This piece is one of an ongo­ing series that we will be shar­ing in the com­ing days from Israeli authors and authors in Israel. 

At Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, we under­stand the val­ue of fic­tion and sto­ries to share indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ences. It’s more impor­tant now than ever to give space to these voic­es and narratives.

This is a work of fic­tion and the views and opin­ions expressed below are those of the author.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, JBI is record­ing writ­ers’ first-hand accounts, as shared with and pub­lished by JBC, to increase the acces­si­bil­i­ty of these accounts for indi­vid­u­als who are blind, have low vision or are print disabled. 

Ruth Mutzafi turns on the light but the room remains murky. She maneu­vers the wheely bag that holds her swim­ming things through the door­way, then shuts and locks the door behind her. Her feet ache and she’s exhaust­ed. Not from swim­ming, she’d bare­ly done that, but from walk­ing home all the way from the YMCA because she’d been afraid to take the bus.

When she turns to open the shades that cov­er the large liv­ing room win­dow she sees Ezra sit­ting on the couch. He has a pen­cil in his right hand and the Israel Hay­om sudoku open on the cof­fee table. She holds in the hiss that wants to come out and sur­veys him slow­ly, from bald pate to rum­pled slacks. She freezes. 

I let myself in.”

The cumu­la­tive agony of years of pain wells up from deep with­in her body. Hadn’t they reached a way of man­ag­ing this since their sep­a­ra­tion? Why this violation?

I knocked and there was no answer. You reject­ed my call.”

You should leave.”

He exam­ines the sudoku, pon­ders, and inverts his pen­cil to erase a number.

Don’t you think we should be togeth­er at a time like this? With chil­dren and grand­chil­dren at war?” he asks, star­ing down at the puz­zle page.


Remem­ber what I whis­pered to you in bed, on the night you cast me out?” He looks up at her. “‘I remem­ber your devo­tion when you were young; how, as a bride, you loved me; how you fol­lowed me through the desert, through a land not sown.’ I still do.”

And how did you repay that?” Ruth trem­bles. You raised your hand against me! You tried to turn my chil­dren into my enemies.”

The first split sec­ond sounds faint and dis­tant, like the horn of a car way out on Ben-Zakkai Street. But the wail grows loud­er as it ris­es up the scale and seems to be sound­ing from all direc­tions. Ezra grabs her hand, she shakes it off. No time for that,” he com­mands as he opens the door. His fin­ger­nails dig into her fore­arm as he pulls her out and down the stairs from the sec­ond floor and through the daz­zling light of the yard and down into the gloom of the shel­ter on the oth­er side. He releas­es her arm only when a fig­ure envelops him in a bear hug.

Ezra!” the bear rum­bles. Blessed is he who revives the dead!”

It’s Yizhar, Etti Badihi’s son, the one who’d turned into a Hare­di rab­bi, dark suit and hom­burg and the works. While he was in high school he’d worked for Ezra at the shawar­ma stand.

An explo­sion, mut­ed by the shelter’s thick walls, then another.

Inter­cep­tion,” Ezra says.

Where’s your moth­er?” Ruth asks. The siren is still sounding.

You know Ema. Fear­less. She refus­es to come, just went on ironing.”

I’ll go get her.” Ezra grabs her arm again. She tries to shake it off. Also, I need to hang up my swim­suit and tow­el or they’ll get smelly.”

Sit down,” Ezra directs, pro­pelling her through the dusk toward a plas­tic chair. And to Yizhar: We were just updat­ing each oth­er about the grand­kids in the army. You know how it is. Some call her, some call me.”

The siren fades out. The mur­mur of the oth­er neigh­bors in the shel­ter becomes audi­ble. They’re talk­ing about her, she knows.

How many?” Yizhar asks.

Four of the boys, two of the girls,” Ezra replies. And Amram …”

That pip­squeak?” Yizhar laughs.

Not such a pip­squeak, he’ll be forty in Novem­ber. Any­way, he packed up his kit­bag and want­ed to go but Miri­am blocked the door and said no way.”

Forty? No way.”

