The Balcony — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Barak and Bona Washingtonia are one of those couples who have grown apart over the years. Barak’s an army buddy of mine, a regular guy, and at least from my point of view he’s as great as he always was. Bona, who’s an old friend of Ilana’s used to be a lot of fun, too, but in recent years she’s drifted into this weird hypernationalist New-Agey Breslov stuff and it’s been a strain for Barak. More than a strain. The poor guy is having a real tough time, especially now that the kids are all out of the house.

So when he invited me and Ilana over for Friday night dinner, we felt a special duty to go, even though it was freezing outside and we really felt like staying in. It’s a mitzvah to make peace in the home, between husband and wife, and all the more so on Shabbat.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
Unfortunately, when Barak opened the door in answer to our knock, we could see immediately that things were not good. So much blood was rushing to his head that his normally olive complexion had gone dull and gray. He looked like he was about to punch a hole in the wall (something he was very good at back when we were in Nachal) and using every gram of will-power to keep himself from doing it. Ilana took one look and headed straight into the kitchen to help Bona.

“Hey, what’s eating you, ahi?” I said. “Here, let’s sit down. Don’t keep it in. Let it out. Lay it on me.”

He clenched his fists and hissed and covered his face with his hands and leaned back and looked at the ceiling and finally said, “I can’t believe she invited him!”

“What do you mean? Who?” I asked. “Hey, should I get you a drink of water? A beer?”

I could hear animated conversation in the kitchen. It didn’t sound like Bona was upset. In fact, she called out in her singsong voice: “We’ll just be a few minutes. We’re waiting for a very special guest!”

Barak took a big breath and finally got it out.

“Bibi!” he sizzled.

I was dumbfounded. “She invited Bibi for supper?”


“Can you imagine? Without asking me!”

“Your kidding. Why?”

“You remember what I told you about the Shirazis?”

I did. The Shirazis were the upstairs neighbors. Barak and Bona had woken up one morning a couple months ago to find scaffolding going up in front of their living room. It soon transpired that the Shirazis were building a balcony without a license, but when Barak complained to the city planning department nothing happened and his lawyer told him that it was a well-known fact that Shirazi’s brother’s business partner’s nephew supplied half-price heating oil to the entire staff of the planning department and that in any case the Shirazi clan was known for being very not nice to people who interfered with their affairs. The lawyer suggested inviting the neighbors in for tea and a heart-to-heart talk. Bona went ballistic, and ordered Barak to get up in the middle of the night and knock down the scaffolding. Barak told Bona that they couldn’t act unilaterally, he’d called a meeting of the House Committee to discuss it, and they had to work within the law even if it was slower, and smart strategists always seek compromise and offer incentives for antagonists to change ways. Bona screamed that the House Committee was no more than a debating society and that the Shirazis controlled it in any case and didn’t he know that people like the Shirazis see compromise offers as a sign of weakness and only understand force. “Each day that passes brings them closer to full balcony capability!” she shouted.

It wasn’t really about the balcony. You know how it is when a husband and wife are on the skids. Every little thing becomes an issue. Every petty argument escalates into a major non-state conflict as each side ups the ante and refuses to back down. Barak thought of himself as a reasonable, easy-going guy. But Bona wouldn’t listen to reason. She told the kids that their father was a dork, and that everyone knew he was Sephardi and hadn’t even been born in Israel. There he was, sitting by while the value of the family’s major asset, namely the apartment they’d grown up in, was being depreciated by the lawless Shirazis.

Barak told the kids that their mother was fomenting war with the neighbors, and reminded them that this wasn’t the first time—hadn’t she gotten them bogged down in fruitless conflicts in past years with the Kabulis, whose son Talik beheaded cats and mounted their scalps in the stairwell, and then with the Basris, whom she claimed were hoarding gas balloons with the intention of blowing up the building and collecting insurance money? Had they not wasted untold sums that could better have been spent on family vacations and maybe a new living room set?

