Incognito Press

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

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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 »

The Power of Magic – Eight Powerful Ways to Regain your Self-Confidence

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

Do you remember the day when you forgot how to fly? When you stopped believing that you were a secret princess spirited away from an enchanted realm? When you stopped speaking out of turn, because others told you that you were too loud?

After you stopped believing in magic, the world became a much harder and grayer place to be. When you no longer believed in your ability to make things happen as effortlessly as a child building a sand castle along the seashore, everything seemed much more complicated. More hurdles to jump, more self-help books to read, more eventual “settling” on the idea that maybe we were never “meant” to become our childhood heroes.

Little girl on a grassy hill looking into a mountain landscapeSomewhere along the densely-forested path to adulthood, your confidence in yourself got lost.

The biggest factors behind low self-confidence are Shame, Guilt and Fear. Most of these splinters were seeded in us when we were children – often by people who were damaged or frustrated in their own ways, and forced their pessimistic view of the world upon us.

Low self-confidence and self-esteem are among the most crippling personality traits you can have, because your worst enemy becomes your Self. Not a boss, a competitor or a pragmatic parent, but YOU transform into your worst obstacle. That monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering those awful things in your ear? You put it there, and it’s that voice that will limit your opportunities and jeopardize your chances of success.

girl reading a bookFive traits common in people with low self-confidence and self-esteem:

1. Taking blame when it is not their fault – being overly critical of themselves

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

3. Being overly shy and reserved – fearful of new things or spontaneity

4. Doing things to please others or because they fear confrontation – staying in jobs they hate, not speaking up when saddled with extra work, remaining in abusive relationships

5. Undervaluing their own worth – working for free, being underpaid, giving their energy without compensation

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

This is the truth: Nobody is better than you. Sure, there are people who are more proficient at certain skills than you are, just like you’re way ahead of a novice when it comes to your particular craft. But on a fundamental level – and despite the screwed-up socio-economical hierarchies we have created – all human beings are equal. There is absolutely no reason you cannot strive to become the best you can be. I don’t want to put down those who feel afraid, because I’ve known that sort of apprehension. We’ve all experienced fear – the fear of being judged, of stumbling or stuttering at the worst time, the fear of somehow failing and being seen as inferior or worthless.

I grew up in a communist country where corporal punishment was a daily occurrence. If you didn’t do your homework or forgot your notebook at home, you got the ruler over your hands or got strapped with a belt in front of the whole class. I saw a teacher once make one student strap another until he cried. Not that I was impervious myself: I was smacked in the head and had my pigtails pulled when I forgot to bring my science scrapbook to school that day. Small brutalities like this will, over time, embed microscopic fissures into your spirit. The ugly things other brutalized kids say to you, the bullies who call you horrible names – the escalation of pain and fear – further splinter your spirit.

i believe flyUntil, one day, you cease to believe in magic, in your ability to fly. You lose that fairy-tale, innocent fearlessness all children have, the faith that you can do anything. Fear and doubt replace the beauty and get internalized into your psyche, your emotional DNA. And everything that happens after that – every insignificant failure, every stumbling step, no matter how unrelated – becomes “proof” that you’re not good enough.

But what if you CAN fly? What if there really IS a higher purpose to all this – to everything that you’ve experienced, to all that heartbreak? What if you used those terrible things as motivational building blocks to keep you moving forward? You can defeat all those who harmed you in the past by becoming stronger than they are, and by achieving more than they ever will. If you don’t have the confidence to do it for yourself, do it to spite them. Fight back – as I did against those who exploited and harmed me.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

You-never-know-how-strong-you-are2. Improve the Lives of Others

If you think that nothing you do has any impact in the world, try improving the lives of the less fortunate. Few things made me feel better as an impoverished student owing a gazillion dollars in student loans than stepping into the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as a volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. For the couple of hours I was there, creativity abounded – prisoners who spent all their days, weeks and years behind bars were free to get creative. They painted their nails, they sketched pictures, they talked about their lives while we thought up creative projects. One afternoon several of us volunteers arranged for a KFC party for the women – we brought in a couple of 20-piece bucket meals and the excitement and gratitude from the prisoners left all of us moved.

flying girlEven though it took a lot out of me afterwards, when leaving the prison and hearing door after automatic door slide shut behind me, I knew that I had made their lives that much better. In that moment, that was all that counted.

