November 18, 2018

Episode 85 – Jerusalem: A Tale of Many Cities

Jerusalem. A powerful city. So powerful that we recall it when we take the oath of matrimony, on every holiday and with it we seal our national anthem. But it also has the power to divide, to tear apart families, to bring nations to wage war against one another. Jerusalem isn’t only a city. It’s a stoney ocean of history, of reincarnations, of dreams and of destruction, layer upon layer.

All of that, and more, is encapsulated in one new book, beautifully titled “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered”. This book was written by none other than Sarah Tuttle-Singer, and it depicts a year in her life, a year in which she dwelt between those ancient walls, met with the inhabitants of the old city, conversed with them, and immersed herself in Holy City.

But the book also tells Sarah’s life story, a story of much love and passion, but also tragedy.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer is probably one of the more influential Israeli Americans living here. She writes for the Times of Israel, she’s a social media sensation, and her name is extremely well known both in the local English speaking community, as well as in the international Jewish community.

Sarah joins us today to talk about her life, and her exciting debut book.

“Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered” on Amazon, Sarah Tuttle-Singer on Facebook and her official website

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Sarah Tuttle-Singer Pens Complex Love Letter to Jerusalem

Sarah Tuttle-Singer first fell in love with Jerusalem in 1997 when she was 16 and begrudgingly went to Israel for the summer at her parents’ insistence. Back then, the Los Angeles native wanted to spend time lounging by a pool in Mar Vista instead. In 2010, together with her Israeli husband and two young children, she made aliyah. That same year, she and her husband separated. They eventually divorced.

As a single mother, Tuttle-Singer gained prominence in Israel for her no-holds-barred, emotionally raw, visceral writings about both her personal life and her political views. She has more than 18,000 followers on her Facebook page as well as a large following on the Times of Israel website, where she is the new media editor. At the end of 2016, she decided to move to the Old City of Jerusalem for a year and spend three months living in each of its four quarters.

“I wanted the experience of truly getting to know the four quarters and the people in them,” Tuttle-Singer said in an email to the Journal. “Because once I was afraid to be in the Old City [during a visit there when she was 18, Palestinian kids threw stones at her], and it pains me that here is arguably the center of the universe for the children of Abraham. The Old City is so fraught and divided.”

Tuttle-Singer turned those experiences into her book, “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem.” It will be released on May 8 by Skyhorse Publishing. It includes original and previously published stories from her writings on her Facebook page and the Times of Israel website.

The experience of living in the Old City is soul-wrenching, and I won’t lie and tell you it was all rainbows and kenafe [cheese pastries] and coffee and conversations about coexistence.” — Sarah Tuttle-Singer

“The experience of living in the Old City is soul-wrenching, and I won’t lie and tell you it was all rainbows and kenafe [cheese pastries] and coffee and conversations about coexistence,” Tuttle-Singer said. “I was scared some nights. I was lonely. I was hurt. I felt about a million conflicting feelings that cut me like shards.”

She writes about one instance in which a man sexually assaulted her. In another essay she writes about how she lost her glasses in the Western Wall tunnel and twisted her ankle.

Despite the challenges, Tuttle-Singer said, “There were way more stunningly wonderful things that happened, too. Real friendships emerged. Kindness. Humor.”

One of those moments occurred after she twisted her ankle and a woman named Um Ibrahim took her in for the night. She writes in her book, “I didn’t get my glasses — my mom’s glasses — they’re still there at the bottom of the cistern, but I’m okay with that. Because I had tea instead with Um Ibrahim, and we ate little almond cookies, and we talked about our mothers. Hers used to sit just outside Damascus Gate selling whatever was in season.”

Part autobiography, Tuttle-Singer’s book also covers her life growing up in Southern California, learning about the importance of Israel from her parents, the death of her mother from cancer, and her marriage and divorce after having two children within two years.

At the same time, she writes about her everyday experiences chatting with people from different backgrounds. She connects with everyone from a once-homophobic Palestinian man who realized he was gay, to an ultra-Orthodox rebbetzin with several children who yearned to be loved by her husband.

On Facebook and in her writings, Tuttle-Singer is not afraid to spark debates about Israel, as well as express her irritation at the current Israel-Palestinian conflict. She is still angry about “the systemic inequality between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs within the Green Line, the disgraceful treatment of the African asylum seekers [and] the way non-Orthodox Judaism has become marginalized.”

Still, quoting renowned Israeli author Amos Oz, who wrote, “I love Israel but I don’t like it very much,” Tuttle-Singer said she loves Israel even when she cannot stand it, and that she is going to continue fighting for what she believes in: bridge building and social justice for people in Israel and around the world.

“I wrestle with all these things because of a deep, abiding love for the place I’ve chosen to make home, both for me and for my kids,” she said. “And I want to be part of the solution to all these challenges, and the only way to do that with the talents I have is to roll up my sleeves here and get to work.”

She hopes to continue her writing and giving lectures about her love of Jerusalem to “anyone who wants to bring me out to their community.”

“Even if our leaders make peace, God willing, some day, it will not matter what is written on that paper so long as the folks on the streets hate one another,” she said. “I don’t want to live like that, and I certainly don’t want my kids to live like that, so I want to start these conversations with people who are my ideological opponents but are still willing to talk to me.”

While she doesn’t expect there will be any major revelations after just one conversation, “If one conversation leads to another and that leads to another and that leads to another, that’s the beginning of friendship. And that’s pretty special.”