Innovative interactive guidebook lets you choose your own Jerusalem adventure
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Innovative interactive guidebook lets you choose your own Jerusalem adventure

Recently released experiential activity book throws objectivity to the wind to expose travelers to the hidden alleyways and favorite late night spots of the three local authors

A page of 'Jerusalem City Stories' on Tmol Shilshom, a book store and coffee shop in Jerusalem's center (Ira Ginzburg/Citykat Stories)
A page of 'Jerusalem City Stories' on Tmol Shilshom, a book store and coffee shop in Jerusalem's center (Ira Ginzburg/Citykat Stories)

Pick up a basic guidebook on Jerusalem and it will have plenty of popular restaurant rankings and lists of facts and figures. What it won’t tell you is how to smell, taste and listen to the city of golden stone.

With the recently published “Jerusalem City Stories,” explorers can now ditch their smartphones and “Lonely Planets” to experience Jerusalem as a native. The guide weaves readers through hidden corridors and secret staircases towards the best cappuccinos and most authentic street food in town.

At times, Jerusalem can seem to be a city of disjointed sections, separated by Jews and Arabs or religious and secular. However, “Jerusalem City Stories” introduces readers to Jerusalem as a community of connected neighborhoods, each with its own flavor, but blended into one shared experience.

A peek inside ‘Jerusalem City Stories’ (Ira Ginzburg/Citykat Stories)

The guide combines short vignettes with dynamic illustrations of Jerusalem’s best spots to eat and experience, with plenty of empty space for readers to write and draw their own adventures into the book’s crisp pages.

The project was a three-way collaboration between friends sharing a love for the city and its people.

The idea started with Ira Ginzburg, a graphic designer who moved to Jerusalem from Moscow 27 years ago. Ginzburg dreamed of putting together an interactive book on Jerusalem for foreigners, but not being a native English speaker, she needed someone to articulate the soul of her illustrations with words.

Ira Ginzburg in her Jerusalem studio (Tracy Frydberg/Times of Israel)

While she was in the early stages of creating the book, Ginzburg went to eat at Crave Gourmet Street Food, a restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem, right next to the Mahane Yehuda market. She ended up talking with co-owner James Oppenheim about finding the right collaborator.

The restaurateur immediately recommended Sarah Tutle-Singer, The Times of Israel’s new media editor and author of the upcoming book, “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered.”

Both Tuttle-Singer and Oppenheim (the former chief revenue officer at The Times of Israel) knew Ginzburg’s work from projects she had done for the site. Oppenheim himself ended up getting involved in the interactive book, adding in his own Jerusalem stories.

James Oppenheim and Sarah Tuttle-Singer (courtesy)

In July 2016, Ginzburg met with Tuttle-Singer and the two clicked. For the next year, the three collaborated on what would become a deeply funny, interactive and stimulating experience for the three friends, said Tuttle-Singer.

“As soon as I flipped through the book, I got it, and I wanted to be part of it. Ira and James and Boris [Ginzburg’s husband and fellow collaborator] and the team at Citykat Stories [Ginzburg’s publishing house] have created this very special book that allows the reader to be part of the story, and to not just choose their own adventure, but to create their own adventure,” Tuttle-Singer said.

“Ira is one of these people with this incredible energy. She sparkles,” said Tuttle-Singer. “She’s got this cool edge that’s sharp, but not the kind that’ll cut you, but the kind that makes you see the world from a different angle. She is many things — and with that complexity comes this unparalleled creativity.”

Ginzburg filling in her illustrations on her iPad (Tracy Frydberg/Times of Israel)

Ginzburg says that the project was completely a team effort. “We started and then Sarah would add something and then James would remember something,” she said, with everyone taking on the part of Jerusalem that they knew best.

“Sarah wrote about the Old City and things we were less familiar with, James on the shuk and Nachlaot [the surrounding neighborhood],” Ginzburg said.

Illustration of the street Oppenheim lives on in the Nachlaot neighborhood (Ira Ginzburg/Citykat Stories)

For Oppenheim, it is the intimacy created from sharing parts of the city so central to the friends’ own lives that makes the book come alive.

“We opened up our lives to expose the things that we know, enjoy and mastered from living and working in the place we love,” said Oppenheim.

“This is a book for everyone who dreams about exploring — whether it’s discovering a far-flung land or treasures buried in our own backyard,” said Tuttle-Singer.

She and Ginzburg are now developing a Tel Aviv version of “City Stories.”

Sarah Tuttle-Singer exploring Jerusalem (courtesy)

While Tuttle-Singer was writing “Jerusalem Stories,” she was simultaneously living in the Old City and putting together her upcoming solo book.

Being in the Old City through the writing process was, for Tuttle-Singer, at the core of how she contributed to the collaboration.

“My love of Jerusalem starts in the Old City and spills out in all directions, east and west. And James and Ira and everyone at CityKat Stories are full of love, too, for Jerusalem and for adventure, and I hope when you read the book you feel that love,” she said.

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