Incognito Press

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

Posts Tagged ‘jewish’

Speaking Engagements coming up this spring

Posted by E on February 10, 2017

race-traitor-flyer-hadassah-talk

This spring I will be speaking at Limmud Toronto, for Hadassah-WIZO, at a couple of Toronto synagogues, at SUNY (State University of New York) and at Montreal’s Vanier Symposium on the Holocaust and Genocide. Please join me at any of these events and help continue the discussion against right-wing extremism, racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacist crime and the alt-Right.

My first talk is coming up on Thursday March 9th at 7:30 PM, at an event organized by Canadian Hadassah-WIZO CHW and sponsored by Toronto law firm Gelman and Associates, and Budovitch Legacy Planning. It’s going to be a fantastic & informative evening, so put it in your calendar and feel free to share the link!

Next, I am so excited to have been invited to be a presenter at Limmud Toronto 2017, which will take place on Sunday, March 19. Limmud is an international “festival of Jewish learning that celebrates the rich diversity of Jewish culture and heritage.” It takes place annually in several countries and brings together members of the Jewish community, who all connect and exchange stories and presentations on a wide array of topics of interest to the Jewish community ranging from politics, religion, family, education, feminism and history to cultural multimedia such as film, music and dance.

My presentation ‘Hearts of Hate: Confessions of a Teenage Neo-Nazi’ is at 12:00 PM and is scheduled for only 45-minutes but I look forward to connecting with everyone before, during and after the talk!

limmud-toronto-2017

There are several other events that I will update as I go along, but won’t do it too prematurely. I have made the decision not to post dates to my speaking engagements too early due to stalkers and potential threats from neo-Nazis. Early in January I had to file a police report about threats and harassment I received subsequent to being quoted in an article that appeared in the National Post in December 2016 and which critiqued a popular Canadian white supremacist named Veronica Bouchard, aka “Evalion”.

After being quoted just once, I was sent ugly messages via my website and blog – nasty messages targeting me as well as Joseph Brean, the journalist who wrote the piece, and another former Heritage Front individual whose name had also been included in the article.

Let me tell you, nothing beats getting threatening emails over the holidays and New Year. Following that article, I was in contact with other journalists who had covered “Evalion” in the news and were subsequently targeted for harassment and abuse via Twitter and email. White supremacists even went so far as to buy Brean’s firstandlastname.com domain and created a website where they are falsely accusing him of being a pedophile and hitman.

These are highly-seasoned, senior journalists who were threatened, and I was encouraged by one of them to go to police. I was connected to the particular hate crimes unit detectives via B’nai Brith, who also encouraged me to report this. Even though I’m no stranger when it comes to encountering online trolls, it still came as a shock that something like this could happen simply for being quoted in an article.

In the days that followed, I was additionally targeted for cyber-abuse from Veronica, the neo-Nazi young woman who was profiled in the National Post piece, along with her anonymous Twitter groupies. Things were said to me both in public and private that led me to feel seriously threatened and I had no recourse but to appeal to police. Thankfully, Veronica’s Twitter account was subsequently shut down but I’m certain it’ll pop right back up or under a different handle soon enough despite the fact there are several ongoing investigations into her alleged hate activities. Still, I don’t feel it’s in my best interest to announce my future talks until just a couple of weeks prior to the events.

I am also scheduled to speak at the Vanier Symposium on Holocaust and Genocide, at SUNY (State University of New York) and at a couple of Toronto-area synagogues. Please check back next month as I will update this post with the dates and details of those events. As always, I’m grateful for your support and look forward to connecting with you guys this spring!

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

Journey to Judaism: The Day I Became A Jew

Posted by E on August 10, 2015

Elisa Jerusalem cropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Iosif Hategan age 15 Iosif and Ana

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

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

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

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

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

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

defection 1994-2Hategan articleMetro Toronto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

23andme EH profile  23andme EH profile2 

Part of my conversion essay:

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

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

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

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

I aim to reclaim that heritage.

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

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

declaration of faith Iosif and Elisa Anna-Philip

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” I answered.

“What was it like?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Elisheva Sarah.”

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

I nodded. “Yes, I know this.”

