Grasping the Void — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

The field school guide leads us along a path that skirts ripening stalks and ascends a low hill. The air is still, heated from above by a sun unseen through a dusty haze. At the top I count my family. Ilana is right behind me; my youngest, Misgav, stands next to the guide, looking out on the plain. I hold out my hand to take Niot’s, closing my fingers around a void. He is gone. I turn and see him running, running through the wheat.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
The two older children went to visit my parents in the States that summer. Ilana and I took the opportunity to take a vacation with the two younger ones. Misgav was still in preschool; Niot was ascending to first grade. We signed up for a four-day package at the Mt. Tabor field school, in the company of other families. It included meals and an itinerary of easy nature hikes and visits to fun spots, led by young and enthusiastic guides.

Niot had a habit of running off, not in exuberance, like a dog released from a leash, but in fear. Once, when our dentist took out the set of pointy and shiny tools with which he used to probe mouths, Niot leapt from the chair, whizzed out of the clinic and the building. It took twenty minutes for me, the dentist, the hygienist, and his older brother to ambush him and bring him back. His teeth were not examined.

This time, however, there is no reason for fear. We are having a good time and he is getting along with the other kids. Just a few minutes before he had been singing at the top of his lungs. When I call out to him, he does not turn. I lope down the hill, at a canter, so as not to incite him to go any faster. But as I descend, the wheat stalks, taller than he, hide him. Now it is I who am frightened. Who knows what he will do—find his way to the road on the other side of the field, fall into a pit, encounter a scorpion or dangerous stranger.

In the years since Niot left us forever, I also pursue him, but not so fast as to incite him to run faster. I live in fear that I will lose sight of him, that he will disappear beyond my mind’s horizon. How can that be? Five years after his death, I think of him constantly. But the wheat conceals him.

Read moreGrasping the Void — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Fireflies — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Fireflies, forgotten for many years, reappear one summer evening.

Shabbat, Riverside Park, along the Hudson. Under the shelter of tall trees, runners race by. Couples stroll, families with small children sprawl on the grass. The first flashes, as the sun drops low over New Jersey, catch me by surprise. Then the tears begin.

 illustration by Avi Katz

illustration by Avi Katz

It is like a dream. Niot’s look of pure delight and wonder when he sees fireflies for the first time. He is twelve years old, or perhaps ten. We are in Silver Spring, at my parents’ home. I am sitting in an armchair reading a newspaper. Twilight falls. Niot appears behind the frame of the large sliding glass door that separates the family room from the backyard. He catches my eye, then turns his gaze to the yard. Points of weightless brilliance as day slides into night.

“Specks of living light / twinkling in the dark,” Tagore calls them. The picture is clear and present to me in the park at dusk, as clear as if I were again in that armchair and Niot beyond the sliding door.

When Niot first began to appear in my dreams, he was far away, visible for an instant, then gone. I wept in my sleep.

How could light make me cry? How could a creature showing itself to the world make me feel that world as empty? The firefly’s light is a cold light. It startles but it does not warm.

Winged embers mark trails along the river, like comets flying close to the sun, tails aimed at me.

Read moreFireflies — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Eulogy for Niot by his Brother, Asor– Four Years — הספד לנאות מאת אחיו עשור אחרי ארבע שנים

Asor Watzman

גרסת המקור בעברית למטה

IMG_0515Grappling with the loss of Niot is not easy. Each time I have come to this period in recent years, and especially on the day of the memorial service, I think about the fact that the time we most feel the loss is during the course of the year, as each of us proceeds with his or her life. During each long year we all cope with the loss in different ways. This difference is evident within our nuclear family. But on this day I feel that our feelings unite as we together confront the fact that Niot is not with us. I see this as very important. It is a sort of calibration point that takes place each year, dividing the loss into segments and preventing it from being a single infinite moment. In doing that, it provides some relief for the pain we all feel. The importance of this day for me finds expression in the community that took form around Niot, along with the stories that remain in our memories.

For that reason, I want to share with you some memories I have of Niot. I will do that using a story from the Talmud:

Rabba bar bar Hanna said: When Rabbi Eliezer fell ill, his students came to visit him.

Read moreEulogy for Niot by his Brother, Asor– Four Years — הספד לנאות מאת אחיו עשור אחרי ארבע שנים

Eulogy for Niot — Four Years — הספד לנאות אחרי ארבע שנים

Haim Watzman

גרסת המקור בעברית למטה


Niot:

IMG_2129On Sunday I found comfort, as I often do, in music. I listened to Franz Schubert’s piano sonata in B flat major, a work he wrote just before his death at a young age. At the end of the sonata Schubert placed a measure with a whole rest. In other words, the pianist plays the final notes, which come at a dizzying, furious pace, and then, according to the composer’s instructions, there is a moment of silence before the performance is really over. Perhaps Schubert intended for the pianist to remain with his hands in the air as the sonata echoes through the room.

That same evening your friends came to visit us. Two of your wonderful teachers, Gabi and Re’em, joined them. At the end of the evening Gabi said that he still hears your voice. Re’em said that he still hears your laugh. I related dreams in which you have appeared, sometimes so close that I can touch you, sometimes beyond my reach.

Read moreEulogy for Niot — Four Years — הספד לנאות אחרי ארבע שנים

Other Nights — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz

“This night is no different from other nights,” says Pharaoh, “True, on previous nights I have had a son, and on this night I do not. But this is not relevant to what I must do now.”

“This time sounds different from other times,” says Mozart, “for in previous times I did not have a son, and now I do.”

What time is it? I write this two days before the Seder night. It will reach its readers a few days before Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers.

It is not a good time, I tell the friend who sits down next to me on the row of chairs outside the sanctuary. I have a glossed Haggadah open on my lap. I am trying to prepare for this year’s Seder, to think of how to retell, once more, the Exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the sea. Pesach is next week and my son Niot, who was a soldier, will have been dead for a year. The earth has circled the sun a single time since the last Seder, which was the last night he was with us. We are cleaning and preparing once more to eat matzah and bitter herbs and tell again the story of how we came out of Egypt. Two and a half weeks later we will again remember the fallen soldiers. But this year is different, for there is a newly fallen soldier to remember, and he is my son.

Read moreOther Nights — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report