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Stories We Tell: The Watchman

Stories We Tell: The Watchman

Lisa Langer

Judaism has a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, of passing down stories from one generation to the next. To carry on that tradition, Stories We Tell, from, will share a new story with you every Thursday. Whether you listen while driving to work, preparing Shabbat dinner, or taking your kids to school, each episode will give you a new story to reflect on and discuss with the people in your life. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life.

Several merchants are traveling through town when Yohanan, a local villager, offers to give them room and board. The merchants fear their goods will be stolen if they don’t guard them during the night, but Yohanan assures them that the mysterious Watchman will assist them. Listen in as Lisa Langer shares the story of The Watchman, and reminds us that sometimes the best gift is what we give, and not what we get. You can also check out a version of this tale in Barbara Diamond Goldin’s book Creating Angels: Stories of Tzedakah.

Three ways to listen:


[URJ Intro] Welcome back to Stories We Tell, a podcast from Judaism has always had a deep and rich tradition of storytelling, passing our stories down orally from one generation to the next. And here each Thursday, we share a new story with you. This week, we hear the story of "The Watchman" shared by Lisa Langer, the Associate Director of Congregational Innovation at the Union for Reform Judaism

[Lisa Langer] Yohanan lived on the edge of his town. So people would often come to his door asking for directions, looking for a warm meal, or needing a place to stay before traveling down the windy, isolated road towards the next village. Yohanan considered himself so fortunate to be able to help others in this way. He was always eager to help, never missing the opportunity to offer hospitality and never, ever expecting anything in return.

One very cold night in the middle of winter, Yohanan noticed out his window several merchants passing by with wagons piled high with their goods waiting to be sold. He opened the door and called out, "Friends, there's no inns for miles. Please, come inside. Get out of this heavy snow and the howling wind. Stay here for the night."

A merchant responded, "That is so kind of you, but we can't leave our goods here unguarded overnight."

Yohanan smiled and shook his head. "No worries, my friends. The night watchman will look after your wagons."

The merchants were relieved and thanked Yohanan. They scurried to settle their wagons and horses for the night while Yohanan returned inside to fix up some beds and warm up some soup. When the merchants came inside from the cold, they stomped the snow off of their boots, shed their heavy coats, their hats, and their scarves.

One of them peeked out the window and said, "Where is that night watchman? Perhaps one of us should stay outside until he arrives."

Yohanan quickly jumped in. "Oh, no, no, no need. I know he'll be here soon."

Yohanan served the merchants some soup and showed them to their beds.

"Good night," he called. "And don't worry. I see that night watchman coming now."

Yohanan quietly stepped outside of the room, dressed himself in his warmest clothes and shoes, and slipped out the back door. For there was no night watchman, only Yohanan.

[URJ Outro] After hearing the story of The Watchman, I'm wondering what it is that you'd be willing to do to make sure that people really feel at home. If you want to share that with us, we'd love to hear about it on social media. You can find us at And on Twitter, our handle is @ReformJudaism.

And thanks for listening to Stories We Tell. If you enjoyed this week's story, please subscribe, and rate, and review us on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can always find new episodes every Thursday on And don't forget to visit to learn a little bit more about Jewish rituals, or culture, or holidays, and more. Stories We Tell is a project of the Union for Reform Judaism, a leading voice in the discussion of modern Jewish life. And until next week, l'hitraot.

Lisa Langer, RJE, is director of URJ congregational education initiatives.