The Green Woman — in “Halah”

Illustration by Avi Katz
Haim Watzman

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

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Starting at the End / Dvar Torah, Parshat Devarim

Haim Watzman

This is an English version of the dvar Torah that appears in issue 1208 of “Shabbat Shalom,” the weekly portion sheet published by the religious peace movement Oz Veshalom. It is dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us seven years ago on 2 Av.

Many years ago, when I worked as a journalist, I attended a press conference at a conservative research institute in Jerusalem. I don’t recall exactly what the subject was, but I do remember that the institute’s director, who had served in an elite unit in the US Army, claimed that he could prove scientifically that the State of Israel had been in the right in a recent military action that had been loudly criticized by the rest of the world. After I and several other reporters settled ourselves in the small meeting room, he rose to speak. “I’ll start with the creation of the world,” he began. Realizing that the press conference would be very long and grueling. I mumbled an excuse of some sort, got up, and left.

The choice of the right starting point is part of the art of storytelling. Tracing the sequence of causes that led to any given event will always lead to the creation of the world, given that, at least according to the modern scientific view, every event is the consequence of a previous event, going back to the dawn of time. But it’s not only that beginning every story at the creation is tiring. It’s simply wrong, both literarily and in principle. Because the place where the story begins needs to foreshadow the end that the storyteller wants to arrive at.

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Fog — A Meditation on the Loss of My Son Niot in the Jewish Review of Books

Haim Watzman

Niot was a soldier in the Golani Brigade when he died in a diving accident ten years ago. The piece appears in the Jewish Review of Books for Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day.

illustration by Avi Katz
The fog that surrounds me all year grows heavier in the month of Tevet. By Pesach, I can no longer see. It dissipates some after Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, but a cloud remains. Only my wife, Ilana, understands my half-blind groping. For she, too, lives in the fog.

The ninth day of Tevet this year would have been Niot’s 30th birthday. We lost him when he was 20; our last night with him was the Seder. The fog descended three days later, on Friday morning, a day after his diving accident in Eilat, when the doctors at the hospital told us that we had lost him. On Shabbat, his death was officially certified, and we signed the documents to allow his organs to be donated. His funeral took place on Sunday, early afternoon, the eve of the last day of the holiday. When he died, he was a soldier, so two weeks later we found ourselves again at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl, marking our first Yom HaZikaron as bereaved parents. … continue reading at The Jewish Review of Books

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Henry V’s Distressful Bread — Thoughts for the Seder in Memory of my son Niot z”l

Haim Watzman

This is a Hebrew translation of my annual dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of my son Niot z”l, whom we lost ten 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.

At the beginning of the Seder, before we begin the magid, the telling of the story of the exodus from Egypt, we perform a ritual called yahatz. We break, according to most customs, the middle of the three matzot that we have placed on the table along with the other signs of the holiday. We set the larger piece aside or conceal it so that it will serve after the meal as the afikoman.

At the end of the magid we make two blessings on the matzot that remain on the table—the two whole ones and the piece that remains of the middle one. According to one opinion (as in, for example, the commentary on the Haggadah of Rabbi Yitzhak Mirsky), the two blessings are intended for different combinations of these matzot. The hamotzi blessing, the one we use all year before eating bread and which on Shabbatot and holidays we make over two loaves, as part of the happiness of the occasion, is the blessing over the two whole matzot. The second blessing, al ahilat matzah, specific to the fulfilment of the command to eat matzah on the Seder night, is directed at one whole matzah and the broken matzah. The broken one represents the concept of lehem oni, usually translated into English as “the bread of affliction.”

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The Niot Project in a Challenging Year

Dear friends,

Flexibility has been the watchword of the Niot Project since its inception. To help teenagers who are having a hard time learning it’s absolutely necessary, as we see it, to tailor an individual intervention plan to the individual needs of each one. But it’s also necessary to make frequent alterations, because these are young people who needs change from year to year, month to month, and even week to week. In this year of the Covid-19 pandemic, this flexibility has become all the more important. The Niot Project has adapted the help it offers to a new set of circumstances in which schools and boarding facilities close and open unpredictably and in which students and teachers have had to adjust to distance learning.

Eden Israeli, the head of the Niot Project, told us this week that over the past year the Niot Project coordinators in all the schools and boarding facilities have continued to work hard to identify students who are having problems and to provide them with help. “The coordinators report that the students having trouble this year are not necessarily those who have had trouble in school before this year,” she says. “Some strong students are having trouble learning on Zoom and doing their schoolwork.” As such, art of the coordinators’ work has been to maintain close contact with both teachers and students in order to identify those who need extra personal help or work in small groups, or simply a personal conversation. “Many of them don’t want another Zoom class,” Eden says. “They want to meet face to face.” Such meetings can happen at the boarding facilities, which have reopened, but it’s more difficult at other schools, where not all grades have gone back to school yet.

