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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

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

The Road Less Travelled: Authenticity in the Age of Indifference

Posted by E on January 6, 2016

loss

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.

indifference elie wiesel quoteI 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.

indifference wieselWe 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.

Moore shown in Choose Your Voice, 2005

Moore shown in Choose Your Voice, 2005

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.

Moore In Gods Keeping

Moore pictured in In God’s Keeping – image from Ryerson.ca

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.

star david peaceJudaism 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.

To Thine Own Self Be TrueYou’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.

integrity memeLet’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.

robert_frost_two_roads

Posted in 1mooreliz, anti-semitism, authenticity, canada, elizabeth moore, indifference, journalism, media, onemooreliz, politics, religion, sarah polley, white supremacy, writer, zundel | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »