That morning I found out my fam funds the JNF

by Raphael Cohen

it’s a fog-heavy December dawn
from this fifth-story apartment
overlooking the frozen river

i’m visiting my family
at the height of another
Israeli assault on Gaza

i’ve risen earlier than usual
dreamscape a restless mess-
bursts of running / being chased through fields
distant screams / their source unseen

the apartment’s completely quiet
save for the whispered prayers
i hear my father reciting
so delicate
yet determined
blessing a new day
the same way he has
for the last 70 years
tallis shawl
across his shoulders
tefillin phylacteries
on arm and forehead
a laminated page
peeling at edges
rests in his hand
offering printed direction
though the text
inevitably
ingrained in his memory

unbeknownst to dad
i’m peeping ritual
through bedroom door ajar
recalling how he taught me it
tenderly
tranquilly
around the time i turned teen
how i kept the same tradition
for roughly a year
maybe it was two
before slowly bowing out
deeming this practice
something other than my truth-
a god for the people Israel
rather than all people
felt to me too partial
a storyline
i’d later see
as primed for exploitation
by nationalist doctrine

when suddenly my sight’s seized-
a stack of stamped envelopes
on dining room table
what takes me a sec to realize
are end-of-year donations
on their way out

atop the pile
i spot
then grab
a correspondence directed
with pre-printed logo and address
to JNF

the Jewish National Fund?!

flash on Hebrew school
Sunday mornings
20 years back-
tin can
passed around
20 kid class
for cash donations
to JNF

“make the desert bloom”
slogan printed
along cylinder’s circumference
silhouette
of swaying ferns
scenic background

we sleepy 6th graders told
by bold-voiced teach:
“Israel!
it’s important to our people
and the money you contribute
goes to planting trees-
this ensures the nation grows
that you always have a place to go”

how could we know?
they only sowed said seeds
after the army bulldozed
Palestinian pastures
and evicted families
who for generations past
lived and tilled that land

how could we know?
coins and bills
dug out of our sweatpants’
lint-lined pockets
and proudly deposited
in tin can slot
not only propped up a narrative
that Israel was built
on unpopulated lands
but supported state-sanctioned
dispossession
of the very same nature
our own ancestors experienced

i didn’t find out
until a decade later
when the second intifada
demanded i do some homework
and in the weathered pages
of a discontinued history book
i stumbled on a sepia photo
of Palestinian families fleeing
their village usurped
by Israel’s infant troops
in the spring of ’48
which looked almost identical
to far more familiar
images of Jewish families
being marshaled from gray ghettos
throughout Eastern Europe
and lined up for transport
to cages
called camps
10 years before

it didn’t take too much digging
to unearth the JNF’s role
in blatantly covering up
those nation-building banishments
by making a barren desert
of homes and yards
of fields and farms
only to plant baby trees
where age-old groves once stood
marking Israel’s creation
birth of selective amnesia

that first gust of awareness
and my dissent among family thereafter
has certainly stirred
its share of acrimony-
dinnertime diatribes
tempers flared to tears
shattered plates
shaken trust

so for each of our sanity’s sake
i’ve taken to avoiding
conversations with kin
about Israel’s beginnings
or its ever-since

which means i haven’t told them
that a coalition i’m involved in
sat down
last week
to sketch out initial strategies
for a border-crossing campaign
to revoke the “charitable” status
and expose the mathematical malice
of that same JNF
citing it paramount player
in the predatory project
of purging Palestinians
so Israel could exist
a destruction ongoing
in the name of expanded settlements
and protecting U.S. interests

but now eyeing this star of David
in ink print
on envelope
carrying a contribution
my folks considers crucial
while F-16 fighter jets
sporting the identical emblem
whiz over the Gaza Strip
and drop bombs on crammed villages
as part of Israel’s latest operation
“to defend itself
against terrorists”
i’m overcome with an urge
to steal this mailing
put flame to paper
until only ashes remain
then offer community the urn
when it turns on CNN
for a breakfast update
as expressed by the network’s
“Middle East experts”

i extinguish the idea
before it finds wind
but a fire burns within
as i wonder what will be
if those of us aware
just what our dollars did
continue to forego
speaking what we know