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Today I wanted to share a beautiful writing a fellow lover of words passed along to me. It turns out, she has an extensive collection of published writings of her own on a site I will link to below.

By Sarah Tuttle-Singer
Writer for The Times of Israel

Jerusalem is not a sound bite.

Jerusalem is sound.

Early in the morning, Jerusalem is the clang of the blue metal doors that open one by one, the hiss of the tea kettles, the sound of worn fingers turning newspaper pages, the shopkeepers calling out to one another Salaam Aleikum in Arabic or Shalom Alechem in Hebrew — Peace be upon you, and you and you.

It’s the jackhammer fixing the sewer, the plumber unclogging a drain. It’s the roar of my friend Wassim’s Harley Davidson as he drives through the Christian Quarter to open his tattoo parlor — which may be the oldest tattoo business in the world. It’s the buzz of his tattoo needle, a modern version of what his grandfather once used when he dipped his needle into ink made of soot and wine, and tattooed the faithful on their pilgrimages.

Jerusalem is the clatter of loose change in the beggar’s cup just inside Jaffa Gate.

Jerusalem is the Cat Lady from the Jewish Quarter feeding the cats. It’s the alarm clocks going off, and kids grumbling In Hebrew, Arabic, and Armenian: “Noooo, I don’t wanna go to school.” It’s mothers answering, “Too bad, it’s time to get up.”

It’s the jangle of metal keys locking doors, and unlatching bicycles, the waif officials feeding the birds and the cats on the Temple Mount, the Greek Orthodox priest and the Catholic priest both trying to out-pray the other in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the rabbi’s wife weeping against the Western Wall for her son to return safe and unharmed from his military service.

It’s the sound of the border police on their patrols through the quarters, standing guard at the intersections, the sound of their boots scuffing the stones, the static from their radios, the wail of an ambulance when a new mother gives birth.

 

 

Jerusalem is the beating of doves’ wings when they take flight.

In the afternoons, Jerusalem is much louder — a warble of so many languages, in the flow of things, of visitors and merchants, holy men and madmen. Some sing, some pray, some haggle over the price of a menorah or a stuffed camel or an olive wood cross, some laugh. I’ve seen grown men drop to their knees in humble supplication and weep, just like it’s always been since Jerusalem became a thing — that place that grew from legend, that grew through prayer, that grew because we set our sites upon it, and so it was: a holy city.

Jerusalem is church bells peeling several times a day. It is the call to prayer echoing off the stone from the minarets — each one has its own recorded voice and each one of those voices is different — some are higher, some are lower, one guy sounds like maybe he’s from New Jersey, although he probably isn’t, another sounds like he studied opera with Pavoratti. They’re all beautiful apart, and even more beautiful together, although they all start at different times so some moments are harmonious and others dissonant, but that’s Jerusalem. On Friday, Jerusalem is the Sabbath siren that sounds just before sundown and ushers in the Jewish day of rest.

Jerusalem is yeshiva boys singing on the way to the Western Wall, it’s the Armenian musician playing the duduk, and Palestinian hip-hop or Nasif Zeytoun blasting from the shops and stands. Pilgrims sing in harmony, sometimes they bang drums, sometimes they strum guitars, and even when they’re off-key — which is often — it’s still beautiful to hear, and just as beautiful as everything else.

Jerusalem is the guy who runs a currency exchange shop in the Muslim Quarter who lost his voice box, but he’ll press on his windpipe and sing something by Fairouz.

Its the thud of a basketball in the Muslim Quarter and the sound a soccer ball makes on wet grass in the soccer field tucked way in the Armenian Quarter.

It’s the click-click of high heels even on those old stones in the Christian Quarter, and God bless the women who wear them.

Its the sound of children laughing while they hang by their knees off the jungle gym in the Jewish Quarter.

Jerusalem is “Freeze or I’ll shoot!” in Hebrew.

Jerusalem is “Death to the Jews” in Arabic.

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It’s is a young father’s anguished cry when a Border Police officer beat him for no other reason, other than not having the right papers.

It’s the young mother’s anguished cry when her husband is murdered in a terror attack in front of her and sinks to the ground in a pool of blood, while the nearby merchants kick her and spit on her, until the Border Police come to rescue her.

Jerusalem is the boom of a stun grenade, and the sound my own flip flops make when I’m running.

Jerusalem is the clang of pipes, and frantic shouts — the scrape of a match and the hiss of a cigarette, all this during the riots around the Temple Mount last summer, and its the sound of my own heart beating until I looked up and realized that it was a group of Palestinian men, a nun, and a few tourists trying to dismantle a pipe where a newborn kitten was trapped inside.

Jerusalem is the kitten meow when they pulled him out — a tiny, hopeful sound, and then of all of us cheering, loud and joyful, in Hebrew in Dutch, in Arabic, in English, all together now.

Jerusalem at night is an echo — footsteps on the ancient stone. It’s couples bickering or making love, a laugh. A sigh.

Jerusalem is a colicky baby crying in the middle of the night and Jerusalem is the footsteps of the mothers and fathers who walk the floor back and forth, and the whisper, Shhhhh shhhh shhh my little one, sleep.

Jerusalem is the rooster that never sleeps and crows at midnight, especially full-throated and proud when the moon is full. It’s the wind. It’s an old man snoring, an old woman praying, and the late-night news broadcast, and the click of the radio when I turn it off and listen to her silence as she sleeps fitfully under the restless sky.


Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel’s New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.

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