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Posts Tagged ‘neo-nazism’

Operation Governor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up

Posted by E on October 4, 2015

Hategan documentary VisionTV

“We’ll tear her to shreds.”

CSIS Toronto Region Investigator speaking of eighteen-year old Elisse Hategan, whose affidavits implicated CSIS agent Grant Bristow in criminal activity. CBC’s The Fifth Estate, October 1994

Elisa backcover

My name is Elisa Hategan and I’m a Canadian writer and freelance journalist. Today I’ve decided that I can no longer be silent about the upcoming Canadian Federal election and the vital importance of choosing a leader who will repeal Bill C-51, which has now become law and gives Canada’s spy agency CSIS unparalleled powers to spy on its citizens.

If you scroll down to the end of this page, you will be able to download a free excerpt of some of the most explosive parts of my 2014 memoir Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up.

When I was sixteen years old, I was recruited by a Canadian domestic terrorist group calling itself the Heritage Front – an extremist right-wing, white supremacist group with strong ties to Neo-Nazi Holocaust revisionists, the American Ku Klux Klan and even Muammar Khadafi. They became the family I never had. Two years later, after I witnessed the targeting of innocent people for harassment and violence, I realized I had to find a way to shut them down.

At first, I couldn’t see a way out. After I found support from a few courageous anti-racist activists, I spied on the Heritage Front for four months. In March of 1994 I took the stand and testified against a handful of group leaders in a contempt of court case that led to convictions and jail sentences. Within months, it was revealed that one of the three founders of the group was a paid agent of CSIS, Canada’s intelligence service. To put it bluntly, the Heritage Front had been created and partially-funded with the help of Canada’s own Security and Intelligence Service.

Despite the fact that I possessed a significant amount of information related to criminal activity within the Heritage Front, authorities showed no interest in taking any kind of action against the group. After repeated appeals to the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) were ignored, I was officially denied admission into the Witness Protection Program.

All my affidavits (detailing names and addresses of Heritage Front members who owned various weaponry and explosives, as well as detailed accounts of verifiable stalking, threats and harassment of community activists) were dismissed by police without as much as a single attempt to verify their authenticity.

I would later find out from an insider (as broadcast in a 1994 episode of CBC’s The Fifth Estate that featured evidenceGrant Bristow CSIS obtained from anonymous, highly-placed police and intelligence sources) that a CSIS mandate had circulated advising police forces to deny me protection and ignore my information, even at the risk of Canadian taxpayers and the threat to my own life. Over a period of five years, CSIS had sunk a huge amount of money into Operation Governor, which involved the creation of a neo-Nazi organization in Canada and escalating its levels of violence and armament. They couldn’t risk their house of cards to fall apart on the testimony of a teenage girl.

When details of CSIS’ Operation Governor did come out in the press, after an exposé authored by Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy in August 1994, the operation was terminated. The agent who had co-created the Heritage Front, Grant Bristow, was quickly whisked away into Witness Protection, given a payoff totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars, two new cars and a four-bedroom, three-car garage home in another Canadian province.

No testimony or information from Grant Bristow EVER resulted in any arrests and convictions.

In the spring of 2015, 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 under the pretext of “terrorism”.

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. However, it has now become LAW.

THIS IS WHY I HAVE DECIDED TO GIVE AWAY AN EXCERPT OF MY BOOK Race Traitor: The True Story of Canadian Intelligence’s Greatest Cover-Up – RACE-TRAITOR Excerpt by ELISA HATEGAN 

CSIS rapeThis excerpt includes Chapters 16 and 19 of my memoir, which reveal information I also included in my 1993 sworn affidavits. They reveal disturbing information about the It Campaign – Grant Bristow’s involvement in encouraging criminal behaviour and activity in dangerous white supremacists and neo-Nazi skinheads. After you read this, you might get a better idea of why CSIS’s new mandate includes the provision that civilians are not to be raped or murdered.

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 has passed 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 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.”

Hategan articleC-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.

memeAt the end of this PDF sample you will find a brief media library with photos, links to newspaper articles, blog links and videos that cover the events described in Race Traitor. This is only a starting point, and consists of articles myself and other activists managed to collect during that time. All these articles are still in the public domain and easily accessible via archival libraries and microfiches.

I also included direct links to sites where you can purchase the book.

I am grateful to all who buy a copy or offer a donation for this free PDF. Without the support of wonderful people and community activists who believed in me, I would never have made it through my teenage years – I am deeply thankful for your help.

Elisa

RACE-TRAITOR Excerpt by ELISA HATEGAN

RaceTraitor FINAL COVER

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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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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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Doug Christie finally kicks the bucket

Posted by E on March 12, 2013

doug-christie

The day has come to celebrate: Doug Christie, Ernst’ Zundel’s best ally and legal counsel to Neo-Nazis all over North America, has finally kicked the bucket. And what a sweet day it is!
Unlike what most Toronto newspapers want you to believe, this wasn’t a case of “freedom of speech champion” — if you saw Ernst Zundel’s dedicated Christie bedroom in his Toronto Carlton Street townhouse (as I did when I was 16), complete with velvet red drapes and a framed portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall, you’d know this went far beyond a professional relationship.

Doug Christie’s career as a lawyer and “defender of free speech” spanned WW2 war criminals, leaders of Aryan Nations, far-right extremists, and yes, even world-renowned Holocaust deniers and suppliers of revisionist propaganda worldwide. Propaganda that Christie enabled, by  defending Ernst Zundel for over two decades. Propaganda that was used to recruit impressionable teenagers and fueled the fires of hate and intolerance a world over. Literature that was distributed all over the world – as I can attest by the mailing lists that I stole from Zundel and provided to hate group-monitoring organizations.

There are few things more damning to one’s character than using one’s intellect, expertise and social clout to support and keep in business those who would spread lies, stock weapons, hold rallies to instigate hate against innocent people, and ultimately try to whitewash the truth of what happened in WW2.

I hate the whitewashing that goes on in the press decades after the fact, but nothing can change the definition of a contemptable snake in the grass: his name is/was Doug Christie.

christieZUNDEL

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