Later in life, I sponsored a few overseas children through organizations that allowed money to be transferred directly to a local community officer who took the child and her family shopping for necessities. For every $100 I managed to scrounge up, I would receive stacks of photographs of the family with the supplies they’d received, and heartfelt, handwritten letters of thanks. Even though I might have put that $100 toward a new dress or pair of shoes, something that might have benefited me – I derived so much more enjoyment from realizing that such a small sum of money (in western societies) can have a dramatic impact in providing impoverished people with items that I take for granted every day – like having a bed, or a rice cooker.

By working with a disadvantaged teen, or volunteering in a soup kitchen or an abused women’s shelter, you quickly begin to realize how good you have it. It’s a sobering lesson, but also one full of power. You owe it to yourself – and to those who don’t have the opportunities you do – to accomplish something that will leave the world a better place.

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Millions of people in this world would trade places with you in a second, if given the chance. You’re literate (I assume, since you’re reading this now 🙂 ) and had the opportunity to go to school, to access a library, to live in fairly regulated, sanitary conditions. Having full bellies and amusement galore has left so many westerners complacent and superficial. With TV, the internet and our electronic gadgets – never mind YouTube and the free movie streaming sites – we are drowning in entertainment. Our society might say that it values education, books and the pursuit of knowledge, but people’s behaviour speaks to the contrary – indifference and self-centredness rules.

Just because everyone around wants to talk about what they did on the weekend or share cute kitty pics from I Can Haz Cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself at the same insipid level. You don’t need to enroll in formal classes, or pay for education – it’s all out there, within grasp. Hundreds of years of literature, history, art, discourse, creativity and insights…all at your fingertips. Online, in libraries, in museums… knowledge is yours for the taking. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become. The more you will understand yourself, the world you live in, and how to relate to others.

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

How can you grow your self-confidence and platform if your image hinges on a fabrication or an illusion? I’ve known too many people whose résumés were a lie – one woman I knew indicated she’d attended Havergal College, a private, elite Toronto high school for wealthy girls (tuition is upwards of $10,000 a semester) as well as a Swiss boarding school, when in fact she’d grown up in a Barrie, ON slum. Another person took short-term, sporadic volunteer gigs found on Workopolis and listed them as real, year-long jobs on her LinkedIn profile – tantamount to me listing myself as a correctional officer simply because I’d volunteered inside prisons, or as a legal secretary because I’d once worked in a law office.

In an age when competition is fierce, desperate people will resort to desperate things in order to make themselves be noticed. A 2012 Globe & Mail article estimated that close to 40% of job seekers lie on their resumes.

But the best way to boost your confidence is not to pad your resume, but accept who you really are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and minimize interactions with naysayers and pragmatic, sarcastic individuals.

Accept your good qualities and acknowledge your flaws. To believe in yourself you have no choice but to love yourself, for better or for worse.

phoenix5. Have Your Own Goals – not those others wish upon you

What gives your soul purpose and meaning? What are the things that make your spirit feel like flying? What accomplishments will make you feel like a phoenix rising out of a pond of ashes? You’ve got to figure this out, and get to it. Maybe it’s taking that once-in-a-lifetime journey, or running that marathon, or becoming proficient in a particular hobby. What you enjoy, and gives your life purpose, is what is valuable. What one person thinks is a great accomplishment might mean little to someone else – someone pursuing an MBA versus taking a year to write a novel. Value is relative, and when it comes to building your self-confidence, anything goes.

