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Tzefania has swum and worked out at the Y for, he claims, at least 50 years, it was at the old facility, which has just been replaced by this spanking new one.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

Waves — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
It’s like a movie trailer, when Emma emerges from the waves. An early morning sunray coming from between two wispy clouds spotlights her and sparkles the seawater on her skin. Her breasts—well, I look away but then look back, accepting that I am human and male and twenty-four years old, and that Re’ut likes me that way. Tall, sleek Barak’s still out where the waves are breaking, shaking out his shoulder-length curls between one crest and the next.

I’m just finishing winding up the straps of my tefilin when she reaches me. She stops a couple meters away and smiles, waiting patiently as I fold up my tallit and stow my prayer gear in my backpack. Then we both sit down on the mat that Barak brought back from Thailand, along with Emma. I adjust myself to put just one more centimeter between us. We do not speak at first.

“It’s a beautiful beach,” she says in English, with a heavy French accent.

I nod and take a breath to get my own Hebrew-accented English in order. “It’s our favorite. Part of a nature reserve. We used to come here a lot together. On Fridays during high school. When we were home from the army.”

“You don’t want to go into the water?”

“Soon.”

After another pause, she says: “You do this every morning? Pray? Even at the beach?”

I shrug. “Just part of waking up for me.”

“Barak used to do this, too, when you came here, before his trip?”

I nod.

“Funny,” she says. Her smile is warm, accepting, but uncomprehending. “When I wake up at the sea in the summer, the first thing I want is to go in the water.”

Somehow she’s closed up that extra centimeter.

Read moreWaves — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Misgav’s Eulogy for Niot, Six Years / הספדה של משגב לנאות אחרי 6 שנים

גרסת המקור בעברית למטה

Nioti, can you believe it, six years have passed, six years and I’m already older than you.

Six years and I am trying to understand how it makes sense that you disappeared.

Before we had a chance to really get to know each other, before we managed to put all our silliness aside and rally talk about life and to stop being kids. Simply to love.

You left me in the middle of life, just when I needed you the most. We were going to be in the army together, to trade stories about our treks, to talk about the next trip, maybe even travel together, to talk about our studies and way of life, to go crazy at Asor’s and Mizmor’s weddings. Because you and are are two crazy people.

Six years that your death is a lump in my throat. I didn’t know what it meant for me, what I feel, how I express it.

Read moreMisgav’s Eulogy for Niot, Six Years / הספדה של משגב לנאות אחרי 6 שנים

Ilana’s Eulogy for Niot, Six Years / הספדה של אילנה לנאות אחרי 6 שנים

גרסת המקור בעברית למטה


We stand here on a clear spring day, the sixth spring since you fell, as everything blooms. The buds are coming out on the citrus trees in our garden. Every year, when the fruit ripened, I would ask you to go down and pick clementines and oranges. You could reach fruit that was out of my grasp.

It is hard to accept that you are not here with us. In recent years we have represented you at the weddings of your friends. At every wedding we see the circles of friendship whose moving force is actually you. And I imagine how different life would look if you were still here with your big smile, good heart, and your special ability to accept life in an uncomplicated and direct way.

Memories: You came to me in the kitchen, pondering out loud. A girl had captured your heart and you were wondering what to do. Your eyes were sparkling and good. I said to you: Tell her what you feel. And you were so happy and you surrounded me with so much love.

And I remember your strong back when you sat in the dining room with the computer during the time you were at home on medical leave, and I didn’t know that those were my last days with you.

Read moreIlana’s Eulogy for Niot, Six Years / הספדה של אילנה לנאות אחרי 6 שנים

Necessary Stories — My New Book!

I’m happy to announce the publication of a collection of twenty-four of the best from the “Necessary Stories” column I’ve written in The Jerusalem Report for the last nine years. Plus one never-before published tale! Information about the book, buying options, and links to related material can be found on the Necessary Stories: The Book! … Read moreNecessary Stories — My New Book!

At Hormah

Haim Watzman
Thoughts on Devarim, this week’s Torah portion, in memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us two years ago on 2 Av. This is an English version of the original Hebrew essay, published in Shabbat Shalom, the weekly Torah portion sheet published by Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom. The original Hebrew version can be read here .


