Four Waterfalls, One Hidden — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
We say kaddish for our son and drive north. The hills that tumble down the descent to Jericho are tinged pale green, the last breaths of the desert’s brief, defiant annual winter resurrection. The sun glints on the asphalt of Route 90, which stretches along the west bank of a feeble Jordan River. Toward Beit She’an, the bleak landscape turns green again. Irrigated fields replace bleak hills. We make a short detour up to the top of Mount Gilboa, hoping to catch the last of the irises that bloom there in the spring, but we are too late. We have to make do with a few tentatively lavender bear’s-breeches and splashes of Red Everlastings, the flowers printed on the stickers that everyone will paste on their chests on Memorial Day, two weeks hence.

On to the down-home bargain hotel in shabby-to-slummy Tiberias, where we will spend the long second weekend of Pesach. From our window we have a view, not of Lake Kinneret, but of the rubbish-filled yards of abandoned buildings up the street, and the lonely olive trees that dot the mountain slopes between the upper city’s housing-project neighborhoods.

The next morning, Thursday, the eve of the holiday, we continue north, as far north as we can go, to Metula. We take a right at the gate, then turn right again and again to reach the entrance to the Ayun Reserve. A stream of that name wells up a bit further north, in Marjayoun—I saw it three and a half decades ago, when I shuttled through the town time and again as a soldier serving unenthusiastically in Lebanon. When it crosses the Israeli border, it enters a narrow canyon and spills down a steep series of waterfalls, into the Hula Valley. Thirteen years ago the stream dried up, when Hezbollah diverted the source springs in the Lebanese town to irrigate the fields nearby. A few years ago, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority brought the stream back to life by piping in water from the Dan, a mightier stream to the southeast. Dan and Ayun, along with Hatzbani and Banyas, are the four headwaters of the Jordan, fed by melted snow from Mt. Hermon filtered through limestone strata laid down by primordial seas and pushed up by ancient cataclysms.

Seven years ago, on this holiday, our son died. Niot, our third headwater, was like a stream. He bubbled up, burbled, flowed over rapids, made all around him green and alive. Year round, year by year, for twenty years.

Read moreFour Waterfalls, One Hidden — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Witch’s Broom — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Hey, I need a smoke after that, let’s stand here in the shade of this tree, yeah, this olive tree, you always had to say exactly what tree we were sitting under between exercises, but then you’re from a moshav, for us in the city all that’s important is shade on a sweltering day like this. It’s a beautiful tree, though, fine specimen, olive trees are my favorite, they’ve got strong roots, they’re rugged. Let’s stand under that round thing up there, exactly covers the sun, looks like the tree has sprouted a green basketball. I love trees with those things. They’re like a flare that suddenly appears in the sky and guides you through the night. Witch’s broom? Really? That’s what it’s called? Doesn’t look like a broom at all.

It’s a shame about Ilan. Salt of the earth. A warrior like from the old days. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood, I tell you, until he didn’t have any left. Did you see Kochava, that’s class, no screaming or wailing like in my family, strong and silent, with the kids standing by her, and grandkids, dignity, I tell you, dignity, that’s what we used to have here in Israel and don’t any more.

Charge! I keep hearing him call out, Forward, charge! And we’d run up the mountain and shooting at those targets as if filling them with holes was going to save the Jewish people. There was something in his voice that made running up a steep slope on a freezing winter morning and plopping yourself on a bunch of thorns the thing you wanted to do more than anything else in the world. And it wasn’t just play. Remember, in Marjayoun, or was it Hasbayiyya, in Lebanon, I don’t even remember anymore, when he saved the entire platoon by spotting the mortar swiveling our way on that bastard Shiite’s roof? And with a single command he got us under cover and firing like maniacs until we took it out. He was a hero, in the pure sense of the word, the greatest hero I ever knew. And they sucked his blood, sucked his blood. Did you see Kochava? She’s at least fifty but she could pass for thirty-five any day, dark and slender, I’d say sexy but it would sound wrong, you’re not allowed to say stuff like that these days. My heart goes out to her. She doesn’t deserve it. The kid’s don’t. Ilan certainly didn’t deserve it, should have been put on a pedestal, given the Israel Prize.

Read moreWitch’s Broom — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

The Third Child — Dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of Niot Watzman z”l

Haim Watzman

In memory of my younger son, Niot, seven years after his death at the age of 20, during Pesach. From the Pesach 2018 issue of Shabbat Shalom, the weekly Torah portion sheet of the religious peace movement, Oz Veshalom.

להורדת הגליון של “שבת שלום בעברית”

“Take, for example, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony,” says Lahav Shani, the twenty-nine-year-old conductor who was recently chosen to lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. “It may well be the work that the orchestra has played more times than any other. The musicians can perform it in their sleep. But, precisely when you play something so much, there are things that become routine, and I saw in the music the possibilities of a different balance and a somewhat different point of view” (Ha’aretz, Galeria Shishi, Feb. 16, 2018).

