Zlotosvsky joined up with local Polish skinheads when he was 16 years old as a political statement and adopted the racist and anti-Semitic contempt of his peers. So when he found out he came from a family of "hidden Jews"—his mother was sent to a monastery to survive the Holocaust and all of her relatives were reportedly murdered—he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he couldn't look himself in the face for a whole week.
Now that face looks very different—he's adopted a fervently Orthodox lifestyle, not without much struggle and personal conflict. The revelation of his Jewish identity came when he was 21. Since then he says he began "trying to understand the rules to change my life"--referring to the lifestyle blueprint the Torah outlines. Within the last four years he began observing the Torah completely. He currently works in the kosher food industry, controlling the process of preparing kosher food in a government diner near his home.
Anti-Semitism in Poland has risen since Zlotosvsky was young, according to a report issued by the Anti-Defamation League. Zlotosvsky concurs, "Everything is very extreme in Poland in terms of Jews," he said. "It is a big issue and people are very aggressive." This reality might explain Zlotosvsky's refusal to reveal his real name or send photos of himself for fear of aggression from the skinhead community.
Zlotosvsky recently spoke to Beliefnet discreetly from Warsaw, with the help of a translator, about being on both sides of anti-Semitism, the spiritual reasons for his discovery, and why "there is no such thing as hate."
What was your religious life like before you found out you are Jewish?
There was none.
How did your life change when you started living as a Jew?
It changed 360 degrees. Everything changes--the food you eat, how you dress, your schedule, when you go to the synagogue. In the beginning, it was really difficult. But, now, it's getting easier because I am getting used to it.
Why did you become a skinhead?
It was more a political matter because in Poland back then, it was more about the voice of the crowd and you felt like it's the right thing to do. But, it was silly and immature.
When you were a skinhead, were you also anti-Semitic?
Yes, of course.
What kind of anti-Semitic acts did participate in?
Mostly, graffiti and demonstrations, stuff like that.
So, nothing violent?
About 15 years ago in Poland, Jews were not that popular to hate, it was more about Arabs and African-Americans. So, no, nothing too violent toward Jews.
How did you react when you found out that you're Jewish?
It was very weird. At the beginning, I didn't know how to react. It was a shock for me.
How did you find out?
It's a long story and it was a total accident. I found out through my wife. She found out she was Jewish and she'd been going to the synagogue for six months. And then my family started asking does she know this person, does she know that person. And then my wife actually went and checked in this Jewish organization called JIH, which is the Jewish Institution of History. She found the records of my family and this is how I found out.
*Pinchads Zlotosvsky is not the interviewee's real name. It has been changed to protect the safety of the individual.
Was your wife also a skinhead?
Yes. It's a very hard story for both of us. It's like I was born again.
How is it possible to completely change your worldview from hating Jews to becoming an observant one yourself?
For me, it is too early to answer that question.
Is there a spiritual reason why you were a skinhead, but then found out you were a Jew? Was God trying to teach you something?
Well, I was asking myself why exactly and why exactly right now. But, I think that the souls of my ancestors woke up in me in this very time--in this specific time--because it was the best time to fix all that that I've done.
How do you reconcile your previous anti-Semitism with the fact that you are Jewish?
Right now, I'm trying to think what's in front of me and not think about the past. I want to see all the good things that are waiting and all the good things that I can see with my new life now.
Why did you decide to become Orthodox and not just live as a secular Jew?
I'm a very weird man and there is no medium for me. I'm an extreme man. So, I am trying to read more about the Jewish lifestyle, the rules, and the religion and this helps me become a better man.
Do you feel remorse for your anti-Semitism?
No, I don't feel guilty in any way. It is all better. I feel it's funny. It's like I'm laughing at myself a little bit.
Is there a part of you that hates yourself for being Jewish?
There used to be, but not any more. Life was easier before I became religious than it is right now. And maybe, that's why there is some anger behind it.
Did you feel that you needed to repent for your anti-Semitism at all?
When I was younger anti-Semitism in Poland wasn't as extreme as it is right now. The graffiti and all the other acts that I've done are not that extreme. I thank God that I discovered that I am Jewish before now because everything is very extreme in Poland in terms of Jews. It is a big issue and people are very aggressive.
Have you ever been the recipient of anti-Semitism?
A couple of times. Nothing extreme, just the usual.
What does that mean?
Just common. Nobody did anything, but they were yelling and threatening me. So, nothing big.
You used to be the one yelling and threatening. What was that like to be on the other side of it?
I was basically laughing at it because I felt like it's just lack of knowledge and stupidity. You cannot do anything else but laugh.
Do you think that there will ever be an end to hatred and anti-Semitism in Poland and worldwide?
It will never end. People need an enemy. It's in the mentality of every person. You just need an enemy. So, Jews, Arabs, and African Americans will always be the enemy because if you don't know them, it's a default that they can be your enemy.
What would you say to others who are living a life of hate right now?
I really think that people need to focus on themselves and if they're focusing their hatred on other people, they don't see how angry they are. If we focus on ourselves, it will be easier for us to live a better life. That's the only way. If you focus on yourself and on changing yourself, if every person does that, it will be easier for everything to get better.
Have you ever been to Israel?
Do you want to go?
Maybe someday to see how it is. But, for now, I'm good where I am.
What do you like about being Jewish?
It is difficult to say if I like something or I don't. It's more about agreeing to the road. And if you agree to go by the Torah, you have to take what's good and what's bad. So, it's not about what you like or you don't like. It's about what God is telling you.
What did you learn from this experience?
I am calmer and I've learned to keep quieter and think about the words that I say to people.
What do you hope others can learn from your story?
Well, every person can learn whatever they want. But, the truth is that first, it's never too late for a change. Second, it's always worth to devote yourself to become more knowledgeable and not to follow the crowd--to think and to listen to yourself. We can just hate without knowing who we hate and it's easy to do so, but it's better to get to know the person and then decide. I am teaching my kids not to use the words "hate" and "hatred." There is no such a thing that you "hate" somebody or something.