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There is only one YOU in this universe. You are unique in every way. If you think about it, everybody battles adversity – everybody at one point or another thinks, “I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s part of our human experience. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Charles Bukowski, a seriously messed-up and utterly brilliant writer, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

Pain and frustration have their purposes – they push us toward discovering new solutions, new ways of thinking that might illuminate a path previously unseen. The last thing you want to do is quit before you’ve had a chance to properly develop a proficiency and pathway toward accomplishing your dream. Just like how young teens can literally have growing pains when their bones lengthen, you too might experience negative emotions when things don’t happen right away. Sometimes you can get so frazzled by the lack of immediacy in results that you might miss an important clue sitting there, right in front of you!

Trust me – I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet. I know how waiting can feel like the most terrible thing in the world – but the rewards can often be the sweetest.

dance-in-the-rain8. Take Care of Yourself

As someone who has battled depression all my adult life, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure you look after yourself. The better you feel when you look in the mirror, the more confidence you’ll have about getting out of bed in the morning. Pay attention to your grooming. Try to exercise. Dress as nicely as you can, given your budget. There are wonderful finds for every budget. A friend of mine owns a consignment store and I’m constantly amazed at the luxurious, wonderful designer clothing that she sells for a fraction of the original prices.

Make sure you eat well and get enough rest – it might sound like really basic advice, but caring for yourself is a crucial building block toward loving yourself and developing your self-confidence.

Walt Disney, the creator of so many magical stories of our childhood, once said, The secret of making dreams come true can be summarized in four C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

You CAN fly, even on broken wings. I know you can, because I’ve seen it. The thing is, those wings are inside your mind. And that is where the magic lives – and everything is possible.

girl running  dandelion dreams

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Posted in books, inspiration, poetry, psychology, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Artist’s Guide to Establishing a Social Media Presence – Part 2: Crowdfunding Your Project

Posted by E on August 27, 2015

Marc-Chagall_I-And-The-Village

About ten years ago I stumbled upon a revolutionary website that introduced me to the concept of microloans: Kiva.org. With as little as $25, I could contribute funds to individuals all over the world, and especially in impoverished third world countries, in order to help them achieve their business goals. People who wouldn’t normally have access to traditional banking systems were now able to obtain loans and expand their income, providing better lives for their families. Within a year, my partner and I had contributed to more than a dozen businesses and were rewarded as our funds were paid back both monetarily and through the sense of joy we experienced each time we were sent an update or photo from the person we’d funded.

community treeAfter my introduction to Kiva, I started wondering if there wasn’t a way to contribute financial resources to individuals in need without the need of a payback. Sure enough, within a few short years, the concept of crowdfunding exploded. Crowdfunding is, in essence, the potential to leverage the power of social media in order to build widespread support for a project. Crowdfunding builds upon the idea of crowdsourcing: “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to an undefined, large group of people or community (a “crowd”), through an open call.” (Wikipedia)

The basic concept of generally goes like this: you pitch an idea, set a fundraising goal and choose a deadline for raising funds – typically 30 to 45 days from start. (The last point has been rendered obsolete with the introduction of new, never-expiring platforms like GoFundMe).

A 2014 Forbes article quotes a Crowdfunding Industry Report by Massolution which states that an estimated $5.1 Billion was raised through online crowdfunding in 2013. 2014 brought new crowdfunding sites that further accelerated the rapid industry growth.

crowdfunding umbrellaKickstarter was the major crowdfunding website that started it all – whether needing the cash to fund an innovative consumer product, a CD release or to get an indie film made, people who might never have had the ability to see their dream in action began to connect with others who understood their vision and, more importantly, were willing to bankroll it with as little as a single dollar.

Kickstarter’s unique concept still rests in its all-or-nothing approach – if your financial goal isn’t met by the end of the campaign, everyone who contributed gets their money refunded and the project creator walks away with nothing. This was meant to encourage 1) realistic fundraising goals, and 2) the public’s trust that their money would actually be used for a project that got enough funding to actually get made.

Because of their history and the public’s familiarity with its concept and reliability, Kickstarter still remains the most popular platform for crowdfunding. However, the competition for funds is fierce, and now there is such demand for campaign creation that Kickstarter’s team has implemented a system of pre-approval – which means you compete with other idea pitchers before you even have a chance to be featured on the site. Due to the fierce competition, having a high-quality video that explains your pitch is pretty much a necessity.