“Do you have any questions for us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

my Mikvah my mikvah2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had come this far. I was ready.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisa and rabbis my menorah

Above: me with rabbis after the ceremony.  Right: a beautiful antique menorah – my conversion gift

In April 2015, a couple of years after my conversion to Judaism, I left for Romania in order to research my newest book, Remember Your Name. Because Bucharest is only a two-hour flight from Tel Aviv, I decided to make my first journey to Israel. I also fulfilled a secret wish I’d carried since my conversion – to go to the Western Wall and recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for my father.

IMG_9298 Jerusalem arches IMG_9131

It took me a lifetime to realize that my parents had been a by-product of their time – they had suffered so immensely that they had absorbed their oppression and passed it onto others. They made others suffer because that was the only way they could relate, after the pain they had endured. They hurt me because they themselves had been hurt. And then I too, as a child of their hatred, had tried my best to keep that light of hate alive – because I’d never known another way. So many scarred, wounded people have created the world we live in today, where suffering and oppression breeds brutality.

When I was in Israel, a new understanding flooded me – that my story doesn’t end with dissecting my own family’s hatred and buried identity. It doesn’t end with me converting to Judaism. I’m also digging back further into the history of hidden Jews and forced converts in Europe, and the internalization of hatred, the transformation of victim into oppressor. We see this everywhere today – oppressed becomes oppressor, persecuted people turn the brutalization they suffered into outward brutality – from the peasant workers’ 20th century revolutions that turned into communist dictatorships, to the Jewish-Arab conflict in the Middle East.

It’s all a vicious cycle. A cycle where hatred and religion-fueled intolerance supresses the spark of divine essence, the oneness, that connects all beings. A cycle of hate and judgemental intolerance so brutal that it’s pushed me toward feelings of worthlessness and thoughts of suicide for most of my adult life. Until I realized that the future of humankind doesn’t rest with governments and profit-driven policies but within us – that love is stronger than hate. Unity is stronger than division. Kindness reveals much more courage than brutality. That is where everyone’s G-d resides. In deeds of loving kindness. In recognizing our mistakes and showing forgiveness to those who harmed us. And in understanding that our differences are nothing in comparison to the beautiful light that shines within us all.

Elisa TelAviv sunset yad vashem vista

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

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

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

Posted by E on March 20, 2015

remember meme

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

Dear friends, supporters and occasional voyeurs 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to Canadian Media

Posted by E on February 19, 2015

Elisa and RT bookFV

My name is Elisa Hategan and I’m a Canadian writer and freelance journalist. Twenty years ago, I was a teenage member of an Ontario-based domestic terrorist group called the Heritage Front. They were a radical white supremacist, neo-Nazi lobby group with ties to organizations that connected into parliamentary politics. After turning against them, collecting information and testifying against group leaders in court, the Toronto Sun broke the story that one of the group’s leaders was a CSIS agent, Grant Bristow. For a period of approx. 4 years, the Heritage Front had been founded and funded in large part by Canada’s own intelligence service, CSIS (Canadian Intelligence Security Service) – the Canadian equivalent of the CIA. They called it Operation Governor.

Hategan article Grant Bristow CSIS

After the official inquiry resulted in a whitewashed report that was slammed by both left-wing activists and Preston Manning, then-leader of the Reform Party which was essentially destroyed by revelations that Heritage Front members had infiltrated its ranks, I went into hiding and tried to forget what had happened. Over the years, however, I realized it was a story I had to tell. So in 2010 I wrote a memoir titled Race Traitor and entered into negotiations with Penguin Canada over the acquisition rights, but after a month and no solid offer I walked away from the negotiation table. I should add that no other publishers, big or small press, were interested in publishing it. “The issue of white supremacy has had its day” Douglas & McIntyre. “ I can’t see a broad market for the book.” – Random House. Last year I ended up self-publishing it: Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up

In the month after the book came out, I was interviewed by a senior journalist at the Globe & Mail, Colin Freeze, as well as a Director of Programming at the CBC here in Toronto. They both expressed great interest in covering the story, but afterwards came back at me with excuses that senior editors were reluctant to go to print (or, as in the case of CBC, to air) with it – mainly because it was an old, irrelevant story since it happened 20 years ago. Also, there was the pesky issue that in today’s political climate, and according to Minister of Justice Peter MacKay’s own admission, only religion-based violence can be considered terrorism, i.e. only Muslims can be terrorists. In other words – when a Christian massacres almost 100 defenceless youth on Utoya Island in Norway, murders innocents outside a Kansas City synagogue (on the heels of Holocaust-denier David Irving’s talk two weeks earlier), plots a Halifax Valentine’s Day massacre or shoots 3 innocent Muslims in Chapel Hill execution-style, they are not terrorists but misguided, lone misfits.

