Vancouverite Gillian Rosenberg, 31, is the first foreign woman to join YPG, the Kurds’ dominant fighting force battling the Islamic State in northern Syria.
Rosenberg, who calls White Rock home, attended Maimonides Secondary School, where she was valedictorian in her graduating year, 2001. Shoshana Burton, one of her teachers at the time, remembers her as a shy young woman who “became very passionate when she recognized opportunities to be involved with the school’s annual mitzvah day, where we volunteered in the community. She was compassionate and was fascinated with Israel,” Burton said. “She was a good kid and I am really hoping that she is safe.”
Rosenberg studied aviation at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, where she graduated from a 64-week airport operations program in December 2003, according to Dave Pinton, spokesperson for BCIT. “It’s a course on how to run airports,” he said, adding that after completing it she enrolled in a part-time management degree program in 2004. She did not complete that course, he said, and the last course she took at BCIT was in January 2006. Sometime after that, Rosenberg moved to Israel and enlisted in an Israeli army search-and-rescue unit. On her Facebook page, she lists her experience as a former instructor at that Israel Defence Forces unit.
In 2009, Rosenberg was among 11 people arrested in a U.S. criminal case for her involvement in an international phone scam. An FBI statement from that year described it as a “phoney ‘lottery prize’ scheme that targeted victims, mostly elderly.” At that time, Israel’s NRG news site reported that Rosenberg had tried in vain to join the Mossad, Israel’s spy service. She was estranged from her parents and had landed in financial straits.
Extradited to the United States, Rosenberg served approximately four years in prison under a plea deal, according to court documents. At the time, she was represented by Israeli lawyer Yahel Ben-Oved. Speaking to Reuters, Ben-Oved said she had no knowledge of Rosenberg joining the Kurds, though they had spoken recently. “It is exactly the sort of thing she would do, though,” said Ben-Oved.
Former high school friends in Vancouver expressed mostly shock and concern for Rosenberg’s safety when they learned she had joined YPG. Another teacher who had known her in high school contacted the Canadian Jewish News with the hope that the Jewish community could coax her home.
On her Facebook page, Rosenberg posted photographs taken at Erbil International Airport in Iraq Nov. 2. Another, taken Nov. 5 from a vehicle en route to Sulaymaniya, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan, she said “kinda looks like anywhere in middle America.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond, B.C. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net. This article was originally published on cjnews.com.