Hama'apilThere once was a city, somewhere in the Negev, whose name went down in biblical history as the site of a painful defeat for the children of Israel. The rout at Hormah took place in a war against the Canaanite nations, which followed the sin of the spies. For that sin, the Children of Israel were punished—their entry into the Promised Land was delayed by a generation. Their crime was the lack of faith displayed by the generation that left Egypt, their reluctance to fight the war that awaited them when they crossed from the wilderness into Canaan. The failure of conviction began at the leadership level, among ten of the twelve spies sent to scout the land, and quickly spread to the entire nation.

But the war fought at Hormah did not come in retribution for the sin of the spies. It was imposed subsequent to that sin and its punishment. After comprehending how grave and error they had made, a vanguard of the people to take the initiative to correct it. The Ma’apilim, meaning “the scalers [of the heights],” now understood that it was God’s will that the Israelites fight bravely against the Canaanite nations. They organized to take determined action, as Moses relates in this week’s Torah portion (Deut. 1:41): “We stand guilty before the LORD. We will go up now and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.” The call to arms grew out of profound remorse for the sin and a real desire to atone for it. But instead of accepting the heroism and good intentions of the Ma’apilim, God condemned them and meted out another heavy punishment, in addition to that of the sin of the spies: “Then the Amorites who lived in those hills came out against you like so many bees and chased you, and they crushed you at Hormah in Seir.” It is easy to imagine the shattered and bloodied survivors asking themselves: “What does God want with us? When we said we were scared of conquering the land, we were sentenced to die in the desert, and when we fervently set out to conquer the land, we died at Hormah.”

Read moreAt Hormah

The Outpost on Oliphant Street — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Illustration by Avi Katz
Illustration by Avi Katz
The outpost on Oliphant Street? I remember everything. Yes, I do, don’t give me that look. I’m not senile yet. I may be far gone but I have not yet left this world. That was 1948. I was eighteen. The outpost on Oliphant Street. It was with Udi. We were under fire. He was my lover. In Jerusalem. What? Yes, before Saba. Several before. Your grandfather came by after I’d had my adventures and was ready to settle down. It was cold, it was February, you know, it was very cold. I think it was raining, maybe just very cloudy, and all I had was a sweater. I was stationed in Rehavia, we had a communications post there and I did shifts by the radio. Udi was almost as tall as you, but slender and flexible, like a gymnast. He could jump over the table we spread the maps on, like a cat on a spring. This is the story of how I lost him. And about the outpost on Oliphant Street.

Udi took a squad into Talbiyeh. A lot of the rich Arabs who lived there had already packed up and gone. The National Guard, what did they call it, no, it’ll come to me, the Hars Watani that the mufti sent into action, had moved into the neighborhood. The British, who had security zones on either side, let them in. It was going to turn into a staging ground for an invasion of Rehavia, so we had to act.

The squad went in to show the flag, establish a presence. The thinking was that the Arab guards would get scared and turn tail the minute they saw we were coming in. There were two Arabs, little more than kids, who looked suspicious, that’s what Udi told me afterward. Udi called them over, demanded that they identify themselves. Instead they pulled out pistols and began shooting. Two of Udi’s men were wounded and he beat a retreat.

Of course, we weren’t going to take that lying down.

Read moreThe Outpost on Oliphant Street — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Yes, Sometimes It Is Anti-Semitism

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

Ken Livingstone, formerly mayor of London, presently a member in very bad standing of the British Labour Party, can be thanked for this much: He has provided a painful moment of clarity in the debate over whether anti-Zionism is, at least sometimes, anti-Semitism.

The answer is yes. For instance, when one says that when Hitler came to power “in 1932 [sic], he was supporting Zionism,” as Livingston recently did, or when one says that not hating all Jews, just Jews in Israel, is not an anti-Semite, as he subsequently did.

This bears explanation. But first comes some context, and dispensing with certain reflexive objections. So let’s start here: Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn suspended MP Naz Shah, a rising political star, from the party under heavy pressure from party colleagues after a series of her Facebook posts reached the public eye. In one, Shah suggested transferring Israel—by which she presumably meant the Jewish majority, not the Arab minority—to the United States. In another, she implied similarity between Israel and Nazi Germany. The list quickly grew.

Read moreYes, Sometimes It Is Anti-Semitism