Just this past month, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper (who in the 1980s was a member of the extreme right-wing Northern Foundation, which had Heritage Front and Reform Party members, along with skinheads, anti-abortionists, Holocaust-deniers and Conrad Black) has announced a new bill that essentially duplicates the NSA laws of arrest without warrant, anybody can be detained for a week under the pretext of “terrorism”, etc. Bill C-51 is extremely troubling, considering that they will be giving CSIS far greater powers than ever before, turning it into what many have called a “Secret Police” with far-reaching powers.

Given the context of Bill C-51, it didn’t surprise either myself or the numerous activists, anti-racists and aboriginal protesters I’ve communicated with, that we cannot get any mainstream press coverage in Canadian media. Telling the story of how Canada’s own intelligence agency formed a domestic terrorist group that stalked, harassed and assaulted several left-wing activists in the 1990s would be in direct conflict with what Stephen Harper’s government is attempting to pass into law – a law whose definition is so broad, so undefined, that anyone in direct opposition to our government’s interests (such as Aboriginal protesters and the Idle No More movement) would fall into the category of “terrorist.”

Under Bill C-51, ‪CSIS will have the power to: 1) detain people without charges for up to 7 days; 2) interfere with bank transactions and seize bank accounts if they are “suspected” of potential terror activity; 3) order the seizure of “terrorist propaganda” or order it deleted from an online source; 4) stop any passengers “suspected” of travelling overseas to commit a terror offence to be removed from a flight; 5) seal court proceedings; 6) make it illegal to “promote” or “counsel” terrorist activity – the definition of what this constitutes is, of course, left up to CSIS’ interpretation. Using “disruption warrants,” Canada’s spies will do just about anything: “enter any place or open or obtain access to any thing,” to copy or obtain any document, “to install, maintain, or remove any thing,” and, most importantly, “to do any other thing that is reasonably necessary to take those measures.”

Bill C-51 MUST be stopped, or at the very least re-examined. The repeated violations and more violations on the part of the former intelligence unit of the RCMP, which became CSIS, which evolved into CSEC, cannot be overlooked. Neither is Harper’s ongoing use of CSIS as his personal domain pet whenever he wants to keep tabs on anti-fracking protesters, Green Party members, or whoever is opposed to the Conservative Party’s mandate. Such collusion between government and intelligence agencies is insidious at best, and will be used politically to defeat (or even imprison) political opponents.

History has already showed us what can happen when agents run amok: Grant Bristow’s handlers had been inherited from the same RCMP department which preceded CSIS’s inception. Back in the 1970s they were burning barns in Quebec while blaming it on the FLQ. After that scandal ensued and RCMP intelligence was disbanded, they moved over to the newly-minted CSIS and taught neo-Nazis and violent skinheads (some of whom were part of the now-disbanded Airborne Regiment) intelligence techniques, thus contributing to assaults, stalking, harassment and worse. Since they got away with all of the above, I cannot imagine what will happen when they gain autonomy.

meme

There is a wide amount of evidence, press clippings and media sources that back up my memoir, as well as the testimony of activists who had been terrorized. Please consider featuring the story of CSIS’s establishment of the Heritage Front in your media outlets – Canadians have a right to know what their own government has done in the past, in order to prevent it from ever happening again.

Please let me know if you require further information and/or documentation, which I would be happy to provide.

Elisa

If you found this information useful, please consider dropping a dollar in my Patreon donation jar.

Posted in activism, freedom, hate, journalism, letter, news, ontario, politics, racism, revolution | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Auschwitz: Remnants of Sunlight

Posted by E on January 27, 2015

Auschwitz photos birkenau camp pics girl krystina

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I’ve thought for a long time about what I might be able to write, about what I could say to both honour and preserve the memory of such terror coming to an end. Do I write about the time when I was once surrounded by neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists who wove a network of neo-fascists across Europe, Canada, America and South America?

