by Art Serotoff
I feel a special connection with Israel, it and I are exactly the same age. I was born in 1948. My household, composed of parents, grandparents and my family was committed to “turning the desert into a lush paradise”. I remember the blue and white “pushke” box. It seemed ubiquitous, every place I looked there was one. My grandma solicited funds for trees in Israel. At funerals, family members and friends wanted a donation of trees rather than money or anything else in memory of our departed relative. Kibbutzim were described in idyllic phrases with images of young strong kibbutzniks tilling the land. We, as Jews were bound to support this. In fact, we felt honored to support this. Another tenet of “faith” was that the Arabs hated us and they were always ready to “push us into the sea”. We needed to be strong and defend our “Jewish Homeland”. The Six-Day War proved how strong we were.
After the Six-Day War, I began to learn more about the truth of what was happening in the “Jewish State”. As with other things, my naiveté crashed and burst into flames as I saw how the Israeli government walled off Gaza, segregated Ethiopians and discriminated against other darker skinned people in the country. I could not support the JNF anymore nor could I support the local Jewish Federation which sent funds to support Israel.
The past year assault on Gaza was too brutal and horrifying to remain silent. For me it is imperative to articulate an alternative Jewish voice that lays bare the “facts on the ground” and holds the government of Israel accountable for its atrocities.
Last week, November 4 (my birthday), I saw a request to plant trees in Palestine. These are intended to replace olive trees that have been bulldozed and otherwise destroyed by the IDF and “settlers”. The olive groves have strong cultural and historic significance for the indigenous Palestinians. These donations are intended to help stop the destruction. How ironic that now I have the chance to plant trees in Israel again. I did this in honor of my mother and grandma.