“But what’s Bibi got to do with it?” I asked.

“What, don’t you know?” Barak retorted. He looked at me sympathetically. “Of course you don’t know, brother. You didn’t even notice when Ofer the deputy company commander was having a hot affair with Mona the company clerk in the tent right next to yours. Remember you told me that you thought all the moaning was from Arabs Ofer was interrogating?”

I smiled weakly. What could I say, it was true. “So speak, ahi. Let it all out. What’s the story?”

“You know the apartment next door? The one that’s always rented out to students?”

“Yes,” I said. “So?”

“Well, remember Bibi’s aunt, Shoshana Netanyahu, the former Supreme Court justice?”

“I guess, now that you mention it.”

“Well, Bona discovers that the apartment next door was originally owned by Aunt Shoshana’s daughter-in-law’s stepbrother’s grandfather, so she wrote to Bibi. And when Bibi got the letter he declared that the apartment next store lies at the very heart of the Land of Israel and that the Shirazi balcony is to the apartment as the Holocaust was to European Jewry.”

“That’s some balcony.”

“So I start getting these letters from the prime minister’s office that if I don’t knock down the balcony myself, Bibi’s going to send special forces to do it.” Barak peered warily in the direction of the kitchen. “And I tell Bibi to calm down, he could set off a major war, the House Committee’s handling it, and I finally got him to agree to wait to see how the negotiations progress.”

“Well, that’s good,” I said.

“Yeah, but of course once he called elections that was all off. The only prayer he’s got of being elected is to show how tough he is. What, don’t you watch the news?”

I admitted that I didn’t. “I read Ha’aretz, though,” I said.

Barak groaned. “Ha’aretz only gives you the real news, not the stuff that really matters!”

“I thought that …”

Barak waved his hand at me impatiently. “If you’d been watching the news you’d have seen that Bibi and his henchmen have been lashing out at me right and left. Not an evening goes by without an anonymous military source or high government official predicting that if the Shirazis’ balcony construction is allowed to go on much longer, the Jews will be in jeopardy and civilization as we know it will come to an end. Just yesterday, an unidentified cabinet minister termed me ‘no friend of Israel’ and called on ‘every decent person to support Bona in her effort to bring sense to the Washingtonia family’s policies.’”

“This can’t be good for your marriage,” I suggested.

“It’s even come up in the Knesset!”

“The balcony?”

“My marriage!”

“What?”

“Lieberman introduced a law to redefine the term ‘head of family’ to refer to the men in all households except those residing in an apartment adjacent to one once own by a prime minister’s aunt’s daughter-in-law’s stepbrother’s grandfather, in which case the women is officially head of household and deed to said apartment and all attached assets is transferred to her sole ownership!”

“And the law passed?”

“It’s gone through two readings and the third comes up next week! Bibi’s sure to push it through. Then where will I be? Bona will be able to throw me out!”

“Gee, Barak, what are you going to do?”

At that moment Bona walked in and set two challot on the table. Ilana, who followed her, came up to me with a worried look.

“Bona’s gone bonkers,” she whispered in my ear. “It’s like total war, no quarter.”

Barak leveled his gaze at his wife. “There will be very serious consequences!” he announced loudly.

“It’s my house,” Bona said sweetly. “I can invite whoever I want. And I’m sure Haim and Ilana will be interested to hear what our prime minister has to say about the Shirazis’ balcony.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Doesn’t he have any shame?” Ilana whispered.

“That’s it, I want a divorce,” Barak declared.

“Come in, come in!” Bona trilled as Bibi wiped his feet on the mat. He looked around with a big smile and held up a sign. It was a picture of a balcony, a lit fuse sticking up out of its roof.

“Everyone’s here! Let’s sit down,” Bona suggested.

She seated us around the table. Barak started singing “Shalom Aleichem” but Bibi took a sheaf of papers out of his pocket and held up his hands.

“Before we start,” he said, “I just have a few words to say. In the name of the Jewish people.”

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