On Lupine Hill — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Pepe Fainberg
illustration by Pepe Fainberg

Was it the sound of sage leaves parting that first alerted Hanoch? Or a disturbance in the penumbra reflected off a daisy? Whatever it was, his reaction was automatic, a swift movement followed only half a second later by a slower thought and Sitvanit’s scream. He drew his pistol and fired a single shot in the direction of the glint of scales. The snake, now visible, contorted and rolled and stained the ground red. Astounded that he had actually hit the animal and reading its dappled brown markings, he shoved Sitvanit away with his arm, took careful aim at the head, and fired another shot. The now headless snake shivered and writhed and fell still.

He took a step toward the dead animal, taking care not to step on the deep purple lupines that blossomed thickly by the path. Sitvanit stood frozen a few paces behind.

“Viper,” he announced. He looked around. The only others on the hill at this sunset hour were on the next peak over, across the shallow saddle from where he and Sitvanit stood, two pre-teen girls in long skirts and sleeves, accompanied by a mother and grandmother with white scarves over their heads. They were staring and he heard a faint murmur of voices, but a minute later they began descending the path down to the parking area, no doubt in a hurry to get out before dark.

He ran his left hand over the barrel of his pistol and found pleasure in its warmth.

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Fifteen Characters in Search of a Better Author — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The rapid, staccato knock, perk and businesslike, startled me out of the beginnings of the trance I sink into whenever I write. Sometimes a fully-formed character emerges out of the trance, but much more often I just get a really good nap. I was startled because my office, which is really a basement storeroom stuffed with boxes, camping gear, and a dismembered eternal sukka, seldom gets visitors. Good thing, too, as there is barely enough room left over for me, my computer, and my bike. I sighed at the disturbance to my carefully-honed creative process, pushed myself out of my expensive, well-upholstered, and really comfortable executive chair, and opened the door.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
I found myself facing a thirty-something woman wearing an unzipped parka over a long, dark-blue dress. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She held out her hand assertively and frowned when I hesitated before shaking it. Behind her I spotted a middle-aged woman with a hiking pole, but she quickly disappeared into the shadows of the corridor.

“Peppy Samuels,” she said. Then, seeing that the name didn’t connect, she added “Number 70. ‘Hooligan Oil.’”

“Oh, right,” I said. “It’s been a while.”

She wrinkled her nose at the sweaty gym clothes I’d hung up to dry over my bike and took in the general mess. Coming to my senses, such as they are, I drew a plastic folding chair off a hook and opened it for her.

“Have a seat,” I suggested. She took a glove out of her parka pocket and wiped down the chair before sitting down. Then, turning toward the door, she called out “Looks like the rest of you will have to stand out there!”

“The rest of you?”

“We’re a delegation,” she explained. Leaning over, she pushed the door open wider so I could see her companions. She gestured toward a sandy-haired young man with a dreamy expression, dressed in IDF fatigues. His arm was draped casually over the shoulder of a tousle-haired teenager with downy sideburns. “This is Ami, number 62, ‘Nobody Smiles,” and number 64, ‘Odysseus Eats.’ He’s representing the soldiers. His friend here is Felix Mendelssohn, number 43, ‘Piano Lesson,’ representing the classical composers.”

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Savta Levana Cooks a Cat — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

“For what is the cat?” Savta Levana asked as Tamar smoothed the creases out of the apron she had just fastened at her grandmother’s back.

illustration by Avi Katz</eillustration by Avi Katz


“Just something I made. Now stand over by the sink so I can check the light.” Tamar had positioned her video camera at the entrance to the tiny kitchen. The good part was that she could leave the camera largely unattended. Savta Levana wouldn’t move much because there was practically no counter space left for her to work on now that she had all the modern conveniences. A mini-dishwasher grabbed most of the corner on the left side of the sink, between it and the refrigerator, and a microwave oven took up the bulk of the small stretch of counter between the sink and the window on the right. Tamar had already given instructions not to move the chicken over to the small table opposite, on which the cat sat. Even though that’s where Savta Levana really did most of her prep for the stove and oven, the camera would not see her there.

“What is just something you made? You just made it like that? A busy girl like you? You have time to make cat dolls?”

“Savta, we’re making tbit,” Tamar reprimanded her.

“I’ve made tbit every Friday for more than fifty years and I never had someone watch me,” the grandmother complained, eyeing the big-headed blue cat with the heart in its paw with more than a pinch of suspicion.

“I’m going to make you famous. Savta Levana’s Iraqi recipes on YouTube. People all over the world will make your tbit. They’ll make pilgrimages to Holon to worship at your kitchen. I’ll even add English subtitles.”

