On the Watershed Line: In memory of my son Niot z”l / על קו פרשת המים: לזכר בני נאות ז”ל

Haim Watzman

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

Read more

The Hole in the Haggadah — 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 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.

Read more

The Chair Wins the Warsaw Jewish Theater Institute Award

Haim Watzman

“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.

Illustration by Avi Katz
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.

Read more

The Rabbi, the Alien, and the Lulav–Dvar Torah for Sukkot 2021

Haim Watzman

An English translation of a drasha given at Kehilat Yedidya on Sukkot 2021

הדרשה בעברית

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.

Read more