Ezra is so absorbed in the con­ver­sa­tion that it gives Ruth an open­ing. She slips off the chair and, mov­ing silent­ly through the perime­ter of dark­ness along the shelter’s walls, reach­es the heavy met­al door, which remains half-open, and sneaks out. She heads for the next entrance over, not even wait­ing for her eyes to adjust to the sun, up three flights. The door to the Badihi’s is half open. She knocks and calls out, It’s Ruth.”

Come on in.” Etti’s raspy voice is bare­ly audi­ble over the radio, which is on very loud. Non-stop cov­er­age of the war. She’s at the iron­ing board in the kitchen, a cig­a­rette stick­ing out of the side of her mouth. A breeze, and a ray of sun­light, shine through the win­dow over the sink. A young woman sits at the kitchen table, her back to Ruth, her hands clasp­ing a glass of tea and her eyes direct­ed at the win­dow. She seems not to notice Ruth at all.

Ruth thinks that Etti is telling her that the girl’s name is Naa­ma, but two broad­cast voic­es are ana­lyz­ing the bomb­ing raids in Gaza. Etti points with her cig­a­rette. Ash­es fall off, some on the shirt she’s pressing.

She’s a friend of my Hadas’s. Her boyfriend lives in Kfar Aza,” Etti says, rais­ing her voice. Or lived. Miss­ing. No sign. Apart­ment burned.” Naa­ma, if that is her name, seems not to hear, and con­tin­ues to gaze at the sun­ray. Can you imagine.”

Etti goes back to her chore, but looks Ruth up and down. What is it?”

Ezra. I came home from the pool and he was sit­ting in the liv­ing room.”

I told you to change the lock.”

He grabbed me and dragged me to the bomb shelter.”

Etti looks away. I’m so fix­at­ed on the news that I haven’t offered you any­thing.” She puts her iron down and reach­es over to switch on the elec­tric kettle.

Yizhar says you refuse to come down.”

I have too much to do.” Etti puts tea bags and mint leaves in three glass mugs, stirs in sug­ar, and pours. She glances at Naa­ma. Too much to do. What are you going to do about Ezra?”

I don’t know. He scares me. Even at home I’m in dan­ger.” Ruth watch­es Etti take the still full tea glass from Naama’s hand and replace it with a fresh one. Naa­ma accepts it pas­sive­ly, not even look­ing at it. The glint of the sun off the glass star­tles Ruth. The door opens and Yizhar walks in. Ruth sees Ezra in the shad­ows behind, wait­ing. Etti sees him, too. 

Ema …” As Ruth looks des­per­ate­ly for a place to hide, the siren sounds again, both from out­side and from the radio. Yizhar steps for­ward and reach­es out to his moth­er. Ezra slides into the light and extends his hand. Etti slaps Ezra, and the sound of it rever­ber­ates over the siren. He recoils. Yizhar pleads: Ema, we should go to the shelter.”

Go, go, you and your friend.”

Ema, I’m just try­ing to pro­tect you.”

The world’s a dan­ger­ous place, Yizhari. Noth­ing you can do about that.”


She push­es the two men out the door. Ruth and me, we’re safe here.”

Haim Watz­man lives in Jerusalem and is the author of three books: Com­pa­ny C: An American’s Life as a Cit­i­zen-Sol­dier in Israel; A Crack in the Earth: A Jour­ney Up Israel’s Rift Val­ley; and a sto­ry col­lec­tion, Nec­es­sary Sto­ries, a selec­tion of the more than 150 he has writ­ten. His play The Chair won the 2021 The­ater Insti­tute Award of the Con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish Dra­ma Inter­na­tion­al Com­pe­ti­tion spon­sored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makin­skie Jew­ish The­ater in War­saw. He has trans­lat­ed more than 50 books from Hebrew into Eng­lish, among them works by Shlo­mo Avineri, David Gross­man, Hil­lel Cohen, Amos Oz, and Tom Segev. He edit­ed the Eng­lish-lan­guage ver­sion of Yuval Noah Harari’s world­wide best­seller, Sapi­ens. Sub­scribe to his Sub­stack newslet­ter here.