However, there are a couple of other newer crowdfunding sites that are rapidly gaining in brand name recognition and giving people a chance to raise funds without forcing them to take an all-or-nothing risk. The most reliable competitors to Kickstarter are Indiegogo and GoFundMe.

Crowdfunding_Future

This spring I launched a campaign on Indiegogo for a new memoir project, and two months later I continued it using GoFundMe as a platform. Both sites have a lot of similarities, and while I chose Indiegogo initially and would still recommend it to start with (I’ll explain why in a minute), I found that GoFundMe offers the most flexibility via their open-ended campaign platform. This means there is no expiry date to the pitch, and you can keep the link live and continue receiving donations over time, as long as people are still willing to support your project.

It’s no secret why I chose not to go the Kickstarter route – the all-or-nothing approach was a deal-breaker for me. I’m not a gambling person, and I don’t have thousands of fans and family members to solicit from. I also dreaded the figures – as of today’s Kickstarter stats, only 37.12% of projects are successful. I feared having to beg everyone for donations for a month and raise only a portion of my needed amount – only to lose it all. It wasn’t a gamble I was willing to make.

So I went with Indiegogo because they have a beautiful and intuitive website interface and lots of the artists I know were using them at the time to fund their project. I think I set a deadline of 45 days for my campaign, and then it was live and searchable within minutes. No glitches, no staff preapproval process – just smooth sailing all the way. They also have a much larger international presence than Kickstarter, and aren’t as North American-centric. An important factor for me, given that my book research involved travel to eastern Europe.

The thing that makes GoFundMe third in my view (behind Kickstarter and Indiegogo) is the fact that you need to raise a threshold of $500 before your campaign can be featured and searchable on their public site. The link still works, but it’s not searchable via their website. However, GoFundMe makes up for this major flaw by allowing you to withdraw the donations as soon as they come rolling in, instead of waiting for an expiration date.

There are, of course, other websites where you can raise funds for humanitarian cause or a charitable purpose – the most popular among non-profit organizations is FirstGiving. But since this is a Basic Guide for Artists (and since my word-count for this article is reaching epic proportions) I’m going to limit myself to these top three sites.

Infographics-CrowdFundingIf you take a moment to visit my crowdfunding project pages at Indiegogo and GoFundMe, you’ll see how I set them up and the kinds of thank-you Rewards (or Perks, as Indiegogo calls it) you can provide to your donors. It’s extremely important to offer something back – because people need to see proof of their donation in action. Even if your project might be delayed in completion – and one of the biggest complaints about Kickstarter and other platforms is that the projects often run late in delivery – you still need to keep your backers informed as to how things are going.

All in all, I raised close to $2000 for my book using a combination of Indiegogo, GoFundMe and private donations via Paypal – I’d set up a donation button on my website and sent the link to anyone who expressed discomfort over registering on a crowdfunding website. I was actually surprised at how many people opted to donate directly to me. Although I still came short of my goal of $8000, the money I did raise was invaluable and helped cover my flight ticket to Romania, as well as part of the cost of accommodations.

crowdfunding hands    crowdfunding steps

A 12-Step Battleplan on how you can get your project funded:

1. Do Your Homework

Look up the most successful campaigns on Kickstarter – after you watch a few pitches, a pattern starts to emerge. The best campaigns will use humour or emotion to elicit a response from their potential backer audience.

2. Develop a Social Media Strategy

Identify any particular target audience and figure out how to reach them. It might involve joining new groups and discussions on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, Yahoo Groups, Google Plus and anyplace in between. If you have any media contacts, try to line up interviews as soon as the campaign goes live. Remember that it takes time for a story to be developed, approved by an editor and then broadcast on television or in print, and a campaign can go by really fast. So make sure your media exposure will take place while the campaign is still live.

crowdfunding tree3. Appeal to your Friends and Fanbase

If you already have a fanbase or following built around your artistic or professional profile, you need to leverage it. You may need to contact each person individually, so start early. Customize your promotion to suit your platform. Don’t just ask your friends and fans for money – ask them to spread the word among their own friends and contacts. Asking them to donate a moment of their time to share your link (especially if they don’t have a job and money to contribute financially) is equally important.