The same can be said for the Pesach Haggadah. Many of us could practically recite it in our sleep. That’s why we need a young “Lahav Shani” on Seder night to freshen up the all-too-familiar material that the traditional Haggadah provides.

Read moreThe Third Child — Dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of Niot Watzman z”l

Transfigured Night — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Two sit in a café. The cold penetrates the windowpane. Their gaze is not on each other but on the moon, shining through the eucalyptus leaves in a cloudless sky. The woman speaks.

illustration by Avi Katz
Because you followed me in the wilderness, she says, in a land unsown. They are both trying to be polite, to the point. Their oldest son’s wedding is next month.

The man wears a uniform, with a colonel’s insignia. Why don’t you stop fondling your gun, she suggests. He had not realized that his left hand had wandered there, and quickly removes it.

He clears his throat. There must be some sort of protocol for this. We can’t be the first. The hand that had been on the gun is now on his head, playing with the clip on his kipah. He brings it down, carefully intertwining its fingers with those of its counterpart, keeping both under control.

The woman shrugs. It’s not up to us. It’s what Eliav wants. And Sivan.

He lets out a long breath, very slowly, focusing on control of his breathing.

Let me put it to you straight, he says. Eliav hates me. The two of us are divorced. Now he’s located his father and invited him. Do you really want me to come?

She sips her cappuccino. The left side of her mouth goes up. He doesn’t know if it’s a smile or an attempt to hold a tear back.

Read moreTransfigured Night — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Help Me Rwanda — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Abel surveyed my massive suitcase, carry-on wheelie, and backpack as if he’d never seen luggage before. It had taken a lot of knocking to get him to the door, and I was losing patience.

“You’re going away?” he asked.

illustration by Avi Katz
“I’m cashing in the chit, my Eritrean friend,” I said, pushing my way into the tiny living room of his mildewed housing-project apartment. “Even a bleeding-heart leftist like me has his limits. For the last two years I’ve held your hand in the line to get your residence permit renewed, recommended you for menial jobs, taught you English, and invited you over for Friday night meals. It’s time to pay up.”

“But Haim,” he said, still confused. “Where are you going? How will I manage without you?”

I pulled the brochure from my pocket and threw it expertly so that it covered the large hole in the upholstery on Abel’s flea-market sofa. “If there’s one value I hold by, it’s justice,” I said. “If I’ve done good, I should get rewarded.”

Abel’s high forehead furrowed as he picked up the brochure and unfolded it.

“Your Future in the Third Country,” he read.

“It arrived for you in the mail. In my mailbox, of course.”

Abel looked confused. “What Third Country?”

“The one our government intends to deport all you Africans to, on the grounds that you are not really refugees. See, according to our government, at the age of twelve you braved death by walking all the way to the Negev from some godforsaken village in the Horn of Africa because you heard you could get a job here washing dishes in a falafel joint.”

Read moreHelp Me Rwanda — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Three Codas — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz


This is how the story ends.

Maya is in her room screaming. It’s long after a second-grader should be sound asleep. Long after I need to be sound asleep. I’m so exhausted that I can’t remember what set off the tantrum, and who cares, the tantrum is almost a nightly event.

She’s so loud that Didi, who is doing homework in the kitchen with something he calls music blaring through headphones into his ears, gives me a helpless look. He’s just started junior high school and is having a hard time.

“I’m sorry that this is the kind of home you have.”

He nudges the right side of the headphone a bit off his ear and shrugs. “It’s not your fault.”

I cast desperately around for an explanation. “Maybe it’s because she needs a father.”

“She’d probably scream anyway, and there’d be three of us suffering.”

I sigh. “I guess it’s not the kind of little sister you dreamed of having.”

“I don’t remember any dreams. One way or the other.”

I head for Maya’s room to try to calm her down.

Read moreThree Codas — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Honor Thy Mother — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman
After Kidushin 31a–b

“Baruch! Cheer up! You look like your mother just died!” The shouter of this greeting is Tzefanya, my new locker neighbor at the Jerusalem YMCA Sports Center, which I just joined, after the Jerusalem Pool closed. So I’m actually his new locker neighbor. Actually, we’re both new, because while Tzefania has swum and worked out at the Y for, he claims, at least 50 years, it was at the old facility, which has just been replaced by this spanking new one.

Baruch is probably half Tzefanya’s age, so thin that his tzitziot barely have a shoulder to hang from. Tzefanya is large and hearty and always calls, never speaks. He sounds like the guy who makes the rounds in my neighborhood at 4 a.m. during the month of Elul shouting “Se-li-hot! Se-li-hot!” I’ve never seen that guy’s face, because I never get up that early, even to ask God’s forgiveness, but he probably looks a lot like Tzafanya.

