Mo’ed Bet — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Sex, power, and second chances—real and imagined.

illustration by Avi Katz
Reyna paused before the green gate and looked carefully to the left and to the right before entering the well-kept garden half-way up Masaryk Street. It was hard to shake the feeling that there was a film crew nearby and that she was an actress in the opening scene of a new television series. As a teenager, when she watched Srugim religiously, she had fantasized that she, too, was a fictional character in a witty and poignant serial drama set in the German Colony. As she walked from home to school or from school to Bnai Akiva, she’d imagine herself in the sequence that comes before the title of the episode. Then she’d turn a corner, open a door, or enter a yard. She had never been able to imagine what happened after that.… continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Read previous Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel. A complete Necessary Stories archive , including those that appeared in The Jerusalem Report, can be found here on South Jerusalem.

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Read moreMo’ed Bet — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Words of Love — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

Language, love, and betrayal, in an update of an old story for the WhatsApp era

illustration by Avi Katz

I keep eyes to laptop as Ze’ev slaps me manfully on the shoulder and places his cardboard coffee cup next to mine. I don’t feel like talking, and even if I did, I wouldn’t choose Ze’ev, whose favorite exercise is gaining a foothold in the affairs of others. It was a mistake to expose myself here, in the little café just outside the gym at the Jerusalem International YMCA Sports Center, at a small table right next to the large window overlooking the pool. Out of the corner of my eye I glance at the Jacuzzi a floor below, and wince when I see Veronica seated on the edge, holding Khaled’s hand, saying nothing … continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon,

Read moreWords of Love — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Black Hole — “Necessary Stories” from The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Time ends when a child dies, as it does in the dark heart of a galaxy. The eternal moment, when I dropped Niot off at the bus stop at Fureidis Junction, and he opened the car door to receive a farewell assurance, ask a last question, when I touched him whole for the final time.

No child knows it until he himself becomes a father or a mother. No child really grasps that he weighs billions of solar masses … continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon,

Read moreBlack Hole — “Necessary Stories” from The Times of Israel

The Four Slaves — Dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of Niot Watzman z”l

Haim Watzman

In memory of my younger son, Niot, eight years after his death at the age of 20, during Pesach. From the Pesach 2019 issue of Shabbat Shalom, the weekly Torah sheet of the religious peace movement, Oz Veshalom.

להורדת הגליון של “שבת שלום בעברית”

“The slaves of time are slaves of a slave, only the servant of the Lord is free,” sang Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (in Peter Cole’s translation). The poet is referring to the view that, when they left Egypt, the Children of Israel went not from slavery to freedom but rather from slavery to slavery. In Egypt we were slaves to Pharaoh, and when we left Egypt we became slaves to God. In Egypt we lived under the yoke of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and since then we have lived under the yoke of the commandments given to us by the King of all Kings.

But this account of the Exodus is problematic. The biggest problem is that it contradicts the status of slaves as defined by the Torah and Jewish law. A Hebrew slave is obligated to observe fewer precepts than a free person (a free male, not a female; the gendered nature of Torah obligations is an important issue but not germane to the matter at hand). Furthermore, the view that we remain slaves following the Exodus is a problematic one today, given our revulsion from slavery and our belief that it exemplifies radical injustice. I doubt that any reader of this essay can easily imagine life as a chattel who is unable to come and go as he wishes and who is entirely dependent on the mercies of his master.

In other words, religious Jews who are also modern Westerners and citizens of democratic countries can only feel unease with this depiction of the Exodus. The idea that we are slaves—even if God’s slaves—is simply incompatible with the lives of people who live in law-based states that are ruled not by kings but by elected officials subject to laws and the oversight of the other branches of government, the people, and the media. Our acceptance of authority today presumes our right to criticize, to express doubt, to challenge, and to be active partners in the creation of the norms to which we are subject.

Yet, even today, the concept that we were once slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and today are slaves to God is very much part of how we think of Pesach and the Seder. I suggest, however, that it is not the approach of the Jewish sages. I learn this from an examination of how the word “slave” is used in the Haggadah.

The word “slave” (‘eved / עֶבֶד) appears about thirty times in the text of the Haggadah, but it does not bear the same meaning everywhere it appears. In fact, it is used in four different ways:

Read moreThe Four Slaves — Dvar Torah for Pesach in memory of Niot Watzman z”l

The Chair — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

What you see and what you might unexpectedly get by gazing through rear windows at election time

illustration by Avi Katz
It seemed like an odd place to die, in a hard wooden chair placed in front of a back-facing bedroom window.

“I told you that nothing is to be moved,” Ofek had ordered while showing the apartment, when I tried to place it next to the wall so that I could take in the view. “Especially the chair.”