4. Create a Winning Pitch

Be passionate about what you’re trying to create. Show your emotion and let people feel how important this is to you. Don’t hold back, and don’t just assume others will understand how critical it is. This isn’t a time to be subtle, so go forth with all guns blazing. Try to make an impression from the first paragraph. Don’t assume people will scroll down and read your entire pitch, so try to grab them from the first sentence.

If you have the ability to film your pitch – do it. The added human factor of your audience seeing and hearing you speak from your heart about what you want to accomplish will make a huge difference. I’ve seen fantastic videos and poorly-made ones, and in my opinion if you don’t have the skills or equipment to produce a good video, it’s probably better to skip it and focus on other visual imagery such as photos. At the bare minimum, you absolutely must have a photo of yourself so that people can see who they are backing.

5. Project Confidence

whether-you-think-you-can-henry-fordIt’s crucial that you maintain confidence in your vision. You have to believe that you can accomplish this – because if you show any doubt, how are you going to inspire confidence in others?

Above all – can you deliver on your pitch? Do you have the experience or credentials to get this done? If you’re pitching for a movie, do you have any knowledge of media production or camerawork? If you’re pitching for a book – have you ever written and/or published anything before? In essence – are you qualified or equipped to get the work done?

“People don’t want to back a campaign that’s not going to work,” says writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin about his crowdfunding experiences. You have to convince your potential backers that you are a winner, that cool kid who’s going to re-enact a David vs Goliath epic battle and triumph in the end. Most people want to support others succeed and vicariously join in that feeling of triumph and success.

6. Show How the Money will be Spent

Don’t just talk about how important this is to you. people need to see a detailed explanation of how exactly you’ll be using their money. The more detailed the plan, the more credibility you’ll gain for your project. Make a ballpark figure on what it will cost to supply materials, or what the travel and research costs might be, within reason.

7. Get your Hands Dirty – Promote Every Day

It still surprises me how many people think they can just launch a crowdfunding project and it will magically get funded. For every idiot who wins the Kickstarter lottery by pitching a harebrained concept like making potato salad and gets $50,000, there are thousands of worthwhile, well-thought-out projects that go unnoticed and unfunded. So don’t assume that yours will be the one that gets lucky, because the odds are against you.

This mentality of “If you build it, they will come” is just plain wrong, because it enables you to get lazy about soliciting donations from everywhere around you. Remember: close to 50 percent of donations will come from people you know. Yes, you read that right. For campaigns to go viral, your friends have to share with their friends, who in turn tell all their friends and relatives about it.

Email everyone in your contacts list. Tweet about it every other day. Contact people who aren’t normally on social media – email them at their regular email addresses. Ask them to check out your campaign link and tell you what they think. I’ve received cheques in the snail mail and Paypal donations directly. Don’t just rely on Kickstarter or Indiegogo – money can come from unexpected sources!

8. Don’t use Social Media exclusively as a Promotional Tool

crowdfunding offlineDon’t start friending new people and joining new groups to just post a link to your crowdfunding campaign. Some group moderators might consider such an approach as spamming. Worse yet, new friends and potential new acquaintances will see your approach as not entirely genuine. So take the time to build new contacts and relationships with people before telling them about your campaign. Build meaningful engagements that will last well beyond your campaign’s expiry date.

It might take a lot of time, but you have to make the time to contact people individually. Personalize your emails and Facebook direct messages to each person – don’t just mass-email a “Hey guys, I need your help” message, because it will be ignored. It’s much harder to ignore a personalized request than a spam-type message. Yes, this involves tailoring your messages to each person in your Facebook or LinkedIn account, but you’ll likely get people’s attention that way.

