August 07


Yechezkel Rachamim

Translated by Rachel S. Harris

Today’s vibrant Israeli literary scene features many journals dedicated to arts, culture, and literature. Publications such as Emda, Ho!, Keshet HaChadasha, Masmerim, and Mita’am, to name just a few, expose Israeli readers to a broad range of poetry, fiction, and cultural criticism. From the mainstream, to the experimental, to the radical, these journals struggle to make sense of Israeli reality and to transform it. For five years Zeek has been a part of a similar effort to forge a new Jewish culture in America, and with this month’s near-simultaneous publication of Yechezkel Rachamim’s “Water” in Hebrew and English, we are bridging the gap between the writing communities in Israel and the Diaspora in a concrete way. Rachamim, a talented young Israeli writer, describes in this autobiographical tale both moments of deprivation and inspiration as experienced by a working class son of immigrant Jews from Iraq.

– Adam Rovner, Hebrew Translations Editor

One morning there was no water in any of the taps in the house. There was no water in the taps in the kitchen. There was no water in the bathroom sink tap, and no water came out of the shower head. Even the little tap beneath the shower had no water.

My mother was already awake and each of her six children had begun to wake up one by one. Black bread was already being cut into wide slices and yellow slices of cheese were placed on smears of Blue-Band margarine and sprinkled with salt. Every morning a small tray would come out of the kitchen with glasses of strong, fragrant tea, but on this morning there was no water in the taps.

My mother’s six children were all on vacation from school, from the children’s home, from the green boarding-school in Kfar Saba, and from the prestigious stone boarding school for the “gifted” in Jerusalem.

My mother went to wake up my father without his usual Duralex glass of roasted and frothy coffee.

“They cut the water off,” my mother said.

My father sat on the bed in pyjama trousers and an unbuttoned top, in the way he often did on the many mornings he didn’t go to work. He stretched his back and muttered something to himself.

“Someone knocked on the door before they cut it off?” he asked.

“No, no one,” my mother replied

“You knew they were going to cut it off?” asked my father after a short pause.

“I told them the children were on vacation,” my mother responded. “They said they might let us pay in instalments.”

My father put on his slippers and rose from the bed. He went into the bathroom and opened the large utility cupboard, fiddled around in one of the buckets and drew out a pair of locking pliers.

“Bring some pots and pans and come with me,” he said to his two oldest sons.

Dad took two buckets and left the apartment with the two sons carrying pots in each of their hands.

When we approached the standpipe my father adjusted the locking pliers, opened the tap gently, and let the water run out for a moment. The buckets and the pots filled up and when we returned home, one bucket was put in the shower, another bucket was left outside the toilet door, and the pots were put in the kitchen.

A small tray with seven cups of tea and one of roasted coffee made its way from the kitchen to the table.

“When’s the vacation over?” my father asked his oldest son.

“In another week,” I replied.

“In another six days,” corrected Eli, who was still playing with the pliers.


This wasn’t the first time that we were cut off. When they cut off the electricity the truth is it’s quite nice. We light candles at night and Hila and Ovadiah play, finding every possible way to scare and surprise each other, and the truth is that it’s a little bit like the end of year school trip, or early lights-out at boarding school. I like the quiet that settles on the house when the power’s cut off

When they cut the gas there is always the little burner on the side. You add a little kerosene, turn it up high and you can cook whatever you want. When you make eggs and potatoes for Sabbath on the burner, you can put sand at the bottom of the pot and that way the eggs come out red and delicious. I always liked the sound of the burner. The noise reminds me of the stories about the shack in the transit camp, and about the eucalyptus tree Dad planted there when he was little, and once he took everyone to visit the tree, which had grown huge in the meantime. Sometimes Dad lights coals in the jafoof, a little grill, in the middle of the living room and roasts eggplant. Afterwards he adds lots of garlic and black pepper and a little lemon to the warm flesh of the eggplant, and to me that wonderful taste is what gas cuts most remind me of

Having the water cut off isn’t so bad either. Every morning until the end of our vacation we would go out with the buckets, pots, bottles, and the pair of locking pliers and return home in a wet, cheerful parade. Dad said not to waste too much water when we open the hydrant because the Kinneret Lake is in trouble and the whole country has to economize, and so we would just spray a little water when we swapped the bucket for a pot and the pot for a bottle, but we really did try not make the situation any worse for the Kinneret.


