Friday, November 30, 2007

What's in a (Street) Name?

Street names are one way society commemorates it heroes, or shows its values. That is the case with suburban Toronto, where names like Oakdale, Ashgrove, Maplewood confirm the suburbanites longing for the rustic country life. (No matter that most of these suburbs had what few oaks, ashes, or maples they originally had ripped out when the bulldozers first started laying out the subdivisions. ) Similarly street names like Queen, King, Victoria, Edward, Palmerston adorn downtown Toronto and identify Canadian heroes of the 19th century.

Israel, with its string national mythology and ideological planning process, is the same - only moreso. The first house I lived in in Israel was on Modechai Anilewitz Street, named for the hero ofthe Warsaw ghetto and symbol of the heroic Jewish resistance fighter. Then we moved to Zangwill Street, named after the Israel Zangwill the famous Anglo Jewish author, play-write, early Zionist, and the man who popularized the slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land". Later we moved to Herzl St, named for the founder of modern political Zionism, and still later to Katzenelson St - named for a founder of the Histadruth trade union movement.

But now the Mapa Corporation of Israel has collected and published a statistical summary of all street names in Israel. So what and whom do Israelis honour in there street names?

Turns out, perhaps not surprisingly, that Israelis cherish biblical agricultural images of their homeland. This is followed by Jerusalem - both the present capital and a historic symbol. Somewhat surprisingly, the most honoured individual is the right wing ideologue and early Zionist, Zeev Jabotinsky. Labour leaders where farther down the list. And women fare very poorly in the list of honours by street name.

So here is a summary of the findings:
  • HaGefen (grape vine) - 105,

  • HaTe'ena (fig) - 95,

  • HaRimon (pomegranate) - 89,

  • HaTamar (date palm) - 70,

  • HaDekel (palm) - 70,

  • Ha'Ela (pistachio/terebinth) - 63

  • HaShaked and HaBrosh (almond and cypress) - 62 each

  • Jerusalem - 59,

  • Jabotinsky - 55,

  • Herzl - 52,

  • Ben-Gurion - 48,

  • Shabazi (Yemeni rabbi and poet) - 48,
  • Weizmann (Israel's first President) - 47,

  • Bialik (Israel's "national" poet) - 43,

  • Begin (Israel's first right wing Prime Minister) - 42,

  • Hannah Szenes (Israeli paratrooper killed in WWII) - 38,
  • Moshe Sharett Israel's first Foreign Minister, and second Prime Minister) - 35,

  • Levi Eshkol (Israel's 4th Prime Minister) - 31

  • Haim Arlozoroff (leader of the Labour Zionist Movement prior to his assassination in 1933) - 31,

  • Rabin (Labour Prime Minister assassinated in 1994) - 30,

  • King David - 28,

  • King Solomon - 28,

  • King Saul 25,

Golda Meir, Israel's only female Prime Minister was commemorated by 12 street names.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting and enjoyable post.
The book by Helga Dudman, STREET PEOPLE [Jerusalem, Carta, 1983, Second printing] comes to mind.
"This unusual guide book combines the stories of some fascinating people with selected short tours of the streets in Israel bearing their names."
In fact, it "turns out, perhaps not surprisingly," when you say "Israelis cherish biblical agricultural images of their homeland," you are probably thinking of Jewish citizens of Israel - a common occurrance. But not all Israelis are Jews.
It's likely that the nearly 20 percent of Israeli's citizenry who are Arab Israelis have an at least slightly different approach to naming streets in their communities. I say "their communities" as to a great degree, Arab citizens of Israle and Jewish citizens of Israel live in different places. Most villages, towns and cities are either overwhelmingly Jewish or Arab, rarely "mixed."

>> Arieh Lebowitz

10:10 am  
Blogger Sydney Nestel said...


Excellent point. And it shows how even "liberals" like myself fall into the trap of conflating Israelis with Jews, and accepting unquestioningly that Israel is a "Jewish State".

I assume, however, that the statistics compiled by Mapa are nevertheless accurate and that the Arab communities, being in the minority, don't manage to get their popular street names to the top of the overall Israeli popularity list. (Though I do recall that the main street In Jaffa is Shderot Yerushalayim, and I wonder if that was its name when Jaffa was a primarily Arab city, or if it was changed later.)

9:13 pm  

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