The Next to Last Time I Read Etgar Keret — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

In which I pondering father-son relations while channeling Neil Young and Israel’s second-best writer of short fiction

illustration by Avi Katz
Avri turns the volume up from loud to deafening. I bang on his locked bedroom door with the hand holding my new copy of Fly Already.

“Turn it off!” I bellow. “And open up this door!”
“What the hell is going on in this house?” Etti shouts as she comes home from work. “Can’t a person get a little peace and quiet after a long day?”

I emerge from the hallway, intending to shout back, but instead I just stand there. I can’t speak because of the tears in my eyes… 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.

To receive an e-mail notification each time a new Necessary Story appears (about once every four weeks), sign up here

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 Next to Last Time I Read Etgar Keret — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Turning the Pages — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

My kids don’t listen to me, my life’s total chaos, who will I vote for, and what is this music?

illustration by Avi Katz
Just as Ekatarina instructed, I walk unobtrusively on to the YMCA concert stage after the performers receive their applause. I sit down on the chair behind Bashkirova’s bench. It’s easy, Ekatarina said, no one will even know you’re there. Just follow along and turn the pages. Don’t let your mind wander. Bashkirova has a nasty left kick when she takes her foot off the soft pedal… 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.

To receive an e-mail notification each time a new Necessary Story appears (about once every four weeks), sign up here

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 moreTurning the Pages — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Meeting on a Rock — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

Haim Watzman

Two estranged friends discover that they betrayed each other one night decades ago.

Illustration by Avi Katz
Snir bit glumly into his eggplant-and-tahini sandwich and squinted at the sun hanging over the line of mountains to the east. He sat atop a train-car-sized gray-green granite rock that a primeval upheaval had cast on top of another just like it on the peak of Monsanto, the sacred mountain where the Knights Templar had built a massive fortress to hold the line against the Moors. … 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.

To receive an e-mail notification each time a new Necessary Story appears (about once every four weeks), sign up here

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 moreMeeting on a Rock — Necessary Stories in The Times of Israel

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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To receive an e-mail notification each time a new Necessary Story appears (about once every four weeks), sign up here

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 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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To receive an e-mail notification each time a new Necessary Story appears (about once every four weeks), sign up here

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

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

The Plowman Meets the Reaper — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed … And I will bring back the captivity of my people of Israel, and they shall build the waste cities, and inhabit them; they shall also make gardens, and eat their fruit. (Amos 9:13–14)

He knew her, she lived past the sands, in the part of Rassco where you heard German and the Philharmonic when the windows were open. He sometimes went to play soccer on the street there when he needed to get away from home. Her house, one of the tiny two-room cubicles that made up the neighborhood, had a small garden that looked as if she went out every morning to straighten and polish each leaf and petal. He’d often see her sitting on her front stoop with one or another lady friend, both in high heels, in long sleeves even on the hottest days of the summer. Sometimes she would have brushes in hand and an easel in front of her, painting scenes of a city that looked nothing like Holon.

Once he passed by and she wasn’t outside and he felt so disappointed that he threw a stone at her window and then hid to see if she would come out. When she did, a frown on her face, he felt so ashamed of himself that he avoided passing her house for the next month.

She had been on the early train to Jerusalem and here she was again, a straw hat with a flower over her bobbed blonde hair. The train was crowded and hot but he’d manage to squeeze through to get a window seat. She was already on the aisle. In the morning she had sat down right next to him, fanning herself with a twice-folded copy of Ha’aretz. When she looked at him he was afraid she knew that he had thrown the stone, but she just smiled and asked his name and age in a throaty Ashkenazi kind of voice and then said that her name was Alma and that it was very brave for a boy of eleven to take the train to Jerusalem by himself and was someone meeting him at the station in Jerusalem. He told her that his name was Amos and that his father had sent him to bring his mother home before the war began.

Read moreThe Plowman Meets the Reaper — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Summer of ’88 — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

I didn’t understand why the woman with the wispy hair looked so worried or why she kept glancing behind her, in the direction of the corridor of her apartment on Carlebach Street. I stood on her threshold, holding out a Labor party pamphlet and launching into my spiel about why Israel needed change that only a Labor government could bring. With the right leadership we could achieve peace with our neighbors and form a more just society, I promised. Suddenly a rhinoceros bellowed from the hallway. A man with a huge belly distending a threadbare undershirt charged in and then halted, readying to pounce, his mouth frothing. He stared first at me and then at the woman.

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
“Labor party,” she whispered in his direction, as if against her will. He lunged at me shouting “They’re paying you to come here! Paying you!” The woman slapped the door shut just before he tackled me. As I ran down the stairs I heard him beating on the door and his wife trying to calm him. When I got out to the street, he was shouting at me from the balcony and holding a flower pot over his head, ready to cast it at me like a cyclops repelling lost Greek sailors. From another window his wife called out, “Please go away!”

In the summer of 1988 I had been married three years, had two small children, and a mortgage on a housing-project apartment. Israel was in crisis—what else was new? And I was sinking into the obligations and routine of family life. Even though I’d just returned from a long month of reserve duty battling Palestinian teenagers in the villages around Jenin, I felt I was betraying my country.

