are? Or have we deluded ourselves to think ourselves more capable and deserving than we really are? Have we really put in the time, sweat, blood and tears necessary to fulfill our dreams?
This piece, my first of 2016, is about the choice we all have to make – whether to be an impostor inside our own lives, or seize the days ahead and realize our potential with the authenticity and integrity needed to breathe life into our dreams.
I once knew a girl named Elizabeth Moore who was obsessed with Jews. At first she hated them, having become a neo-Nazi. Later on, after she left the hate movement and became a self-appointed anti-racist, she wanted nothing more than to be a Jew. She surrounded herself with Jews. She slept with Jewish officials associated with the Canadian Jewish Congress. She had years-long affairs that appear to have advanced her career, if her LinkedIn profile is anything to go by. She volunteered to be in films and documentaries that featured or were produced by Jews. She inserted herself like an insidious tapeworm into the Jewish community, going so far as to emulate me and issues I had discussed in prominent interviews regarding my role as a young girl who had actively helped to shut down the Canadian neo-Nazi movement.
We first became friends sometime in late 2012/ early 2013. At first I liked her – why wouldn’t I? We had lots of quirky interests in common. Elizabeth even declared publicly that I was her “soul sister” – perhaps because in our distant youth we had both made the mistake of joining (and eventually leaving) the same white supremacist hate group, the Heritage Front.
But ultimately we were nothing alike. At age 16 I was a runaway, often homeless MINOR from bullet-ridden Shuter Street in Regent Park who needed a family. By age 18 I had defected from the group, turned information to police and testified in court against dangerous neo-Nazis who had threatened me with death, leading to their eventual convictions.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a university-attending, 19-year old ADULT, the only daughter of an upper-middle class family who lived in the area of Pebblehill Square, an affluent part of Scarborough, Ontario. Unlike me, she chose to remain in the group until age 21 and did absolutely nothing to actively shut down (she didn’t testify in court or provide police with information as I had) or stop the neo-Nazis whose company she had once enjoyed.
Over the years, Elizabeth’s obsession with Jews eventually led her to marry a secular (non-religious) Jew. Then, after close to a decade of hanging around the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress (if her resume is any indication), she set upon getting an MFA from Toronto’s Ryerson University in documentary film-making. The MFA’s piece de resistance culminated with 2 years spent to produce a 20-minute film titled “In God’s Keeping” (the Vimeo trailer has since been removed) – the subject being none other than Moore capturing herself as a former neo-Nazi whose greatest desire appeared the wish to become a Jew.
For her documentary, Elizabeth interviewed rabbis, synagogue staff, other potential converts, even top leaders of the Jewish community. She was keen, almost desperate to convert – or so it seemed. She made profiles on LinkedIn that included resume-building credentials with the Canadian Jewish Congress, although CJC officials deny she was ever in their employment. She sought to befriend big names on the Jewish scene, including community leaders and religious officials such as Tina Grimberg of the Darchei Noam congregation/synagogue.
Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, for the past decade I too had progressed on the path toward Judaism. I had already discovered that my father was Jewish and I wanted to return to the faith of my ancestors, and a DNA test taken through 23andme confirmed my Jewish heritage. Unlike her, I didn’t attempt to publicize or capitalize on my inner journey – I just studied and read as much as I could. Reaching out to media – much less before my actual conversion – would have been unfathomable (and embarrassing) for such a personal journey.
Naturally, as soon as Elizabeth told me of her intent and gave me a copy of her film, I was terribly excited that she too wanted to be a Jew. We spent countless hours over the following months comparing notes about conversion, discussing philosophical ideas and our pasts, questioning what our future identities as Jews would entail.
Across 2013, I began studying in earnest and enrolled in a Conversion to Judaism class. I read religious texts, classic and modern Judaic discussions, and joined a Jewish community. I struggled trying to make sense of the Hebrew alphabet. On December 17 (my actual birthday), I met with a three-rabbi Beit Din, immersed in a purifying Mikvah, and I became a Jew. Read about my moving experience that day in the entry Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became a Jew.
But did Elizabeth eventually go through with her conversion?
No. Of course not. Such a radical step would involve substance, and soul, and ardent desire; no publicity but an inner transformation of the spirit. In the end, Elizabeth’s obsession with becoming a Jew appeared in my eyes to have been more about appropriating a culture that wasn’t hers, ingratiating herself overtly with influential Jewish leaders, and benefitting emotionally and financially than about actually getting her feet wet and embracing a rich, millennia-old heritage. A culture that (in her own words in an email dated April 7, 2014) “can illicit PTSD responses”.
In February 2015, Elizabeth invited me over for dinner at her house and subsequently sold me her entire Jewish and Judaism-themed library (approx. 30 books) for $40. Actually, she had wanted to give me the books for free. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel right about accepting them without paying at least $1 per book, so I gave her all the money I had in my purse. Elizabeth’s reason for changing her mind about Judaism: she didn’t want to have to learn Hebrew.