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Never Ending Stories–essay in The Tel Aviv Review of Books

Haim Watzman A plaint about the inordinate length of too many contemporary Israeli novels. “Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel,” Miss Prism, the governess, cautions her charge in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Through four decades of reading Hebrew novels, I have diffidently heeded the sage advice of this sterling Victorian … Read more

Necessary Stories–The End of an Era?

Haim Watzman

Dear readers,

Illustration by Avi Katz
I wrote my first Necessary Story in April 2008. At the end of last month I posted the link to “The Azedarach Tree,” my 157th. At the beginning of this week, David Horowitz, the editor of The Times of Israel, where the stories have appeared for the last two years, regretfully notified me that his publication will no longer be able to serve as a home for the stories.

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The Azedarach Tree — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

What a father sees from his window in the dark of an October night triggers painful memories.

illustration by Avi Katz

Chill autumn gusts whipped the gaunt branches of the azedarach tree across the road and the wind above propelled ragged clouds across the sky. A pale gibbous October moon flickered in the heavens as the clouds passed; the wan light of a streetlamp lit the earth below it. Off to the right, past the tree, in the parking lot by the jerrybuilt shopping center, a heavy man was shouting at the top of his lungs as he emerged from the driver’s seat of a taxicab. It was a quarter to two in the morning, and Eli watched from a half-open third-floor living room window, having just spent ten minutes singing Kobi, his five-year-old, back to sleep.… continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Thirst — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

Illustration by Avi Katz
A Necessary Story for Rosh Hashanah: a father seeks out the son he sent away, with his mother, many years before.

Eitan presumed that his knock had been heard because he made out a woman’s muffled voice and the sound of children’s scurrying feet. But the door did not open; he looked back at his Kona, parked just off the earthen road, in the shade of a eucalyptus tree.

He’d waited long before getting out and, when he did, he staggered in the thick, damp heat. He leaned against the side of the car as desiccated greenish-brown leaves and pieces of dull bark fell softly on the metallic blue finish and on the wisps of white hair he had combed that morning over the barren spot at the top of his head … continue reading at The Times of Israel

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We’ll Always Have Paris Square — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

When you’re demonstrating against Bibi, you can’t hurry love, you just have to wait.

illustration by Avi Katz
Amihai held the border guards in his hard, straight-in-the-eyeballs gaze for a full two minutes. They weren’t letting him and his best buddy Razi past the roadblock. His look told the troopers that he was acquiescing in their orders not because he was scared. And not because he didn’t think he had full right to vault over the barricades and dash straight into the heart of Paris Square. It was just 200 meters up the street, the epicenter of the demonstration in front of the prime minister’s residence. He gave in because Razi was the quiet, law-abiding type, not a barricade buster.

Also, he’d finally managed to get the boy out and on the street after months of quarantine and self-imposed confinement and he wasn’t going to give him any excuse to chicken out and go home. … continue reading at The Times of Israel

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How Has the Harlot Become the Beloved / Dvar Torah, Parshat Devarim

Haim Watzman

This dvar Torah, translated from this week’s issue of Shabbat Shalom , the weekly Shabbat pamphlet of the religious peace group Oz Veshalom is dedicated to the memory of my father and teacher Sanford “Whitey” Watzman, who left us six years ago on 2 Av.

אפשר לקרוא בעברית כאן: “איכה הייתה הזונה לאהובה”

“Alas, she become a harlot, the faithful city” laments the prophet Isaiah (1:21) in the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av. Isaiah is not the only prophet to portray the city of Jerusalem, and the people of Israel, as a harlot—it is a motif that other prophets also use. The most notable of these is Hosea, in whose book it constitutes the underlying metaphor. On the face of it, the comparison seems simple. There are women who are unfaithful to their husbands and who lie with other men, either to satisfy their sexual passions or to earn money. When the people of Israel worship other gods and act in violation of the values of the Torah, they are like harlots.

But the word “harlot” (zonah in Hebrew) in its various forms is not just a metaphor in the Tanach.

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Coronavirus Hike, with Ninja Turtle — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

Two boys take a hike with their father in an unexpected direction.

illustration by Avi Katz
Gadi realized that the boys were not behind him. The midmorning sun was now high enough that the shade was shrinking on the path in Nahal Kisalon. Gadi’s t-shirt was soaked behind, below his backpack, and a large wet stain was expanding from his chest downward. To endure the heat he had trudged along, allowing his mind to sink into that hypnotic state of half-dream that closed the world off from his mind, or his body from his mind. Now his sons were not in sight.

“Zevik! Tzvi!” he called out.… continue reading at The Times of Israel

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