After a year of research, Sarah Tuttle-Singer was faced with any writer’s nightmare scenario: A blank page and an approaching deadline.
“One month before it was due, I had notes and audio but no book,” Tuttle-Singer said last week. “I ran into a friend on the seam between the quarters [of Jerusalem]. He’s a guy who I disagree with on lots of issues. He said ‘your story is a love story. Keep that in mind and the book will flow.’
“The book opens with the words ‘This is a love story,'” and in three weeks it was done.”
“It” is Tuttle-Singer’s first book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year In the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem. She’ll be in Minnesota at Adath Jeshurun Congregation on Wednesday, Nov. 7, for a talk about the book.
The event starts at 7 p.m. and is hosted by the JCRC, in partnership with the Israel Center of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Minnesota Hillel, and TC Jewfolk, and is free with registration.
Sarah is also looking forward to getting to know our community more intimately at a young-adult pre-event reception at 5:30, sponsored by YALA Twin Cities (a project of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations), TC Jewfolk, and Makom. That event is only $10 and offers heavy appetizers, wine, and beer, plus up-close-and-personal conversation with the author.
“I love Jerusalem and the Old City is the center,” she said. “The whole city: east and west, Arab and Jew, young and old, religious and secular.”
While it’s not a travel journal per se, it has inspired readers to take the,”the mermaid’s tour of the Old City.”
“People have asked me to go around the Old City and introduce them to the people in the book,” she said. “They’re stories I’ve been privileged to live. [Readers] are getting to walk through the Old City and see how I see.”
But there’s a caveat: Jerusalem, at least in the author’s eyes, is rarely the same place twice.
“It’s always a different Jerusalem,” she said. “It changes on the mood and the people I’m with. It was playful and fun yesterday. Last week it tense and serious.”
The California-born writer said she wrote the book to have an excuse to live in the Old City and do things like break into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, explore hidden cisterns, and climb over barbed wire to get the views she wanted of the city.
“It’s one thing to be that crazy person; it’s another to say I’m doing it for my art,” she said. “As it unfolded, all the stories people were telling me, I was so excited I had this bigger way of sharing things.
“How I used to relate to Jerusalem before I got to know it was that it is a place of holy sites. You can buy bread and egg and cheese at the corner shop and that’s your corner shop. You may take a flask of scotch and hang out on a roof and it’s your roof. It’s a place that could feel like home.”
The names of the people and the precise locations of things have been altered for their protection, including the rabbi’s wife who is sleeping with his students, to the man who assaulted Tuttle-Singer, to the gay Palestinian who came out to her.
“I want to write these down because of the story, but they didn’t choose to write it themselves. People are entitled to their privacy,” she said. “In the grand scheme of it, 10 percent of the experience was really shitty and the other 90 was transformative.
“It’s uncomfortable to hold conflicting truths, not just shades of gray but all the colors. The stories in the book are messy that way. If you look for goodness, you’ll find it everywhere. No matter where you are. Make the best of what you have and tell your best story. It frees us up to enjoy all the possibilities.”