Do I write about old Steve Bendersky, who was like a beloved uncle to me when I was a child and whose arm bore the faded blue numbers that I once seriously contemplated tattooing onto my own wrist? Whose Shabbat candles I inherited after his death and which I still light every Friday evening?

Do I write about discovering my Jewish roots, and how my family tree research has come to an abrupt halt as I realize that it’s very likely most of my father’s relatives perished in the war?

If I started to write about the heartache that Auschwitz represents both to me and to Jews as a population, along with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, gypsies and political prisoners in WW2, I would probably just sit here, start crying and be unable to stop, much less write a single word. So instead, I want to talk about my own memories of the concentration camp.

I visited Auschwitz once, during the summer of 2001, the year after I graduated university and worked as an English teacher in South Korea. Instead of doing something respectable like paying off my defaulted student loans, I decided that I had to journey back to eastern Europe that summer – I had to track down for myself the roots of the hatred that had surrounded my early life.

I took these photos at Auschwitz-Birkenau and I wrote this long poem, Remnants of Sunlight, which I published in my first poetry book. Today, on the 70th anniversary of the WW2 genocide that represents the worst of humanity, I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz than to republish this poem that is so close to my heart here, on my own blog.

Many of the verses and imagery encompassed here were scribbled while I stood there, in the empty barracks of Birkenau – it was a sunny, beautiful day, in contrast to the horror that surrounded me. The planks underneath my feet snapped and crackled as I walked among the barracks, amid the three-tiered bunk slots, touching the worn, rain-soaked wood that had once let in the cold, bitter winter winds that killed thousands of malnourished prisoners.

I listened to the frogs and crickets singing through the knee-high grass, and imagined that the lush, verdant greenery of my surroundings had sprouted up from the ashes and crumbling bones of countless nameless victims. I felt the great big emptiness of those awful barracks corrode through my entire being and leave a huge, empty hole in my soul.

And then I wrote this poem.

REMNANTS OF SUNLIGHT

  1. BARBED ROOTS

Last night, my fate made an unannounced appearance.

She presented herself for dinner uncombed,

long hair spreading like a silver service set

upon my Hungarian lace and Polish linen.

Her lips made the sound of a struck match

and then she dissolved like the flame

and suddenly,

folded between napkins and candlelight,

in clotted ink behind all the spice jars,

I discovered a journey –

 

A pilgrimage of crumbling pages

with scribbles and margins ripped

and a big part missing,

the part about how, one evening in August

my return is inevitable.

 

The coarse grains of history

have become threads between my fingers

as I hold my father’s funeral suit in preparation

and the smell of mothballs finds another fragrance

of yellowed books, copper and sulphur

lingering soft as the light of opals

and the mouldy cellar smell of a dead grandmother

 

chemical powders and twisted letters

weave like high country roads on my tongue;

the sound of predestination

is the hush of waist-high grass among barracks

and the ribbit of frogs leaping

out of a pond of ashes

 

right after graduation I know I must find him –

breathe in the last days of my father’s essence,

find out his ending

I have to revisit the house where my grandmother lived

locate the little girl who was my sister, now missing

 

the boulders that rained upon my childhood

must be swept out

from the floorboards of this house

that I have carried on my back

for more than twenty years

 

The dark house of my memories

where my father who disappeared breathes

the house that nightly perches on my eyelids

and ropes my hair down through the pillow

into the black earth of a country

I left when I was ten

 

I arrange to fly from Toronto to Paris one-way

then train onward to eastern Europe

 

Unfolding in the silence pressed among suitcases

packed with blossoms

brittle like paper, like blouses

I wait

in the centre of the Black Forest

 

weeds protrude through the planks underneath

and I smell the sun and the moon being burned

 

I inherited the wire

my hair grows twisted like that, all black

charred like Romany wagons

and muddy villages

the same colour as the evening branches I reach toward

through the smeared window

of the Krakow-Budapest train

 

Brushing my fingertips against the corrosion of metal railings

I feel the echo of locomotives flowing through them,

the breathing of doves perched on wooden fences.

I pick up little white stones shaped like petals

and a fire is burning in my palms

 

2. KRAKOW, 5762

 

Two hours before you catch

the connecting train

in the middle of nowhere

the birds sing louder, gravel paves the horizon.