Read moreSummer of ’88 — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

The Night Hall — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Mor felt her way down the hall in the dark. Her hand touched a photograph hanging lower than she remembered and sent it swinging, but she steadied it before it fell. She would make no noise and turn on no lights. If Bar and Ayala woke up she would have no quiet to think in. Halfway down she turned back and peered at Aryeh. He was on his back. Suddenly an arm rose and flopped down where she had formerly lain. A hand searched, fruitlessly. Soon he would snore. He would not stir, though, even if Bar and Ayala began to cry, because, by his account, he had averaged just four hours of sleep for the past week and a half. Now he was home from the army for two nights. She closed the door softly and went back down the night hall.

 illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz


The armchairs cast shadows. Street light, filtered through translucent blinds, penumbraed the room. She sat in the closer chair, older but more comfortable. Looking down, she touched the sore spot on her left breast. Aryeh had fallen right on it after he came. Why did men do that? Couldn’t he hold himself up? She was not made of foam rubber, she had told him many times. “I can’t help it, it’s like everything inside me has come out,” he said. “Not everything, just some semen,” she’d correct him. Then he’d kiss her and roll off and take her in his arms and drip everything inside him all over her. And the sheets. No wonder she could never fall asleep afterward.

If this night were a story, she reflected, here would be the point where the bombshell would come. “She reached under the sofa cushion and drew out a photograph of Eli.” Or, “It was time for her to leave.” Or “The gun felt cold under her nightgown.” But she did not have another lover, she was too tired to leave, and she was wearing a sweatsuit, not a nightgown. It was December, after all.

He was always so eager when he came back from the army. Affectionate, and intense. If it weren’t for the children he would lead her straight from the kiss at the door to the bedroom. Like he used to do.

Read moreThe Night Hall — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Hitched — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

   illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
Maya arrived at Karla’s wedding at Shoresh alone, in her 2014 Peugeot 208, because she was unattached. Karla had worked under Maya at Cisco until being laid off half a year ago, and the Peugeot 208 was leased for Maya by the company. Karla had looked up to Maya at Cisco and, while Maya had never felt close to her, Karla had invited Maya to her wedding and Maya felt duty-bound to go. Maya was fed up with herself about being alone for so long, and was determined that it would not last out the evening. Her plan was, after a couple of glasses of white wine, to survey the crowd and pick out the guy who would come home with her. It might be for the night and it might be for longer. She was open to both. The plan left a hollow place in her stomach, but she had learned, from the army and from her job, that grit and good planning always pays off. She had deposited her check and was just backing off from the bar with her first glass of wine when she felt a hand on her shoulder and a peck on her cheek. It was Yamit, from the old days—well, just five years ago, really—in Unit 8200.

Maya pecked back and the two intelligence officers (res.) quickly established that Maya was a work acquaintance of the bride’s and Yamit a second cousin of the groom’s (“but we’re like this,” she said, wrapping a fuck finger around an index). Yamit peered right and left and Maya corrected her. “I’m alone.” Yamit grimaced. “Oh, Maya. Why haven’t you been in touch? What’s the deal this last year? I thought maybe …”

It was Maya’s turn to take in Yamit’s eyes and see where their corners pointed, but a sixteen-year-old with a tiny plate of mini-burgers ran straight into her. The burgers went flying. Maya lost not a drop of wine. The boy mumbled an apology and headed back to the burger bar. She refocused on Yamit’s eyes and followed the gaze.

“Oh,” she said to herself. “Oh my God.”

Read moreHitched — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Rescue — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

My brother Levi says that if I weren’t a woman he’d kill me. Just like the Arabs.

The reason he kills Arabs is that they are evil and kill us. He doesn’t kill his sister because because, he says, women think with their hearts and not their minds. Because they see only the here and now and not history. Because they trust too much.

drawing by Avi Katz

         drawing by Avi Katz

So, he said, I will spare you and let the Holy One, Blessed Be He punish you. That Arab could have killed you. Or worse. With you alone in the house. But now everyone in Meah She’arim knows. Soon you’ll be called to testify in their courts and the whole Yishuv will learn of your shame. Perhaps that is the punishment that your life has been spared to receive.

As the summer of the year that the English call 1929 wanes, I ask you, My Rock and My Savior, is this so? More than seven weeks have passed since that Friday and Shabbat of slaughter and fear. So many of your people died. And I saved none of them. Instead, I rescued an Arab.

Read moreRescue — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Justice — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

Ornan was staring at his locker and muttering under his breath when I tossed my backpack onto the bench and felt for my keys in my pocket. I’ve had a bottom locker for years at the Jerusalem Pool, hard to see into but easy to pull my gear out of. He first showed up maybe a year and a half ago, when he was assigned a box in the middle-row to my right. He was tall and bony, with shiny, straight, dark hair that smelled of Head and Shoulders. A student, maybe, or just out of the army, from the look of him. He wore baggy trunks and swam badly, at least as far as style goes, raising his head out of the water each time his left hand swung up, splashing the surface with his palms. But, despite all my care with my stroke, he was much faster than I was. In the end, length and leanness of body wins out.

 illustration by Avi Katz

It was hard for me to make out what he was muttering because I just then had a coughing fit. Some virus got me last week and whenever that happens I cough for two or three weeks after I get better. Even after I caught my breath I didn’t try to listen because Asher and Alfi, the two cab drivers who dress on the bench behind me, were joshing about a dispatcher. I like to listen to their banter. Ornan just stood there, not making a move to open his locker. Asher and Alfi went out to the sauna and by that time I was suited up and hanging my shirt up on one of the hooks on the wall. Over the heating system that filled the locker room with mildew air, I could make out Ornan’s voice: “I’ll kill him, I’ll murder him, I’ll stick a knife in his chest and slice down to his balls.” It seemed so out of character that I couldn’t help staring at him in surprise. He looked back and kept on muttering.

Read moreJustice — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report