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The Night Hall — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Mor felt her way down the hall in the dark. Her hand touched a photograph hanging lower than she remembered and sent it swinging, but she steadied it before it fell. She would make no noise and turn on no lights. If Bar and Ayala woke up she would have no quiet to think in. Halfway down she turned back and peered at Aryeh. He was on his back. Suddenly an arm rose and flopped down where she had formerly lain. A hand searched, fruitlessly. Soon he would snore. He would not stir, though, even if Bar and Ayala began to cry, because, by his account, he had averaged just four hours of sleep for the past week and a half. Now he was home from the army for two nights. She closed the door softly and went back down the night hall.

 illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz


The armchairs cast shadows. Street light, filtered through translucent blinds, penumbraed the room. She sat in the closer chair, older but more comfortable. Looking down, she touched the sore spot on her left breast. Aryeh had fallen right on it after he came. Why did men do that? Couldn’t he hold himself up? She was not made of foam rubber, she had told him many times. “I can’t help it, it’s like everything inside me has come out,” he said. “Not everything, just some semen,” she’d correct him. Then he’d kiss her and roll off and take her in his arms and drip everything inside him all over her. And the sheets. No wonder she could never fall asleep afterward.

If this night were a story, she reflected, here would be the point where the bombshell would come. “She reached under the sofa cushion and drew out a photograph of Eli.” Or, “It was time for her to leave.” Or “The gun felt cold under her nightgown.” But she did not have another lover, she was too tired to leave, and she was wearing a sweatsuit, not a nightgown. It was December, after all.

He was always so eager when he came back from the army. Affectionate, and intense. If it weren’t for the children he would lead her straight from the kiss at the door to the bedroom. Like he used to do.

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Terrorists Want You to Be Very Afraid. So Don’t Be.

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect

The original meaning of words is washed away by overuse. So a reminder: Terrorism is intended to make you feel terror, to make fear flood your mind and keep you from thinking straight. That’s true whether it takes place in Paris, San Bernardino, or Jerusalem.

The first step in defeating terrorism, therefore, is to chill out.

Take a long slow breath. Then we can talk calmly about things to do next.Keep Calm and Carry On

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Against the Odds — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

“The harira didn’t come out so great today,” the waitress advised. “If you want soup, I’d go for the sweet potato.”

Instead of standing, the waitress had pulled up a chair. The father and his grown daughter were the only clients in restaurant, which looked like it had been flown in from the West Coast, with its small tables and back-breaking chairs ranged around a large central unfinished wood counter. It was squeezed between an Ethiopian bar and a high-end Middle-Eastern grill, both of them similarly empty, on Borochov Alley, a bit east of the shuk, between Jaffa and Agripas. The stabbings were keeping people home, so the waitress had time on her hands.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
She looked Oregonish herself, slender, with straight hair and large round glasses, clearly ten or maybe even fifteen years older than the standard student waitress. She was a single mother of two girls, she told the daughter and father, and had just returned to her job, a few weeks after her baby had been born, because how was she supposed to live? Her face was overcast, perhaps because she hadn’t been getting much in tips from absent diners.

“Did you have a celebration here?” the daughter guessed.

The waitress’s face brightened. “Yes! Just last night! It was the manager’s present to me. Just something small. Family, a few friends. All presided over by my grandmother, the Frau Doktor Dora Berman, who didn’t like the food at all. She sat very stiffly over there, on that high chair at the end of the counter, in a black dress, nibbling from dishes we brought her and making faces. Mama was beside herself.”

“How’s the vegan lasagna?” the father asked.

“Abba, she’s telling us about her baby!” the daughter chided him.

“But she’s our waitress,” he pointed out. “And I’m hungry.”

“You can wait,” the daughter said, and then asked the waitress: “Your mother and grandmother don’t get along?”

“It’s complicated,” the waitress sighed. “Mama can be a pain. But the Frau Doktor is one of a kind. Do you know what she said when I brought the baby in?”

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Brine Drain–“Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Avi Katz -- Brine Drain

illustration by Avi Katz

When Daniela woke up she saw Jupiter glowing brightly in the sky. Or was it Venus? She would be able to tell if she could find her binoculars. Jupiter would have its four Galilean moons ranged around it and Venus would show a phase. Sometimes, while out camping in the Negev, she had been able to see, or think she saw, those distinguishing marks with her naked eye. But everything was blurry now. She felt for the binoculars, which should be here beside her in the tent, but she couldn’t find them. B, her little brother from hell, must have taken them. Whenever she needed something badly, it turned out that he’d run off with it. She tried to lift herself up on her elbows to see if B was with her in the tent, but her head suddenly went woozy and she fell back down on her back.

“It’s ok,” a friendly voice said. “Take your time.”

