Plane Story — “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

    illustration by Avi Katz

“The air is unexpectedly cool and damp for early September when I emerge from Terminal 3 and cross over to the AirTrain. I’m alone and there are no human sounds, only the roar of traffic on the highway. Even that is muted as the elevator door shuts.”

I look up from 60C on my Delta flight from JFK to TLV. A pudgy young guy in a white shirt and a beard is standing over me.

“I’ve got the window,” he says apologetically.

I snap my laptop shut and squiggle out of my aisle seat.

“Sorry,” he says. “You were writing something.”

“It’s ok,” I say as he squeezes past me with a hat box and a large plastic bag full of cookies. He places them on 60B.

“I saw at the desk that no one’s sitting here,” he explains. He points at the computer. “Work?”

“Yes,” I say. “A story. I have a column in a magazine and the deadline is coming up. I’m just trying to get it started before takeoff.”

“Well, don’t let me bother you. By the way, I’m Yehuda.”

“Haim,” I say. “Thanks. Actually, I’m not sure if I want to write it.”

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A Short Story Translation: Nurit Kotler’s “Next to the Traffic Signal, Under the Streetlight”

Haim Watzman My translation of Nurit Kotler’s short story, “Next to the Traffic Signal, Under the Streetlight,” has just been posted on the Zeek website, after appearing in the Summer 2010 issue. Set in Paris, the story tells of an unscheduled and unlooked-for encounter between a nervous Israeli expatriate and an elderly Jewish man. Good … Read more

Is Truth My New Fiction?

Haim Watzman

A couple weeks ago I published my first short story. That’s an important milestone in my career as a writer, since up until now I’ve only published journalism and non-fiction. But, in fact, it’s less of a breakthrough than it sounds, because I made my fiction debut in the pages of a news magazine, and everything my story recounts actually happened.

The story is called “Hagar,” my most recent “Necessary Stories” column from The Jerusalem Report, which I cross-posted here on South Jerusalem. It’s about a dumpster cat who had kittens on my doorstep. This really happened, about two and a half years ago.

As journalists tend to do at middle age, I’ve long been getting itchy at the constraints imposed by my trade. For years, I’ve been getting more and more interested and involved in the practice of writing—style, structure, word choice, sound. Writing my two books, a memoir and a travel narrative, gave me an opportunity to experiment with telling a story in ways far different than my newspaper writing ever allowed. Writing them made my yearn to take the next step and write fiction. In a fictional narrative, I thought, I’d be freed from the constraints of writing only events as they happened about people I’d actually met.

When I took another look at the cat essay,

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Iton 77 at 31 Gets C+

Haim Watzman

Back in the 1980s, when I was still a relatively new reader of Hebrew, I picked up an anthology of short stories that had been published in Iton 77, a literary magazine that had commenced publication a year before my arrival in 1978. The journal had a good reputation and this book, I assumed, would help acquaint me with a spectrum of the writing talents of contemporary Israel.

I was sorely disappointed by what I read. While there were three or four gems, most of the stories seemed to me bland, self-consciously literary, and short of plot and character development. Nearly all were ponderously serious; few displayed any sense of humor.

But I was well aware then that I was a novice in my new language and suspected—indeed hoped—that I was missing something.

I’ve perused Iton 77 every so often since then, and picked up the latest issue to read on my recent trip to the U.S. The magazine is now Israel’s most venerable literary forum, but I’m sorry to say that, when it comes to prose, it hasn’t changed much. And it’s not my Hebrew.

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