Two hours to put down your backpack and breathe in

the smell of corn and sleepless kilometres

lingering like murmuring chords

 

Shadows of firs line your closed eyelashes

pad riverbeds and uncombed hair

an unlit street, a colour

splashing over your shoulder

a bridge rail glinting in the sun

 

you arch, the metal between your fingers

rocking in your palm

a rocks skips across the shallow surface below

emerging on the shore

in the stubble of raspberries and grass against trees

 

like a bell, your mouth

opens to echo the air

swallowing another voice that breaks out

like a burning rash, over autumns without hours

and railroads that glint in the afternoon sun

 

shadows juxtapose across your forehead

cloth is reduced to threads, even-numbered and silent

and the direction of the winds commands

the distant vapour of wheat to start an insurrection

 

your two hands on the railing testify unknowingly

by virtue of their existence

about the arid landscape and the sharpness of language,

the language of grandmothers in old photos

and numbered suitcases in dark rooms;

a language you don’t even speak

of a place you don’t even know –

letters, epitaphs, barometers

are the only coordinates left

in this geography of asphalt.

 

III. THE HIVE

 

The old woman with the glassy green brooches

today forgot to pencil in her brows

not that it makes any difference;

her eyelids still sag under the thick black India ink

but she doesn’t stop writing –

If I am dead, who will write these verses for you?

 

Now enters the smell of white chrysanthemum

carrying the musk of narrow wardrobes

and yellowed newspapers rustling underneath.

 

Outside the open window, bees are humming;

sunshine dust gathers languorous and heavy –

a few slender rays spread like fingers

across my rumpled blue bedspread.

 

From this high window I can see the entire city

how pretty Wawel castle is, how loud the wail

of the dying trumpeter across Rynek Glowny Square

 

and how empty of voices

although on another frequency that only stray animals make out

pressed between the dying weed and cobblestones

there is singing

 

no matter how many hot the day, she remains cold

papery like a delicate leaf in the morning rain

and still here, through the sunshine and foliage

climbing over the windowsill

the fingertips of ghosts continue to cling from the edge

 

in every vacant place, on every park bench

there is a hollowness that becomes testament,

then turns into voice

and the voice speaks the names – all of them

every one of them

 

Darting through my black hair

Auschwitz’s bees search for their stolen honey

buzzing through tall cannibal grass

buzzing in and out of the barracks

 

Don’t touch, don’t search my soul,

she leaves me a folded message on the table

not on such a beautiful day

so hot, so full of brightness

when the circumference of summer

becomes a fragile eggshell

with its yolk missing

 

IV. AT SUNRISE THE FORGOTTEN WILL WEEP

 

At sunrise the forgotten will weep

big tears of stone.

 

So heavy their tears,

they will roll down hills as great boulders

 

and smash into the grey buildings that had crushed

the beating hearts of the nameless

 

such great rocks will fall – thick like rain in the valleys

and the forgotten will once again weep

 

So wet will their tears be

that they will moisten the earth

and make it easier for fingers to dig out

 

fathers and grandmothers

brushing the dirt from their clothes

picking up suitcases, ready to come home

 

So hot the sunrise will be

that it will dry the blood on their faces

and clear a sadness fringed with eyelashes

 

It will call them by name

reacquainting them with the heat of the loved

with the sensation that somebody remembered

 

the names and the dreams they once carried

folded like secret letters

in the depths of their shirt pockets

 

V. FAR FROM THE APPLE ORCHARD

 

In my classroom in downtown Seoul, the windows are always open with voices.

Little kids squeal and climb up my back; we sing about the dog named Bingo

eat kimchi together for lunch, the heat of searing Korean spices

wafting away that other smell of smoke

 

On vacation in Beijing I climb the Great Wall through stinging air,

running up the steps as fast as I can, like a Tibetan mountain goat

trying to reach the heights of Tibetan mountain-dwellers

where the North wind rages so loudly, it silences everything

 

A year later, along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence,

I listen as Michelangelo would have, to the sound of hammer and chisel

drifting across the Arno. Here, the clang of iron is an invocation of beauty,

not the screech of a train coming to a stop, the crash of gates closing

 

Then, on the bus to Mombassa, along the bright coast

women with round syllables and laughter

sing a song of bronze bracelets and colourful khangas

 

So far from the dark, endless woods where songs turn to screams

where the faces of locals are stout and red

as though stained by the blood underneath their feet.