9. You might need to use Social Media Advertising

The average crowdfunding campaign earns less than $10,000. If you have a significant goal, you will need to buy ads. From my experience, Facebook ads (and to a smaller degree, Twitter ads) are likely the best option to target consumers, but getting the right key words to target a particular audience is crucial. Don’t make your reach too broad or too narrow, but also remember that you can’t spend too much money – the whole point of this is to earn donations for your project, not spend for advertising. Create a budget for the ads – say, $50 – and stick to it.

10. Set a Reasonable Intention

If the project costs will be very high (say, over $10,000) consider breaking up the crowdfunding campaign into several chunks. This is especially important on an all-or-nothing platform like Kickstarter, where if your goal is too high you risk losing everything you’ve already raised. It’s something I’ve seen over and over, and it’s really sad considering how much energy and hope people put into their fundraising.

Even if your funding model is flexible, such as on Indiegogo, don’t consider it an invitation to set an unrealistic goal. I’ve recently seen an Indiegogo campaign for a book by a first-time author set its goal at $40,000. This is excessive and will be perceived as unreasonable by almost anyone who reads that pitch – the author didn’t mention any travel plans or particular reason why he would ask for such a high figure and, given his lack of a writing background, it appeared like a delusional request. When it comes to crowdfunding books – where there isn’t a high cost for manufacturing materials and the most expensive item on your list might be a laptop or word processor, you have to be especially careful to be realistic. Even if the project involves travel for research, try to keep your budget as tight as possible.

Remember that people naturally and subconsciously want to side with a winner. Don’t let them smell the possibility of a failure by making an unreasonable demand.

11. Your Success or Failure at Crowdfunding does Not Reflect Your Project’s Intrinsic Value

light brightlyThis is the most important thing I can tell you – don’t take it personally if people you thought you could count on don’t come through for you. In my mind, this is the most important thing to remember – it hurts far more to be ignored by people you’ve been friends for years than by casual online acquaintances.

There were girls I went to school with, women I had histories with, old classmates who were employed in good government jobs. People who frequently posted photos of fancy restaurant dinners and weekends away at exotic retreats. People who always seemed to be online on Facebook….except for the month I started posting about my fundraising campaign. It’s a phenomenon I’ve read about on other people’s blogs — your so-called friends mysteriously vanish, make up some excuse about not having seen your post, or promise to take a look later and then never respond to your messages….until your campaign is finished. Then suddenly everybody is talking to you again. There’s no more awkwardness about not wanting to cough up $5 or $10 to support your vision.

I don’t consider people like these friends anymore. It’s a harsh statement to make, but in this age of social media we often fool ourselves into thinking we are more popular than we really are. You can boast of a thousand Facebook “friends” but in reality have less than ten people in your close circle who really “get” who you are.

tree dont give upCrowdfunding has a funny way of revealing who is really in your court. I can understand the reluctance of people who don’t know me personally to get involved in supporting my campaign (although donating a single dollar wouldn’t kill them). But I have to admit that yes, I did experience disappointment and feelings of betrayal when individuals I considered friends for decades (and who were gainfully employed) wouldn’t even acknowledge my messages or offer a single dollar as a donation. Even as a gesture of faith.

In fact, I noticed an interesting juxtaposition between friends in lower-income brackets and those making higher figures – in general, the ones with less money actually donated more to my campaign. With a couple of exceptions I’m very grateful for, many of those who considered themselves upper-middle class or in the highest income bracket were actually the stingiest.

It’s next to impossible not to take this personally, not to see the lack of donations as a correlation to someone’s lack of faith in you. Because it is. I’m going to be frank here, but if someone who’s known you for most of your life, is privy to your hopes, ambitions and passions and recognizes what this project means to you and still makes an excuse or refuses to help, it’s not about not having $5 to give.

Support comes in many ways – people can still share the link to your campaign on their Facebook wall, with their friends or Twitter network. They can send you a message of encouragement, if nothing else. Someone who doesn’t offer a single dollar and doesn’t share the link with anyone cannot claim to have any support for your dreams. This is a hard fact to accept, but in the end you must understand that it’s not to do with you. Their unwillingness to help is more due to stinginess, jealousy or perhaps one’s lack of faith in their own ability to crowdfund successfully. No matter what the reason, it’s not your fault.