Baruch, Tzefanya, and I are packed onto a bench a meter and a half long, between two banks of closely-placed lockers, along with Nayal, a super-fit software engineer of about Baruch’s age, with close-cropped hair and blue eyes. He’s just putting on his glasses so as to better glare at Tzefanya, which is his usual attitude toward the Tunisian-born grandfather with the muezzin’s voice.

“That’s a really insensitive thing to say to Baruch,” Nayal reprimands him, “given that his mother has, in fact, just died.”

Read moreHonor Thy Mother — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Sweet Unrest — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz

Saturday, July 20, 1946

Dear Adele,

I implore—I demand—you immediately to cease sending me letters and to stop asking after me at Fink’s. It was a fling and it is over. I do not wish to see you again.

Capt. Hugh Fitzsimmons

PS—Bright Star, I am sure that a girl of your qualities will quickly find a love worthy of her. With affection.

*

Saturday, July 20, 1946

Dear Vicky,

I can understand our Saviour’s reluctance to come to Jerusalem. The heat is oppressive and one can barely breathe, especially here in this inner room at the King David Hotel that no breeze can find. The Galilee’s air is much fresher and cooler. Would you believe that I would welcome a dismal London drizzle? Could you be a dear and send some? Anything to bring relief.

But what do I care if my body is liquefying into pure perspiration? I have come here to be near my Hugh, and to keep an eye on him, for I know very well that he is no more likely to keep his hands and other parts of his body to himself than are the other uniformed men and officers here at headquarters. Vicky, if each British woman who has been fondled, propositioned, and asked to bed by a member of His Majesty’s Armed Forces were to sign her name, we could roll out a petition from my room in Talbiyeh to your place in Bloomsbury.

Read moreSweet Unrest — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

The House of Wisdom — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

After Proverbs 9

illustration by Avi Katz
Put down that beer, you’re trying to hide your face. I know that grin, I’ve known it since we were in the army together, it’s that “how can Ari be such a wimp” smirk that you flashed at me straight through basic training and two and a half more years in the paratroopers. And you know what, you were right a lot of the time, I’m so much more wussier than I look, and you stood by me and knocked sense into me when I needed it. But you are just wrong about Sofia.

Back then I told you everything, but you’re not up to date. You’re back from two years screwing the women of three continents and several islands, and there were things I wasn’t going to write on Whatsapp, no matter how secure it claims to be. Listen to me. That old Russian lady I hugged and kissed when she came over here to the bar at the First Station to say hello? I’ve learned more from her than from you or my professors at the university or any teacher I had in high school. Like I said, I sometimes spend Shabbat at her place instead of going home

“Your friends will think you’re a faggot,” is what you think the girl at the airport said to me. So lay it on, Gadi. I’m prepared. I’m prepared. What girl? The one who came on to me at the same time as that Russian lady.

Read moreThe House of Wisdom — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

On This Side and That — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Zealot lifted the lid of the pot, taking care not to topple it from the primus and spill gravy all over the front of his new tolstovka. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and lifted his head so that, had they been open, he would have been gazing at the damp spot at the center of the ceiling.

“It is a heavenly chicken,” he pronounced. “There is no pleasure on this earth greater than inhaling the scent of a cooking chicken.”

“How about an orgasm?” suggested Yanai, tipped back against a corner with his legs stretched out, dressed in a white shirt and paint-splattered work pants. The corner went dim as the final ray of the setting sun abandoned the window of Devorah Hannah’s room in Jerusalem’s Fruits of Labor neighborhood. Behind the aroma of the cooking chicken was a dank scent of mildew, brought on an hour before by a cloudburst that had come two weeks too early on that Yom Kippur eve of 1911.

“All great orgasms are, ultimately, alike,” Zealot considered, preening his moustache, “but each excellent repast is excellent in its own way.”

“Zealot has never had either,” Devorah Hannah informed Eliezer, as she set her table for four. The table was the board that served as her bed, with an additional crate added to each leg, with a white cotton sheet serving as a tablecloth. A bottle of Rishon Letzion was already open and waiting. Eliezer gazed out the window at men in black frock coats and black hats striding toward synagogues. He wore the brown gabardine suit that he generally put on only for his meetings with Ottoman officials or Baron Rothschild’s men.

“I can’t read any more,” Yanai sighed, putting down his copy of Brenner’s new novel, On This Side and That.

“Too dark?” Eliezer asked.

“The darkness of the soul,” Yanai said, slowly rising, then pushing the rickety chair toward the table. He stretched his lanky frame and yawned. “When do we eat?”

Read moreOn This Side and That — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report