 

As far down as Cusco I feel the breath of cliffs on my back,

The spit of hot springs at Aguas Calientes. Up the trail to Macchu Picchu

I smell chickens in the alpine air: wild fowl, wet feathers, muddy paths.

 

I am like an apple, there are five parts to me –

seed, core, meat, skin, and stem.

Like an apple, I leave parts of myself everywhere.

 

I am the shell of a seed eaten up by villages of rock and dirt along the Danube –

swept along rivers rampaging out of their beds

there is nothing left but my war –

a forest of wolves.

 

The shaman anoints my forehead with red liquid.

His hands smell of fermented herbs, berries, cocoa leaves, leather.

You are a bird that refuses to feed or to fly/

but there is something in you which will not die.

 

My ears pick up the noise of the jungle, rushing water and tall blades of grass.

The heat inside the enclosed hut makes my body sticky;

The air is viscous and green with thunderstorms.

 

This may well be the first time I can see /

this strength that has always evaded me

the will of a body to survive in spite of itself –

a drowning rat clawing out of its own frailty.

 

How much determination is required to breathe?

There are certain things a body will do with or without approval;

(take in air, for example).

A body will fight for survival.

A body will survive pogroms, refugee camps, beatings

while the mind, just a seed raw and torn from its shell

stays wrapped in a peel of green apple skin

around a tea cup glazed with a Spanish windmill,

the last one of a set.

 

 

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I Know What It’s Like Not To Be Believed

Posted by E on October 30, 2014

woman-gagged

In light of the Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal and the burgeoning public epiphany that sometimes women don’t speak of abuse not because they’re not truthful, but because they fear ridicule, public mockery, further abuse and being disbelieved in the court of public opinion (as well as actual courts), I must write this.

Over the last six months I put aside my blog and focused on generating media interest in my book, which is based on my experiences as a teenage girl inside a domestic terrorist group spear-headed by a CSIS (Canadian Intelligence and Security Service) agent, Grant Bristow.

After releasing my book at the end of March, there was a flurry of interest, but none from traditional media outlets. I quickly discovered that if you are not published by a large press, i.e. Random House or Penguin (who I walked away from back in 2011 for various reasons), nobody will believe you.

My experiences cruelly paralleled what happened to me back in 1993 – upon a secret mandate issued by CSIS to all provincial police forces to dismiss all my signed affidavits and eyewitness evidence (discussed in a 1993 episode of The Fifth Estate), I was denied entry into the RCMP Witness Protection program and forced to go on the run for my life.

It didn’t matter then that everybody knew a CSIS agent had gone rogue and established the violent paramilitary white supremacist group you might remember as the Heritage Front.

It didn’t matter that Brian McInnis, a cabinet aide to the Attorney General who leaked an internal confidential CSIS report about said rogue agent, was dismissed from his job and charged under Canada’s insidious Official Secrets Act.

It didn’t matter that assaults, hate-mongering and even two particularly vicious sexual assaults had been connected to the Heritage Front (and many believe, to the leadership).

It didn’t matter that said rogue agent encouraged others to join the conservative Reform Party (and served as bodyguard at Reform conventions), thereby leading to the destruction of this political party when the Toronto Sun broke that violent HF members were encouraged to join Preston Manning’s Reform party as a way to sway them to the far right.

No investigation was to take place.

The rogue agent would be cleared – because to clear him was to ensure CSIS’s good name, along with the name of the agent’s handler, one connected to the RCMP intelligence unit that preceded the inception of CSIS – the same RCMP unit responsible for dirty tricks against the FLQ that included breaking into offices and blowing up barns under the guise of being “French separatists”.

Grant Bristow CSISIt didn’t matter that neo-Nazis with criminal histories were taught by this CSIS agent how to stalk and gather information against political opponents, how to harass and threaten them over the telephone and even in person with impunity, while at the same time gathering a seemingly-endless cache of weapons to be used in what they believed was an impending Race War.

It didn’t matter that my credibility on the witness stand had already been established after my testimony was crucial to the convictions of three prominent Heritage Front leaders back in 1993.

In the end, I was just an impoverished, homeless, abused eighteen-year old girl and they….well, they were CSIS.

