Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem

I want to tell you about my Israel…

Conjuring a society that is rude, compassionate, resilient, flawed and always full of hope

I want to tell you about my Israel:

My blossoming, resilient, compassionate, progressive, brave Israel.

My Israel are farmers who speak Hebrew and farmers who speak Arabic, who work the land with sturdy hands, who just want to see things grow.

My Israel are the Rabbis for Human Rights who cross checkpoints to plant olive trees.

And the young woman who owns the flower shop on Dizengoff, and donates flowers to the funerals of terror victims.

And boys and girls who plant trees on Tu Bishvat, hoping one day they will use the branches for their own wedding canopies.

And an old woman who plants a seed deep into the earth, to grow a fig tree she’ll never see beyond a dark green shoot — and that’s only if she’s lucky. But she plants it anyway because one day her granddaughter will have a granddaughter and she will gather figs and taste how sweet it is.

My Israel is rolling green fields, and orchards, cactus and clementines, a field of sunflowers in June, and the desert blooming red with poppies as soon as the rains fall. My Israel is lupine in the spring, and jasmine sweet on a warm night, it’s tumbleweed, too — ragged and rolling, and a reminder to appreciate when the earth turns green again. Which it will. It always does.

My Israel is resilient and pushes limits.

My Israel are the three best friends who say, “Screw Algebra II,” and skip class and go to the beach because it’s a gorgeous day outside and they’re already smart enough to know that you can learn more outside the classroom sometimes.

My Israel is the 83-year-old man with a number tattooed on his arm, who wakes up every morning at sunrise and runs in Park HaYarkon, who will run the marathon this spring.

My Israel is the single mother who works full time and goes to pharmacy school, who races home to tuck her babies in and sing them the same song her mother once sang to her, and then drinks two cups of coffee before she begins studying for her chemistry final.

My Israel is the boy with his hand in the air who always asks questions, and the girl who talks back to the teacher when the teacher is unfair, who stands up for her friends at recess, and who will one day stand up for her people as a leader in her own right.

And the doctor who gets on plane after Hurricane Katrina and flies across the world to help heal the injured and rebuild an entire city all over again. My Israel are the hundreds of volunteers who are first in and last out.

My Israel remembers the Flood, and looks for the olive branch.


My Israel is the bus driver who pulls over and in the middle of a dust storm and insists that the woman walking by the side of the road get in and ride for free.

And the taxi driver who drove my children and me to the hospital when my son couldn’t breathe, who refused to take money for the ride, and instead handed me a string of prayer beads and a blessing on my son’s head.

My Israel are the men and women who drive to army bases in a harsh winter storm with tureens of vegetable soup and hot chocolate and coffee for the soldiers who are out there braving the cold.

And the teenagers who volunteer at an orphanage and teach kids how to read.

And the tired soldier who gives up his seat on the bus for the pregnant woman in the hijab, and the man in the kefiyeh who drops a few coins into a beggar’s cup by the Jerusalem bus station.

My Israel are the human rights workers who spend their lives defending the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden, regardless of race or religion. My Israel does the right thing.

My Israel is potential

MY Israel is Shlomit and Moshe and Suha and Muhammad who send their kids to a mixed Jewish and Arab school at Neve Shalom Wahat Al Salaam — Oasis of Peace. And my Israel are their two children who share snack during recess.

My Israel is the sheikh on the Mount of Olives who welcomes weary travelers from all faiths, from all backgrounds, so long as they come with an open mind…and better yet, an open heart.

My Israel are those two women kissing in the middle of that rainbow crosswalk in Tel Aviv, and the two men who have adopted their first child from India, and welcome him into the tribe with family and friends to bear witness.

My Israel drives down to the desert to make it bloom, develops drip line irrigation sprinklers, and builds new power grids.

My Israel is the punk ass kid in high school, who gets his shit together in the army, then decides to start a company out of nowhere and succeeds.

My Israel is a priest, an imam and a rabbi who all walk into a cafe to talk about faith and God — and no, this isn’t the beginning of a joke. It’s the beginning of a friendship.

My Israel are the people who show up when it’s uncomfortable, when it’s painful, when it’s scary;

The people who show up to a mosque desecrated by Jewish extremists because “kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh — All of Israel is responsible for one another” doesn’t just mean we have to have each other’s backs. It means we have to take responsibility for the mistakes of our own people, too. These are the people who take brushes and soap and water and scrub walls, and then repaint to try to make it better.

The people who show up to a demonstration with their children even though it’s late at night and crowded and hot and humid in the middle of summer, but they show up anyway because it’s important and they bring their tired children too, because its even MORE important for them to see what change can look like. .

The people who may come to blows with you over a parking space at Azrieli, but will show up at your uncle’s funeral and wrap you in a warm, safe hug.

The people who run TOWARD a terror attack and not away from it, because they want to help to heal, to save lives if they can.

And sometimes, my Israel drives me up the freaking wall.

It’s loud and way too close, and it pushes and shoves. It shouts and struggles and complains.

And it makes me want to pull my hair out at times, or go far away, to a place of quiet sunsets on an uncomplicated hill.

Sometimes, my Israel makes mistakes and forgets our history — where we’ve been, and more importantly, where we need to go.

But my Israel is so much more than that:

We are a work in progress. And just as Jacob wrestled with God to become Israel, so we in Israel wrestle with our own identity. For we are still a young country built on an ancient dream.

But sometimes I worry my Israel is in trouble — that forces of extremism and rigidity and intolerance will make the Israel I love disappear.

But I look at all of you here — and I see your compassion and commitment and I know we will get it right.

Because my Israel gets tears in their eyes when they sing HaTikvah.

Because my Israel is hope.

The above was originally given as a speech at the BBYO International Convention. BBYO does amazing work. Check them out.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the author of Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered and the New Media Editor at Times of Israel. She was raised in Venice Beach, California on Yiddish lullabies and Civil Rights anthems, and she now lives in Jerusalem with her 3 kids where she climbs roofs, explores cisterns, opens secret doors, talks to strangers, and writes stories about people — especially taxi drivers. Sarah also speaks before audiences left, right, and center through the Jewish Speakers Bureau, asking them to wrestle with important questions while celebrating their willingness to do so. She loves whisky and tacos and chocolate chip cookies and old maps and foreign coins and discovering new ideas from different perspectives. Sarah is a work in progress.