Sarah Tuttle-Singer
A Mermaid in Jerusalem
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When the King wasn’t in the fields, I looked on the street

When 2 guys at an antique shop heckled me about my tattoos and my almond milk, I took a deep breath of renewal

I’m not going to sit here at the end of Elul and lie to you: the last few days have been rough.

To be honest, this summer has lasted over a thousand years — at least that’s how it felt here in Jerusalem — a summer that stretched on and on from the river to the sea, dragging the desert heat in on the wings of the mosquitos that devoured us outside at night. But now, even the mosquitos are tired, too tired to buzz. It’s the kind of stanky foul-mouthed hot that only the rains can wash away.

So yeah, here we are… They say that in these weeks leading up to the High Holidays, the King is in the fields… when Gd comes down from the palace on high and just close enough for a friendly shpatzir (stroll), but TBH, it’s probably even too hot for Him these days and He’s chillin’ somewhere in the shade — I hear Sweden is lovely this time of year — because, try as I might to find Him, I’m just not feeling it.

This used to be my favorite time, when the shadows get softer with a little gold around the edges, when the figs on the trees are bursting and the brightest rubies spill from pomegranates split down the middle. I used to walk with the kids out in the fields behind our house, looking for the King…

And He was always there, right there with us, our footprints side by side, together in the dust. But I haven’t seen Him yet this Elul.

Plus, well, the situation here isn’t easy. The tension in the city is thicker than the heat. A terror attack by Jaffa Gate last week. A young boy shot and killed while throwing Molotov cocktails at soldiers. Discord between Jews of all stripes, let alone the strife between us and our cousins. Our leaders cheerfully leading us to the edge of the abyss.

And since I couldn’t find the King in the fields, I went for a walk to look in the streets.

After all, today is a new day, at least that’s what I tell myself, and I’m heading down the street for a coffee and maybe a croissant, because what, I should sit at home hitting refresh on The Times of Israel’s home page all morning?

And it’s cooler out — a blue sky September day that finally doesn’t feel like a pressure cooker, and there are these two guys sitting outside in front of an antique shop, jaunty black yarmulkes on their head. Golden light spills through the open door, and I can see a display of treasure boxes, vases, and mirrors, ornate chairs and tables carved from heavy wood and embellished with mother of pearl, a Singer sewing machine, and a gramophone that looks eager to play. They are drinking matching cups of black mud coffee and smoking cigarettes from the same half empty pack on two plastic chairs — a gorgeously restored wooden table between them with a metal ashtray in the middle.

I smile and say “Boker tov — good morning,” as I’m passing by.

Boker or — a morning of light!” they reply. “But what’s the story with all your tattoos?” one of them asks.

I sigh inwardly, but I’m always here for a good story, and it’s been a while.

“You sound like my dad,” I reply.

Neshama sheli –– my soul — your father is right. He is a wise man. You should listen to him! As it is written, honor thy father and mother! Come on, aren’t you a little old for all that decoration? You should be focusing on having children! Lots of children! May your descendants be as numerous as the stars! I have 12 grandchildren, like the tribes of Israel!” He smiles, and his gold teeth twinkle in the sunlight.

The other guy next to him laughs.

“Do you want coffee?”

“Do you have almond milk?”

He laughs, a dry and joyful laugh that sounds like horses galloping through autumn leaves.

“Oh, you’re one of those! Coffee with almond milk! Fancy fancy. And your tattoos! Girl, you’re a long way from Tel Aviv…

Hooo boy, I think to myself as I brace for what will surely be a long speech about the left and how we are ruining the country…. I take a breath and draw the air deep into me, my body tense.

“…. But that’s okay, I like leftists!” he says and takes a puff of his cigarette.

I laugh.

“Speak for yourself,” the other guy says. “Staaam, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. We are Right-Wing and God-fearing, but we love leftists! We love all Jews! We love everyone! We even love the Arabs! And women with tattoos! Everyone except Bibi, because he stole the country! Do you like Bibi?”

“Not a fan,” I answer.

“See! We knew you were on our side! The right side! The left side! The right side of history side! May this be a good year! A year when democracy will prevail! Shana tova! A good life! A good democracy! A good country for everyone including the Arabs! We need you for the fight! But maybe cover your tattoos first!”

I laugh.

“Do you want a pastry?” I ask. “I’m off to get my latte with almond milk and maybe a croissant.”

“You and your almond milk, no… We don’t need… We have our real coffee… But come back tomorrow and say hello!”

I walk away, feeling lighter and more joyful than I have all summer… and then I wonder if I imagined it — maybe it’s been so long since I’ve had a good story that I just made it all up to make myself feel better. I look back half expecting to see an empty street and a hollow storefront… no tables, no sewing machine, no gramophone, no cheerful warriors, no black mud coffee, no light spilling out into the street…

I hold my breath, and turn around… and… and they’re still there, drinking and smoking and laughing it up.

A cool breeze blows past my cheek, almost like a caress. I look up and see soft clouds flitting across the sky. The heat is lifting.

It’s Elul. It doesn’t have to be so damn heavy. The winds are sifting through the streets, and change is in the air.

The King isn’t just in the fields. He’s in the streets and shops and homes and hearts… He’s everywhere, and He’s right here, too.

(courtesy, Anne Gordon)
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.
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