I was a nobody, and Grant Bristow was deemed enough of a hero to receive a standing ovation at a Toronto synagogue after an event hosted by the Canadian Jewish Congress – albeit they were among the same people who were targeted for attacks by violent skinheads and neo-Nazis who looked up to Grant Bristow, who worshipped him as their hero.

Although I was a lesbian, although my father was Jewish, although I sent three neo-Nazis to prison, I was not credible enough for ANY police division in Canada to open an investigation.

I was worthless.

I was a nobody.

Scores of weapons ranging from automatic rifles to M16s are still on the street because nobody bothered to sign off on a warrant to raid premises that stored illegal weapons intended for future terrorist actions.

But here we are, exactly twenty years later, and I have a book in my hands that details everything I saw and accounted for in my affidavits.

Hategan articleI thought the media were my friends. Upon the advice of my former lawyer Paul Copeland, I contacted various prominent members of the media, including Linden MacIntyre (before his retirement) – who I presume didn’t think much of my heartfelt plea to discuss the events I had witnessed, because he didn’t grace me with a single acknowledgement message.

I sent a message to a woman who had filmed a documentary about me for It’s About Time, a Vision TV program where she had worked before she climbed up the media ladder and eventually became DIRECTOR OF PROGRAMMING AT THE CBC. She had been one of the few people concerned about me, back in the day. Or so I thought, because of the care she took during my interview in the 1990s. Then again, back then she was a hungry, inquisitive recent film school grad with a vested interest in doing the right thing, not Director of Programming at the CBC. She hadn’t rubbed elbows with the elites yet, she hadn’t had a taste of what Canadian media is really like.

She assured me that she would send my manuscript and story throughout the ranks of the CBC – Canada’s taxpayer-funded Broadcasting Corporation. Surely someone there might be interested in speaking with me, even for a mere sound bite, in light of all the controversial CSIS operations in the Muslim community (where people with questionable guilt and motives are pushed into illegal actions by people who cannot, in good conscience, be described by any words other than agent provocateurs).

NOBODY bothered to contact me again.

FINALLY, I heard from a journalist at the Globe & Mail who is very familiar with political columns and often writes articles about the over-reaching grasp of our country’s shadowy intelligence agency.

We met for coffee in the Annex and had a conversation which lasted over an hour. He was interested, even flabbergasted, by what I had seen. And then came the punchline – when he asked me if the book was self-published. When I told him it was, it was clear that his mood had shifted.

Somehow, by the sheer fact that someone like Random House wasn’t behind me, he was never going to cover the story. In fact, it seemed like he lost interest and questioned whether what I had told him was in fact, factual.

I am used to being disbelieved by the police, but it was a first – to encounter this from people who are entrusted with impartiality.

It was in that moment when I experienced a visceral sense of deja-vu – the sensation of feeling like no matter what I said, or did, that nobody would believe me. That I was worthless. That I was a whore who was doing this for attention.

I felt dirty. I felt ashamed. I felt exactly as I did when Wolfgang Droege, leader of the Heritage Front and best buddy of Grant Bristow, hit on me when I was sixteen, and when a knife was held up to my neck and I was threatened with death on suspicions of turning against them.

Yes, I know what it’s like to be treated like a rape victim. I know what rape feels like, and I know what it’s like to be alone in the world, to feel ashamed and dirty when everybody around you prefers to look the other way.

Back in the 1990s, I possessed enough information to send at least ten Heritage Front and Northern Hammerskins individuals to jail. Probably more, but it hurts too much to start thinking about all the What Ifs. Aside from learning how to hack into telephone systems and how to push people to the brink of suicide, I was taught another important lesson by CSIS – that the weight of truth depends on the perceived worth of those who speak it.

To the OPP and RCMP officers who had been advised by CSIS to disregard my statements, the intrinsic value of my evidence was judged by my worth as a human being – and as an abused, impoverished teenage girl with no education, family or powerful clique of good old CSIS boys to back me up, what I had to say meant absolutely nothing.

Thanks to Canada’s Security and Intelligence Service, millions of dollars were sank into ugly, bottomless pit that was Operation Governor. Falsehoods were spun to assert that Bristow had somehow “prevented” crime from happening, though the fabrications included in the SIRC Report tell us just how much their words are worth. And when I brought real, concrete evidence forth to prosecute dangerous individuals, they buried it.