“And the sign?” I said nervously, looking down on the big black banner hanging from the outside railing. From the outside it couldn’t be missed. It depicted the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef … continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Read moreThe Chair — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

The Performance — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

I’m back in the shuk with my new story, but with a different subject. This time it’s about a couple doing political street theater, and how their message gets across, or doesn’t.

illustration byAvi Katz
The little square down the stairs from the Iraqi shuk seemed like just the spot. There was a ready-made audience—the tourists and Tel Avivians eating at the trendy-authentic Azoura restaurant on one side and the old Sephardi men playing backgammon in the dilapidated clubhouse on the other. The Jewish hawkers and their Arab workers at the stands selling greens and oranges, and the old ladies and student couples picking out produce, provided a low-level hubbub of voices better than any background music. Matan and Michal put out their hat, unpacked their backpacks, and began their performance. Continue reading at The Times of Israel

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Necessary Stories, a collection of twenty-four of the best of Haim Watzman’s short fiction, is available as an e-book, paperback, and hardback on Amazon,

Read moreThe Performance — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Unheeled, with the General in the Shuk — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
I have no time. I limp across Agrippas Street, right foot landing lower than the left, high heel in hand, looking for the last lonely cobbler in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, to whom I had been directed by the leering cucumber hawker I left The General with. A cab, horn blaring, tries to swerve around me just as I get to the other side, nearly colliding with a groaning bus wending its way in the opposite direction down the sluggish street. Shiloh, that’s the name of the alley where the cobbler plies his obsolescent trade.

Continue reading at The Times of Israel

Read moreUnheeled, with the General in the Shuk — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

The Deceiver — Necessary Stories at The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

After Kiddushin 58b–59a

illustration by Avi Katz


Yehoshua decided that on the first of Shevat he would stop believing in God. That would give him two weeks to get his life in order.

Getting his life in order meant, first, breaking the news to Kinneret that their marriage was over. Yehoshua was fairly certain that she did not yet know this. Second, it meant a difficult conversation with Rav Moshe Franck in which he would argue that he should continue to be allowed teach Gemara to the girls at the midrasha as long has he kept his private beliefs to himself. Third, it meant telling Tani, his ardent suitor, that he should direct his attentions elsewhere.

Continue reading at The Times of Israel

Read moreThe Deceiver — Necessary Stories at The Times of Israel

Back to Gaza — Necessary Stories at The Times of Israel

I’m pleased to announce that my Necessary Stories have found a new home at The Times of Israel!

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
Michael gropes for the handkerchief he’s sitting on and wipes the sweat from the top of his head, the whole area encircled by the fringe of brown-flecked white hair that crowns his head like a withering laurel wreath. He’s back for his volunteer day of driving Gazans for medical treatment in Israel. The Erez checkpoint, on the border, comes into view. He hears chanting, a Hebrew slogan shouted through a megaphone, a woman’s voice, but he can’t make out the words. The demonstrators are in the designated spot, just outside the checkpoint’s perimeter. Allowing himself just a sip from the flask he keeps in the car door, he slows down and glances at his cell phone. Sister Nabila. That’s the name the Road to Recovery organization gave him. She will be accompanying an orphan who needs medical treatment in Israel.

Read the whole story at The Times of Israel

Read moreBack to Gaza — Necessary Stories at The Times of Israel

LA Times Op-Ed–In Israel, a cartoonist was fired for a political offense. I quit my job in protest

Haim Watzman I have never met Avi Katz, the illustrator and editorial cartoonist fired by the Jerusalem Report in late July for a politically controversial drawing. In fact, I’ve never even spoken to Katz on the phone. Yet we have the intimate relationship that grows out of artistic partnership. For more than 10 years, once … Read moreLA Times Op-Ed–In Israel, a cartoonist was fired for a political offense. I quit my job in protest

In Gaza — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
I never let them touch me. I told Dima that at every opportunity, once she was old enough to understand. When she’d learned from her friends what I could not bear to say and what the Rosary Sisters would tell the girls only the following year, she said she did not believe me. Believe me or not, I said, you will not go die for them.

I long ago stopped believing myself. Stopped believing the Rosary Sisters and Father Joaquin and Ismail Haniyeh and Abu Mazen and the pope and my own thoughts. Nasrin, the only thing you believe in is the sea, Mama screamed at me when my brothers found me on the beach instead of in class with the Sisters. Because, I screamed back, it’s where Gaza ends and the world begins. But I could never put even my foot in the water.

Our names were right. I was a lonely flower, Dima was a downpour. By the time she was fourteen she was climbing out of the bathroom window at the Rosary Sisters, shouting herself hoarse at demonstrations that no one heard, attending political meetings that no one cared about. When I raised the subject, she shouted at me about Israeli imperialism and European colonialism and patriarchal oppression. What does a girl with no father know about patriarchal oppression, I countered, trying to make a joke. But jokes only work if there’s a real world to joke about.

The Rosary Sisters taught a great deal, but I learned very little. I had no use for incarnations and visitations and transubstantiations, for a miracle’s only a miracle if you live in a world that operates according to laws and logic. Then a miracle can startle you out of the natural routine and give you a glimpse of something beyond. But in Gaza, where sewage runs down the street and your fridge operates just a few hours a day and where a brother or two, bored and distracted and unmanned by inaction and unemployment, beats you at incoherent intervals for no reason at all, there are no laws, so there can be no miracles.

Read moreIn Gaza — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

In Defense of Avi Katz, I Resign from the Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman The editor of The Jerusalem Report, Steve Linde, has dismissed the magazine’s long-time illustrator, Avi Katz. Readers of South Jerusalem are well-acquainted with Avi’s illustrations for my Necessary Stories, but Avi also produced an editorial cartoon for each issue of the magazine. As editorial cartoons are supposed to do, they angered some readers. … Read moreIn Defense of Avi Katz, I Resign from the Jerusalem Report