Once considered lesser than their distinguished cousin, the literary novel, short story collections are inching toward the spotlight. Mainstream publishing has welcomed recent releases from the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides, Huraki Murakami and, go figure, Tom Hanks.
Enter Haim Watzman, an American-born and educated journalist who made aliyah in 1978. In addition to writing and blogging, Watzman has become the go-to authority on Hebrew to English translation and has worked on the manuscripts of Amos Oz and David Grossman, among others. In 2008, The Jerusalem Report invited him to contribute a bi-weekly column on a subject of his choosing, assuming he would mine his personal life as he had with his previous book, a memoir titled Company C: An American’s Life as a Citizen-Soldier in Israel. Instead, he decided to write short fiction, and ended up gaining a dedicated following.
Necessary Stories, named after that column, includes twenty-four of the one hundred plus Watzman wrote for The Jerusalem Report. The reader is introduced to a dazzling array of colorful characters and situations about life in modern Israel and contemporary Judaism.
In one moving story, “Sin Offering,” Watzman imagines an interaction between a desperate Sudanese mother and a group of IDF soldiers. In “Possession,” he bounces to teenagers in the Cleveland suburbs baking cookies while their divorced mother ruminates over a terrible secret involving her rabbi. Equally at home in these two worlds as well as the many others he outlines for the reader, Watzman raises issues involving marriage, parenting, death, duty, tradition, technology and immigration.
An observant modern Orthodox Jew and a champion for social justice, Watzman’s tone is that of a seasoned sage. He may not be writing personal essays, but the themes in his short stories are certainly personal.
Amy Oringel is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and The Forward.