Committing to weekly Hebrew classes was too tedious, she told me. She didn’t feel like attending weekly classes downtown for more than a year. Her husband hadn’t even had a Bar Mitzvah – he too didn’t see the point. And why should she? By then she’d already ingratiated herself in the Jewish community, by way of personal social media relationships with former leaders of the Canadian Jewish scene like Bernie Farber and Karen Mock. All this despite that she had done absolutely nothing for the Jewish community, other than arguably to exploit and monetize her connections with the CJC for close to a decade.
I can’t say I didn’t feel both saddened and shocked at her statement – here I was, having gone through more than a year of conversion studies, taking my choice to heart, while someone who was busy befriending people like Farber and Mock on social media and in real life (along with others in the close-knit Toronto Jewish community) seemed inwardly repulsed, or at the very least put off, by the thought of learning Hebrew, a core part of Judaism and its historical legacy.
Judaism was still making Elizabeth Moore feel icky, deep down inside. It was making her break into hives much in the same way as the sight of a swastika. Jewish symbols were still “triggers” – along with neo-Nazi and Hitler regalia. In other words, although Jews had done absolutely nothing to her and she had been the anti-Semite, seeing a Star of David would be enough to send her into fits and panic attacks.
In the end, after two decades of obsessions related to Jews, sleeping with Jews, marrying Jews (in a Christian-style, non-denominational ceremony), being prominently featured in Jewish documentaries and a CBC feature that earned her $12,000 despite being partly based on my life story, even getting a degree that culminated in a documentary that depicted her ardent desire to be a Jew – she gave up the dream because she was loathe to learn the Jewish language.
I learned something powerful from Elizabeth Moore last year – that in this day and age, the act of going through the motions, the pretense of wanting to be something, is enough for people to convince themselves that they have what it takes – and the line between living an authentic life or forging a false, self-deluded existence becomes increasingly blurred.
You’ve met those people – the girl in yoga class who recites motivational quotes about positive thinking because she watched “The Secret” but takes no real steps toward actually applying for the job she claims she desires. The hipster dude who tells everybody he’s a genius poet – the next Bob Dylan, the next Rimbaud or Bukowski – but prefers playing the part of disturbed bard at the local watering hole, charming gullible coeds over flowing pints of Guinness, than over writing any actual verses.
We all know these types. We went to school with people whose unshakable confidence and self-assurance made our own self-esteem shine less brightly. People who seemed higher-than-life and more important than us merely because they had played the part to perfection. But in the end, substance faltered beneath the enormous weight of their ego’s illusion.
The idea of being a Jew – making films about becoming a Jew, associating with the Jewish community while holding mixed feelings about Jews themselves – was more attractive to Elizabeth than the actual pursuit of studying Judaism. Telling everybody she wanted to be a Jew held more significance, in the end, than truly understanding the plight of a people who were forced to give up their language, customs and very identity on threat of death for half a millennia.
So for the New Year, I encourage all of you to pursue your dreams and truly commit to whatever you most desire – because you don’t want to be one of those sad individuals who live an entire lifetime unable to distinguish between the fantasy of being something – say, a writer – and the actual gruelling, painful process of transforming yourself, your soul and your art into the real thing.
Let’s all be real, people. Let’s be authentic, to ourselves and to the world surrounding us. Money, media connections, this life is all temporal. Only too late do we realize that we don’t need to impress anybody – this brief moment on earth is about surpassing our worst fears and inadequacies and being authentic to our soul’s purpose.
Holding my mother in my arms as she faded away taught me the importance of looking past the illusion. What illusion? All of it. The world we live in is an illusion, and the only thing that matters is how much we loved. How authentic and empathetic we were. And as the Jewish saying goes, that our memory becomes a blessing onto others.
In this New Year, practice acts of radical kindness. Believe in your ability to transcend the pain that surrounds us all.
To be honest, I struggled over the publication of this piece. I didn’t know whether I should disclose Elizabeth’s secrets (particularly involving the intimate affairs that earned her publicity and media exposure). Perhaps her intention of becoming a Jew had been genuine, once upon a time, and had dissolved along the way, or perhaps it had been fuelled from the beginning by a persistent need for attention and financial gain. I’ll never know for certain.
In the end, my concern for authenticity (as well as the Jewish community who might be manipulated and deserves to know about this matter) won out – I now believe it is my hard-won duty to tell the truth, as harsh as it may be. Because the act of truth-telling is both redemptive and illuminating, leading to a road that might benefit all of us collectively as a species.
Don’t be ensnared by your own delusions. Face the bitter road ahead – the sweat, the tears. The triumph. To borrow Robert Frost’s timeless words, take that road less travelled by.
It will make all the difference. That’s how we’ll unearth the roots of our humanity.