Daniela glanced to her right and saw a woman who looked like a Fox News anchor sitting in a wooden chair next to her. She herself was lying on a cot. What she’d thought was a planet was in fact a naked light bulb. The walls were bare. She knew the scene from countless movies. And now she remembered the raid on her lab at Georgia Tech. She was the planetary geophysicist who had come in from the cold.

“My name’s Cindy,” the anchorwoman said. “I’m really sorry we had to bring you here. Rich, your research partner, and your grad students are just fine. You’ll get to see them in good time, after they all wake up.”

“CIA?” Daniela asked. “NSA? FBI? Shin Bet?”

“YKVK,” Cindy said. “But that’s just a moniker. The real name is ineffable. Far more secret than all the others.”

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The Rossini Redemption — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Avi Katz -- The Rossini RedemptionHaim Watzman

So intensely was I listening to my iPod that I bumped straight into Haim Abutbul as I galloped into the stairwell leading up to my apartment. Haim is my downstairs neighbor, and other than sharing a name, we don’t have much in common. He’s Moroccan, retired, round, short, and has a moustache. I’m the opposite.

After I apologized and he mumbled an acceptance, he strode right past me, smeared silicone on the door jamb, and affixed a clear plastic mezuzah. Stepping back to admire his handiwork, he bumped into me again. This time he apologized and I mumbled.

“I bought a new one,” he explained. “New housing, new and expert parchment. The works.”

I nodded, in rush to get upstairs to a long-delayed lunch. “Tizkeh lemitzvot,” may you perform many other good deeds, I said. I put a foot on the bottom step but Haim would not let me go.

“Haim, you must have noticed that a lot of people in our entrance have been getting sick lately,” Haim said ominously.

“I hadn’t,” I apologized. “I feel fine myself.”

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“Swings” by Mizmor Watzman

Haim Watzman “Swings,” a brief animated film by my prize-winning daughter Mizmor Watzman, is currently participating in the Kinofest International Digital Animation Film Festival. This power-packed 95 second film is well worth your time. If you agree, please give it a “like” on the YouTube page–the film with the most likes by Sept. 27 will … Read more

If Your Senator Is Considering Voting No on the Iran Deal, Ask Her to Read This

Gershom Gorenberg

And this, too, at The American Prospect:

In the least plausible alternative version of my life, I would have stayed in the San Fernando Valley rather than leaving Los Angeles over 40 years ago and moving not long afterward to Jerusalem. In that scenario, I’d be represented in Congress by Democrat Brad Sherman—and I might be less infuriated by his recent announcement that he’ll vote against the Iran deal, because if I were an Angeleno rather than an Israeli, his decision wouldn’t pose a threat to me, my neighbors and my country.

At this distance of years and miles, I don’t normally pay much attention to an L.A. congressman, but a random tweet alerted me to Sherman’s statement. New York Senator Chuck Schumer’s declaration that he’ll vote against the accord made more headlines, and is even more upsetting, given the relatively greater weight of each vote in the Senate. In both cases, their statements barely mention Israel, but their explanations track Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talking points for foiling the deal in Congress. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect that Schumer and Sherman have devoted much of their study of the issue to their constituents and have concluded that voters who support the Vienna accord are a captive audience for a Democratic incumbent, while passionate opponents are swing voters and perhaps swing donors.

I imagine that Sherman, Schumer, and other Democrats who intend to vote against the agreement might respond that Netanyahu is, after all, Israel’s elected leader and therefore the accredited spokesman for its security concerns. But there would be a logical absurdity in that argument.

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Israel as a Republican State of Mind

Gershom Gorenberg

And this is now up at The American Prospect:

Mike Huckabee met reporters Wednesday at the Waldorf-Astoria on a campaign stop. This particular Waldorf-Astoria was in downtown West Jerusalem. Huckabee wanted to talk about Iran. The folks with microphones and cameras mostly wanted him to talk about his previous campaign event. That was a fundraiser at the Israeli settlement of Shilo in the West Bank—or as Huckabee insistently called the area, “Judea and Samaria,” which he said was part of Israel.

The journalists’ interrogation grew fiercer, and the ex-governor of Arkansas said time was up. As he made his escape, a foreign correspondent sitting strategically near the door asked: “Do you also think Gaza is part of Israel?” and another said, “Would you be the first president to abandon the two-state solution?”

“I’m not sure,” Huckabee replied to one question or the other. It was the most reality-linked response of a hallucinatory session. He was, in fact, clueless.

Jerusalem and Shilo, let us note, are certainly not part of the United States. But why should that bother a Republican presidential candidate? The GOP and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have, together, steadily blurred the border between Israel and America as separate polities.

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