Forget the nay-sayers and the unsupportive. Show them how they missed out on being part of something truly wonderful and possibly even revolutionary. Above all, remember this: Someone’s rejection of your dream isn’t a judgement on the strength or worthwhileness of what you are trying to accomplish.

The famous Greek philosopher Epictetus once said, ‘In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; in adversity, nothing is so difficult.’ When you’re popular and on top of the world, everybody is your friend. But when you’re down and need support, be it emotional or financial, the herd thins out and you begin to see who your real friends actually are.

12. You’re Not Doing This Alone

Whether you get all the funding you need, or a small portion of it – it’s important to be grateful. Even if you asked for $10,000 and received only $100, it’s a hundred dollars you didn’t have before and it brings with it the knowledge that others have faith in you. Don’t think about those who didn’t support you – think of the people who did. Persevere and get the work done. Over-deliver on everything you promised.

Even when things get rough, remember that you have a crowd of supporters behind you – these people implicitly understand and support your vision. Some will be close friends, others new acquaintances and even complete strangers who donate anonymously. This is the beauty of crowdfunding –you are embraced by a strong circle of supporters who are your motivation and a battalion for your self-esteem. Your campaign backers are walking with you at every step of the way. You’re doing this for them as much as you’re doing it for you – so use their willingness to take a chance on your dream as fuel for your fire.

imagination meme

Posted in crowdfunding, media, social media, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became A Jew

Posted by E on August 10, 2015

Elisa Jerusalem cropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Iosif Hategan age 15 Iosif and Ana

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

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

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

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

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

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

defection 1994-2Hategan articleMetro Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23andme EH profile  23andme EH profile2 

Part of my conversion essay:

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

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

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

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

I aim to reclaim that heritage.

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

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

declaration of faith Iosif and Elisa Anna-Philip

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I answered.

“What was it like?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Elisheva Sarah.”

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

I nodded. “Yes, I know this.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

my Mikvah my mikvah2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had come this far. I was ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I Don’t Expect Anything From You

Posted by E on May 3, 2011

 

Let me say this now: I don’t expect anything from you. From anybody. All my life I’ve had to prove myself. You’d think by now I would get used to it. But there’re a very distinct difference between getting used to something, and accepting it as pure, undiluted fact.

I believe it’s along this crevice of uncertainty where a lot of artists trip and fall through. Not because they don’t have passion and belief in their own abilities, but because that vision comes to be chipped away, slowly, incrementally, over the years – at first by other kids in the playgrounds of our childhood, then by the parents who scoff at their dreamy progenies and try to corall them into soul-murdering professions lest they risk permanent dissaproval. Whether it’s a tacit dissaproval or a barrage of rejection letters, eventually confidence can come to collapse unto itself like an erosion of rock formations along a sea edge. The rockface is corroded in invisible increments, for months and years, and after a while simply dissolves into the seawater below.

I can’t even start to pinpoint where I began to fight against the wave. It would probably be easier to ask when I didn’t have to struggle. As far back as I can remember, I was always in the corner, watching others come naturally into that which took me eeons of strength and resolve to achieve.

I was the angry kid, the jealous kid, the one who came to school unwashed, snot-nosed and with lice. No parent ever helped me do my homework, pack my lunch or iron my school uniform. Everything I ever did, I did alone. No one celebrated my small victories or wept with me over my petty defeats, over the courtyard bullying, the horrible names kids love to call outsiders like me.

In this new country of Canada I no longer wore a tattered dress or ran around the streets like a stray dog, but the physical and mental scars of my past turned me into an angry, defiant teenager who didn’t fit in anywhere. After years of peer bullying and foster homes, I dropped out of high school, fell in with a rough crowd, later turned against them and moved across the country. And finally, at 18, I pulled my shit together – I took a high school equivalency exam and to my surprise passed it on the first try.

