Toward the West, and toward the sea, the land rolls across the sweet green fields and little towns. If you walk out Jaffa Gate and head straight for a few days, you’ll hit the port city. There are rules, and there is order, you get to where you want to go. But toward the east, the land is austere and pitiless. The desert rages, and the wind howls. And Jerusalem is in between, regal queen and wild-eyed prophet, righteous, and despairing. She’s there, and that’s all.
I became familiar with the writings of Sarah Tuttle-Singer from reading The Times of Israel. A rather upstart little webzine that tried to bring a modern, young feel to reporting about Israel, the Jewish world, and the Middle East. TOI broke all the normal rules. It became an international sensation. Sarah was a great pick for its media director.
If you follow Sarah on social media you know that she is definitely not shy with her opinions. And it came as no surprise when she announced that she was going to spend a year living in the Old City of Jerusalem and was going to write a book about her adventures. People thought she was completely mad. Out of her mind. But they also knew this was something that was so very Sarah.
What she produced in, Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered, is an amazing memoir about a lifelong journey of love, longing, strife, and beauty. Sarah introduces herself to the reader with an honest remembrance of her own traumas. She survived an abusive relationship. Those who have read her blog posts know this. But what you get here is a searing rendition of what she lived through, and survived. Being a survivor and telling your story is empowering. If for no other reason than understanding and embracing the strength it takes someone to remove themselves from such horror, read this book.
We understand the unmitigated loss she felt when her mother died from cancer. And that void is evidenced throughout this book. Where ever Sarah goes, her mother goes with her. Having buried my own mother just over two years ago, I feel her pain, her sorrow, and understand how she sees her mother throughout her journey. I too see my mother sometimes where I least expect her.
Sarah takes us deep into her own love of Israel and especially Jerusalem. This is not a casual love. This is an all encompassing, deep in your soul love that washes over a person daily. Sarah’s love of Jerusalem is written in her DNA, in her bones.
Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish world. We pray towards Jerusalem. Our holiest days recall the pilgrimages to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We end our Passover Seders with “Next Year in Jerusalem.” So to understand Jerusalem, to see what it is like to live in modern Jerusalem, for Sarah this was also a calling.
Sarah pulls no punches. She is brutally honest. Jerusalem is a holy city, but it also a city of people. It is a city of zatar, hummus, fresh bread, the sabbath siren, the muezzin’s call, the holy light at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the tourist, the rabbi, the nun and priest, the imam and the Waqf guard, making sure that Jews do not pray on the Temple Mount. It is soldiers and border guards, with their acne and guns charged with preventing terror attacks. It is the Palestinian population that deal with frequent stops, frisks, and the guns of these young soldiers pointed in their direction. It is stabbings, bombs, prayers, red thread to ward off the evil eye, and the cat lady in the Jewish quarter who takes in a three day old kitten that had been saved from a drainpipe by a group of moslem men.
….the Jewish kids are afraid to walk in the Muslim Quarter, and the Muslim kids are afraid of the soldiers, and how the soldiers are probably afraid too, sometimes. And how there are people in the Armenian Quarter who have never walked five minutes from their own front door because they are afraid of the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter, and how almost everyone stays behind invisible walls, except for the mermaids who can go everywhere because they don’t quite fit anywhere…
Sarah captures every aspect of Jerusalem. Written in beautiful prose, you feel as if you are walking along with her. You feel what she feels. You see what she sees. You try to understand the people who live in Jerusalem, Jew, Moslem, Christian, Armenian, and what Jerusalem means to them.
And as I read what she writes, I cry. I cry because I understand her love of Jerusalem, her desires, her need to find peace, joy, and fulfillment in a City that is so much a part of her soul that if it did not exist, she simply would not understand how to breath.
At the end of her sojourn does Sarah come up with a peace plan? No she does not.
In the end, her only plan is to try to be kind.
This book is available May 8, 2018.