And yet somehow, being that it is 2014 and I am a university-graduate and professional writer, I never expected this treatment from the supposedly-liberal, “bleeding-hearted” media. From journalists who work for the CBC and Globe & Mail. From people who are not supposed to make you feel like garbage for TELLING THE TRUTH.

But then I think, they too must be scared. Scared to offend, to push the wrong buttons, to stick up for someone who was victimized.

Not when the men in question are powerful. Not when the victim is a teenager, a piece of trash. Not when our government has bought an agent’s silence with a quarter million dollars.

And not when a book is self-published.

 

For further research, I have an extensive media library and traditional press documentation available to anyone interested in what really happened in Canada during the early 1990s: https://incognitopress.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/race-traitor-reference-media-library/ 

http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00JA05FYM

Posted in abuse, canada, cbc, crime, csis, globe & mail, jewish, racism, rape, terrorism, truth, victim | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

A year of new beginnings

Posted by E on January 1, 2013

new year

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you, really? Where history and identity converge

Posted by E on September 23, 2011

To those of you who are fortunate enough to know your family history – you’ll never know how fortunate you are. Never, ever take that knowledge for granted.

Last week I stumbled onto an Anderson Cooper show, a program I’d never watched before (I hadn’t even realized that he had his own show). In it there were two young women who had both been abandoned in trash bins or by the side of the road, respectively, as infants. Although unrelated, both grew up under similar circumstances, and both had always wondered where they had come from. Toward the end of the show, they were given the results of DNA tests they had taken prior to the show taping by a company called 23andme. By discovering which Haplogroups they belonged to, at least they would have some answers.

One of the things that moved me most during the show was when Anderson said this: “My father died when I was ten, and for the longest time I thought he would have left me a letter to tell me more about himself.”

My own father had died around that time also – I was thirteen when he left Canada and shortly thereafter died somewhere in Bucharest. Because Romania was still a communist country and we had been forced to relinquish our citizenship as part of our emigration process, there was no way possible to obtain further information as to what happened to his remains.

 But as I got older, I realized that the absence of a grave or details about his death were only a small part of my frustration, as it compared to the questions I still had of him – and of my own self. Like Anderson, I felt that my father’s death had prompted in me a disconnection to my past, to my own history. My father took to his grave the answers to innumerable questions that will never be answered, and I am forced to live with that for the rest of my life.

My father was fifty-five years old when I was born. He had lived an entire lifetime by the time I was born – 3 wives, two careers, countless mistresses – a life in which a child was not expected or wanted. Consequently, my father kept himself apart from me, a remote man whose aloofness was further accentuated by his deafness. Even as I, as all children of deaf parents, grew up with sign language as my primary way of communication, it mattered not; my father didn’t tell me anything.

He kept all his secrets within the pages of a couple of old notebooks in which he wrote every afternoon, and which he purposefully hid from my prying eyes. Those notebooks were in his valises when he died in Bucharest. After he died, his so-called friends rummaged through his suitcases for anything of value, and discarded the rest as garbage in the alleyways behind their house.

Even today, as I walk through alleyways and backstreets, I find myself scanning the gutters and trash cans, irrationally asking myself, What if? What secrets about myself could I find there?

So many more years later some answers would come, but never the truth that I have searched for – the identity of his father, of an entire line of Hungarian relatives that I will never know because my grandmother took revenge at being abandoned with her infant son, and swore never to tell anyone their name. Even my father’s birth certificate, which I obtained from a Debrecen courthouse, yielded nothing – as she had carefully omitted the father’s name as “Unknown” and given him her own last name.

 It took even more digging and scouring through rumours in the old East European villages of his past to realize that his ancestry involved Jewish roots that everyone from my grandmother to my own mother sought to keep from me. It disturbs me that so many of my relatives have chosen to die with secrets on their lips than to consider the emptiness that their offspring might experience. And furthermore, it saddens me that I may have to rely on an internet-bought $99 DNA test to discover things about my history and lineage that my own family should have shared with me.

But nothing that I can gain from spitting into a test tube would even marginally account for the profound loss of my own history – which, because of shame and selfishness and thoughtlessness, will be inaccessible to me forever. No matter how painful or shameful a secret may be, no matter how much anger still festers, one should never deny one’s children the ability to access their own legacy and history.

Posted in family, history, identity, letter, life, longing | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »