Tag Archives: Sukkot

In Exile, at Home — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The stranger wore a threadbare black sports jacket that looked like it might have come from a second-hand shop and a dusty black kipah. He stroked his short beard as he walked up and down the rows of graves as the ox plows, stopping for a few beats at each to read the headstone. In the row in front of me he had to detour around t-shirt and shorts-clad twenty-somethings from a Birthright group, listening to a guide I couldn’t hear. Finally he arrived at the last full row, the one where I sat, with the lawn in front of it waiting for new tragedies.

He nodded at me, hugging himself. I nodded back. After a moment of hesitation he spoke.

“It’s cold here in Jerusalem,” he said

I shrugged. “Here we’re used to the seasons starting to change the week before Rosh Hashannah. You must be from someplace warmer. Tel Aviv?”

“Tiberias,” he said. “Also Sura.”

I looked at him quizzically. “You mean the one just west of the Euphrates?” Continue reading In Exile, at Home — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

The Secret of Low Expectations–“Necessary Stories” Column, The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

I remember a high wind and driving rain. Night is darker here, I thought, as the bus’s engine expired in a series of knocks that sounded like the final beats of a broken heart. We pulled our duffel bags and backpacks from the luggage compartment and dragged them in the direction of the faintly lit doorway of the remotest of immigrant absorption centers, in Kiryat Shmona, in the Galilean panhandle, in the uttermost north. It would be, for the next three months, our home and our school, the beginning of a year’s stay in Israel.

“Only once in his life can a person arrive in the Land of Israel for the first time,” wrote Yehuda Ya’ari, with regret and, probably, considerable remorse. Ya’ari, a literary light of the idealistic, ideological, post-Great War Third Aliya, abandoned his socialist kibbutz paradise early on and parted from his utopian comrades. He was still alive, and living in Jerusalem, when I arrived in the Land of Israel that October night three decades ago – not that I knew of him then.

There were 28 of us in the shabby lobby of the absorption center, waiting to be assigned our rooms. Damp spots stained the corners of the ceiling where the rain was seeping through, and the plaster was cracked. A telephone – one of a handful in the entire town – stood on the reception desk at one end of the room, firmly locked.

I’d made some initial acquaintances on the four-hour ride up from the airport….

Read the whole essay on the Jerusalem Report website–come back here to comment!