The lupines on the two sides of the barely discernable path are darker than the ones I remember from last year, perhaps because a small cloud his blocking the sun’s rays, or because rain and chill winds prevented us from getting here on recent Saturdays, causing us to miss the blooms at their height. Or perhaps the reason is that the approaching Pesach holiday brings us closer to the season of our inner darkness, the affliction of losing our son read the rest (in English or in Hebrew) on Substack
This is a Hebrew translation of my annual dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of my son Niot z”l, whom we lost eleven years ago during Pesach. A pdf file of the Hebrew original, which appears in this week’s issue of “Shabbat Shalom,” the weekly Torah sheet published by Oz Veshalom, the religious peace movement, can be downloaded here.
Nothing is more present than an absence. In an event, as in a story, that which is not stated explicitly, and the person who does not speak, are sometimes the most important. This truth stands out in our family on Pesach. This year we will gather for our Seder for the eleventh time without our son and brother Niot, who left us after the first day of Pesach and never returned.
Toward the end of Chapter 4 of the Pesahim tractate of the Babylonian Talmud (54b), the rabbis adduce a puzzling bereita that seems unconnected to the surrounding material. The chapter’s central subject is the differing customs regarding the time of the Pesach sacrifice and other tasks that need to be accomplished on 14 Nisan, before the Seder that evening. The bereita states:
The Sages taught: Seven matters are concealed from people, and they are: [The] day of death; and the day of consolation; the profundity of justice; and a person does not know what is in the heart of another; and a person does not know in what [way] he will earn a profit; [and] when the monarchy of the house of David will be restored; and when the wicked monarchy will cease.
“The Theater Institute Award for Haim Watzman’s drama The Chair for: an intimate yet universal capture of Israel’s multicultural contemporary society; for showing invariably important and at the same time fundamental human problems, both in history and today. For boldly taking into account the importance of religious tradition, for noticing the role of women in history, tradition, and contemporary times, and for a well-thought-out composition of real and metaphorical space.”
— statement by Jadwiga Majewska of the Theater Institute (Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego) of Poland on my play, at the awards ceremony
My acceptance speech, which I was unable to give in person at the ceremony in Warsaw on January 16.
It is a great honor to have my play The Chair recognized with the Theater Institute Award of the Contemporary Jewish Drama International Competition sponsored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makinskie Jewish Theater in Warsaw. When I received the news last week I was so flabbergasted that I was sure that it must be a mistake. I felt like one of the Hebrew prophets receiving a vision from God and being totally clueless, just as Isaiah and Jeremiah were, about why they had been chosen.
That is very appropriate because The Chair is a melancholy comedy about a woman who receives a prophetic vision, not from heaven but from the neighbors she sees from her bedroom window. After escaping from an oppressive relationship with a man who loves her because she represents the oppressed workers he has devoted his life to saving, she wants only to be alone and never to love again. But the vision, not a divine but rather a very earthly and material one, finds the love that remains hidden deep within her. Her story parallels that of the biblical prophet Hosea, except that she plays the role not of Hosea but of Gomer, the low woman the prophet marries at God’s command and uses as a symbol of the sins of Israel.
I’ll begin with a story. Actually, I’ll begin with the same story that Pinchas Leiser told on Rosh Hashanah. His story was about the way the great Hasid Rabbi Levi-Yitzhak of Berditchev chose a shofar blower one year. There were three candidates and Rabbi Levi-Yitzhak interrogated them about the kavanot—the intentions they had—when they blew the shofar. The first said that his intention was to confuse Satan. The second said that his intention was to rouse the higher spheres to have mercy on the Jewish people. The third said simply that he had ten hungry children at home. The rabbi from Berditchev chose the third one.
Pinchas interpreted the story in the standard way. When he blew the shofar, the third candidate focused his intentions on his ten hungry children. But the story can be understood differently. It could be that the third candidate meant that he did not have any intention at all when he blew the shofar. He had other things to worry about. So he simply blew.
Haim Watzman Dear readers, It’s a month of opportunities to hear me talk about translation and writing, two in Zoom and in English and one in person and in Hebrew. “Translating in Nabokov’s Shadow” is the third installment in a wonderful series on translation sponsored by the Tel Aviv Review of Books and the National … Read more
The rock had a red stripe on the south side and a blue stripe on the north side. But they were fresh and bright, painted not long ago, so they couldn’t be the same ones he remembered from thirty-odd years before. Perhaps it wasn’t even the same rock. Yet the parting of the paths was the same parting, here on the trail that ran a short way up the slope from the channel below. The waters of early winter rains ran swiftly and noisily in the bed that had awaited them all summer. A breeze from the west wafted the mist, drawn from the water by the first rays of the rising sun, up the slope to chill his cheeks, and the steel pressing at his waist.
He stopped, breathing harder than he had that other morning so many years ago. Glancing back, he could see before him new neighborhoods on the surrounding ridges, which then had been crowned with trees and lined with venerable terraces. Jerusalem had encroached on its enveloping forest, but he could see that only if he faced what he knew. If he turned to the unknown behind him, as he had resolved to do when he woke in the dark an hour earlier, he could see only the grove close around him, the oak to his left below, the olive to his right above, and the spreading branches of the carob tree, weighted down with fruit, obscuring the trail marker below to anyone who did not seek it. And now, looking again, he made her out. It was not a dream or a vision. She stood there, where he had seen her decades before, where perhaps she had been stationed at the dawn of time. The green woman.… continue reading at Halah