Why not reach higher, I thought, deciding to apply to university next. Based on my entrance essay, I was accepted into every university I’d applied to. Ecstatic and in awe, I decided to share my good news with a Youth Employment Services counsellor at the downtown youth bureau, thinking he’d believe in me. To my shock, he took it upon himself to pull me into his office. He closed the door and gestured for me to take a seat. “I heard you’re applying to university, Kat.” (that was my nickname then).

“Yes,” I beamed. “I got my acceptance letters this week. Can you believe it? From all of them.”

“Hmm, right, yes,” he said gravely. “I wanted to speak with you about that. You do know that university is very, very difficult, don’t you? It’s extremely tough to keep up with the academic demand. Not a lot of people make it.”

“I don’t think I’ll have any problems,” I said.

He frowned. “Yes, well, the thing is, I would hate to see you fail after a semester. You do know a lot of first-years drop out after six months, right? I’d hate to have you lose your place in our program, only to start from scratch in a few months…”

I was furious, looked him right in the eye and said, “I won’t be back here. Do you think I WANT to be in a program that discourages me from pursuing higher education? I mean, you’re a social worker, aren’t you supposed to encourage me? I know I can do this. I don’t need you to tell me what you think is good for me. You know absolutely nothing about my potential!”

Over the four years that followed I was a Dean’s Honour List student, received scholarships every year and graduated magna cum laude. But along the way, I learned that no matter how certain I am of something, no matter how palpable my vision is, I cannot make anyone else have faith in me.

We live in a world where people have been knocked around so many times that they have become jaded. Where miracles don’t happen anymore. Where it is easier to dismiss someone with a flick of the wrist or a sarcastic comment than to give them the benefit of the doubt. And where your worst adversary is another wounded person angry at the world for dismissing their own dreams; someone who’s given up, and now serves to mock and ridicule those who still struggle forward.

To be perfectly honest, other than my partner and the odd friend here and there who have known me long enough to witness the blood, sweat and tears that have propelled my goals into realization, I don’t really think anybody believes in me. Sure, I am surrounded by well-meaning, good people, but do they REALLY think I can succeed?

Does my agent genuinely think I’m a brilliant writer? I honestly don’t know. Probably not. Does he even believe he can sell my book, or just that its subject matter makes it an easy sell? It’s hard to tell. Will the publisher who buys it take a leap of faith because she or he genuinely loves my writing, or will the decision be made simply on a financial calculation at the pub board? Likely the latter.

What I’d love more than anything is to have that dream we all have – to be recognized for our talents, to be praised, to be loved. I mean, isn’t that what we all want? But through my life I’ve received surprisingly little praise, fewer compliments still, and certainly more rejections than acceptances. I’ve never been “discovered” or hailed as a genius of any sort. The few compliments I’ve received make me oddly uncomfortable; I hear them so infrequently that I’m suspicious of their intent. I may have published a few pieces here and there and won my share of grants, but it was always through a blind, anonymous jury. And afterwards, nobody’s ever called me up and said, “you know what? I really loved your work.”

I’m being sincere (and perhaps slightly bittersweet) when I say that I’ve always been the little match-girl, standing on tiptoes in the snow outside a beautiful mansion, peeking into a world where I’ve never belonged. And as much as I’d love to be invited inside, that’s just the way it’s been and will probably always be.

For someone who has battled depression and suicidal impulses most of my adult life, this is a very difficult thing to accept – that nobody will ever save me but myself. That if I don’t choose to live, nobody else can do it for me. Just like nobody else can have faith in my ability to thrive like a dandelion through cracked cement. Only I can do that.

That’s why I don’t expect anything from you. I’ve never gotten anything for free. I know that I have to constantly fight back my own fears of inadequacy and self-doubt. The truth is, I may not have had much of a childhood, but the one thing, the ONLY thing, I have clung to, is my idealistic faith in people and their ability to accomplish that which is closest to their hearts. If I didn’t, if I’d become as jaded as the world around me, what would be the point of anything?

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