My JNF ‘Epiphany’

by George Hudes

I too put my nickels and dimes in the little blue pushke which was a fixture in almost all Jewish homes in my ‘growing up’ world of the 40s and 50s. As a youngster I carried the little blue box door to door in my largely non-Jewish New Jersey neighborhood, thoroughly believing in the JNF cause (my entire family was one of refugee survivors) for which I solicited small contributions.

And it was largely due to the JNF that I first visited Israel with my parents and sister in 1959 – a trip most immediately provoked in order to be present at a ceremonial renaming of a Moshav provided for through a large bequest from a recently deceased uncle’s estate administered by my father. The original name of the moshav – Roglit – was changed to Neve Michael in memory of this philanthropist uncle, Michael M. Weiss of South Orange, N.J., who donated liberally to the JNF.

It was also on this (JNF affiliated) trip in 1959 that my first intimation of fundamental questions arose regarding the ugly underbelly of Zionism and the JNF. I spent several days at the orthodox Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak, helping to build pathways between laundry facility buildings. One Saturday evening, at the conclusion of Shabbat, I and a group of young people from the kibbutz traveled in the back of an open truck to a site in Herzliya – an “abandoned” mosque adjacent to the ocean and surrounded by what was then a large area of open land and beaches. After a dark night swim in the ocean with two teenage kibbutzniks and as we warmed ourselves by a campfire others had made in the semi-enclosed courtyard, a light of epiphany was first kindled in my mind. “What” I asked myself “ever happened to those who used to worship here?” During the almost 60 years since, I have studied and spoken with others and tried to come to grips (through advocacy and activism) with the many tragic realities of the Nakba, the continuing dispossession and apartheid under which Palestinians suffer, and the constant and important role played by the JNF in this travesty.

Four years ago the conservative congregation of which I’m a member in Honolulu, Hawaii was approached by a member who (in all innocence/ignorance) proposed a congregational project to ‘plant a JNF forest.’ Thankfully – after I responded to this proposal with a mail-out to the congregational members regarding the racist role of the JNF, its inter-connection with the Israel Land Administration, and its history of questionable finances – the member’s JNF proposal was dropped as too divisive for the health of the congregation.

I welcome the ‘Stop the JNF Campaign’ and the opportunities it affords for education and increased awareness. Thank you!