The holiday finished and we didn’t return to the boarding school. Instead we drove to the city council to strike. Mom prepared a basket with food and drink, Rakefet brought the doll that Dad had bought her in the flea market, and Eli brought the soccer ball that was always with him (lately he had been practicing kicking the ball off the edge of his heel and onto his head).

We settled ourselves at the entrance to the clerks’ offices at the Department of Water. Mom put sandwiches in Tamir’s and Rakefet’s hands and asked if anyone else wanted one. Afterwards she went with father to talk to the clerks.

“Boy, would you mind not playing with that ball around here?” One of the security officers berated Eli.

Eli raised the ball into the air with the aid of his heel and began to bounce it on his head. The ball escaped and rolled toward the officer who bent to pick it up, but Eli was fast as lightning and only left the officer with a handful of air.

Dad began to get annoyed with one of the clerks, and our clerk complained loudly, “I don’t understand what’s going on here!”

My father turned in the direction of the officer who complained and said, “If they had water at home they wouldn’t be here now. That’s what’s going on!”

Our clerk went silent and another clerk tried to explain something to my father. Dad started to shout, and more and more clerks streamed to the counter. We took the basket and all stood behind my father, next to my mother.

“Look, Mr. Rachamim,” said one of the clerks, “you haven’t paid on time. With the greatest respect, water isn’t free.”

“In a few more years this boy is going to be a pilot in the army.” My father pointed at his oldest son, and a flock of clerks turned to stare at me. “So explain to him which country he needs to go get killed for. Go on, explain it to him.”

“Mr. Rachamim, try and understand,” the clerk began again.

Dad interrupted him, shouting, “You don’t leave six children without water during vacation.” He thumped his fist on the counter and a number of clerks fell back. When it seemed that things were getting out of control, and the situation was even becoming a little frightening, Dad turned in my direction, almost as an aside, and for a moment his face appeared calm, and he winked at us to indicate that everything was all right, and that we needn’t be scared.

The manager of the Department of Water appeared out of nowhere and asked Dad to accompany him to his office to resolve the matter in a quiet manner, and not like this in front of the children.

And that very same day the water returned to the taps, and the next day we all returned to school.


In the end I didn’t become a pilot, but I managed to serve for a few of years as an officer before I decided to leave and find myself a new path. I still don’t have any taps of my own, but in the rented apartments I’ve lived in the water in the taps has always flowed. My father died from what he died of, and that occasion wasn’t the last time we were cut off. Once, during a lecture I heard while at university, I scribbled in one of my personal journals a piercing insight: “reason for death: poverty.”

Every year, before visiting my father’s grave, I turn all the taps in the apartment on full and sit down within myself, letting the taps splutter and stream their sad song, and like this, for a quarter of an hour a year I don’t care about anything, and the Kinneret be damned, and the State be damned, and nobody asks me to turn them off, and nobody comes to cut it off, and the water in the taps keeps flowing.


Zeek's Hebrew translations are made possible with a grant from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, supported by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Please direct submissions and queries to editors[at]


Yechezkel Rachamim (born 1971) is an editor, poet, and author. His stories have twice been finalists in the Haaretz short story contest (2003, 2004), and his poem, “A Chinese Construction Worker and a Ukrainian Whore,” was selected to appear on a billboard in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa “Poetry on the Road” contest (2007). His novella, The Fish Trial [Mishpat HaDagim], will be published this fall from Emda Books. “Water” appears in the journal Emda (summer 2007).

Rachel S. Harris is an Assistant Professor of Hebrew Literature and Language at the State University of New York at Albany. Her work takes an inter-disciplinary approach to literature and society, and Israel Studies.