PEOPLE OF ISRAEL: Sarah Tuttle-Singer

While Tuttle-Singer’s father was not born Jewish, he has embraced Judaism and a love of Israel. “I’m so lucky,” she says. “He visits often."

Sarah Tuttle-Singer (photo credit: MICHELE CHABIN)
Sarah Tuttle-Singer
(photo credit: MICHELE CHABIN)
Sarah Tuttle-Singer
ID: Born in Venice, California, Tuttle-Singer is a writer and social media specialist who works for the Times of Israel, and is one of the most fascinating people in Israel’s English-speaking community.
English speakers in Israel are divided when it comes to Sarah Tuttle-Singer.
Some despise her. Others love her.
Last year, there was a petition circulated online calling to have her fired.
In response, a counter petition (which garnered twice as many signatures) was circulated in support of her.
But who is this woman? What is her history?
I asked Tuttle-Singer, who is 37, about her family. She often writes about her mother, who was also a writer and who passed away in 2005. “I miss her every day, Tuttle-Singer says, and “whenever I write, I feel her with me.”
Her father, Rick Tuttle, was a Freedom Rider during the US Civil Rights movement, and met Tuttle-Singer’s mother while they were working for the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign. “My dad is a man of incredible integrity – I know if I have a moral dilemma and I ask for his advice, he will give me the correct answer – I may not like his answer, but it’ll be the right one.”
While Tuttle-Singer’s father was not born Jewish, he has embraced Judaism and a love of Israel. “I’m so lucky,” she says. “He visits often. Actually, as soon as he steps off the plane he belts out Hatikvah – Israel’s national anthem – you can hear him bellowing all the way to Jerusalem. Yeah, part of me remains that self-conscious 14-year-old, who wants to curl up and die of embarrassment, but for the most part I am in total awe of this man who truly loves Israel and being here, and expresses it with such exuberance.”
As a child, Tuttle-Singer heard stories about Israel. “My mother spent several weeks here right after the Six Day War, and my family is very much part of the fabric of this place,” she says, as she tells of a grandmother who lived in Jerusalem at the turn of the 20th century, fell in love with an Ottoman official, and had a torrid love affair with him on a rooftop overlooking the Old City. “Well, you can imagine how well that went down with my Great Gramma’s Hasidic family,” Tuttle-Singer says, “And when they found out, they sent her as far away from Jerusalem as they could... not just back to Poland, but all the way to Chicago. That’s where she met my great-grandfather and they stayed and raised a family. Were it not for that love affair in the Old City, she might have gone back to Poland with the rest of her family, who were all later murdered in the Holocaust, instead of being ‘banished’ to Chicago. That love affair in Jerusalem may have saved her life.”
Tuttle-Singer came to Israel on various trips as a teenager – and she also fell in love. With the country. “It was the first time in my life when all the parts of my identity came together,” she says. “Especially in Jerusalem. It was the first time I made sense.”
When Tuttle-Singer was 18, she was pelted with rocks near Damascus gate just outside of the Old City. She was terrified, and vowed never to go back. “I stood there crying as I felt my own blood dripping down the back of my neck,” she remembers. “I swore I would never go back again to the Old City – I was sure it was too dangerous – that I would be hurt.”
But then, by chance, all of that changed when she followed fellow journalist Avi Issacharoff, co-creator of the hit TV series Fauda and who was on assignment to interview a waqf official on the Temple Mount. She remembers shivering, “Not from cold, but from fear,” until at some point she looked around and realized no one was trying to hurt her. There were just ordinary people going about their lives. “I saw moms with crying babies and these dudes playing Backgammon. I saw pretty girls in hijabs flirting with the guys selling pomegranate juice. I just saw people.”
She was so struck by this that she decided to keep going back to visit, time and time again, until she actually decided to live in the Old City. Living in each of the four quarters was the basis for her memoir, Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered (Skyhorse Press, 2018). “It wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows and eating humus and singing ‘Kumbaya,’” she says. “There were some rough moments – but I learned so much and am continuing to learn. I am just so lucky that I get to live like this.”
Tuttle-Singer is an independent explorer of Jerusalem. She calls herself a “mermaid” because she doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, but can move between different worlds, talk to people and experience life from different vantage points. In fact, she even has the tattoo to prove it: a Coptic mermaid design inked by the scion of the oldest tattoo business in the world, Razzouk Tattoo, which is nestled in a pocket of the Christian Quarter.
Her Jerusalem is a combination of the mystical and the mundane – from stories of leaky pipes to holy blessings in sacred spaces.
She loves describing smells, from the rich smell of black coffee in the morning to the way the “world smells like cardamom and old coins” at night.
Tuttle-Singer spends her days traveling around Jerusalem, collecting stories that people readily share with her, and she then shares these stories (and photos) with her readers on her blog, in her book, and on social media.
While she has tens of thousands of followers, not everyone loves her. When I asked what it’s like to be reviled, she replied that while it’s unnerving, she’s just glad that people who disagree with her are still reading what she’s writing. “If everyone agrees, what’s the point? Where’s the fun in that? When we disagree and push ourselves out of our comfort zones, we learn and grow, and sometimes even change our minds.”