Where the streets Do have a Name; and meaning too

BY Lee Saunders   DATE 11/12/2018

Turn right here, take the next left there,” tourists can spend as much time staring at their phones just to get around foreign cities as seeing the places themselves. With bucket lists to check, you can often miss the meaning of what’s in a name – a street name. In Israel, walking around is a compelling history lesson in itself. From politicians to educators, philosophers to the state’s founders, who are the folk behind the folklore?

tel aviv streets

Corner of Rothschild and Herzl streets in Tel Aviv, the first kiosk

Life and Politics Intermingle
In Israel, it can feel that politics and life intermingle all the time, and you will indeed find many streets and boulevards named after some of the most influential Decision makers in the country’s history. The father of modern political Zionism, Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) is widely considered to be the driving force for the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, with a Herzl Street in possibly every city in Israel, as well as the city of Herzliya itself. In Tel Aviv, take a seat at the intersection of Herzl and Rothschild Boulevard and enjoy an espresso at the first kiosk in the city, contemplate the evolution of Tel Aviv, emerging out of the sand dunes in 1907 into the eclectic and electric city it is today.

A few minutes’ walk away – Independence Hall – is where the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (1886 – 1973) declared Israel’s statehood in just 32 minutes, back in May 1948! He twice led the country as Prime Minister and oversaw the establishment of many of the state’s institutions. Walk along the promenade – past the eye-catching statue of him doing a handstand on Tel Aviv’s beach across from the Dan Tel Aviv– before you reach his modest residential home – Ben Gurion House. You can visit this attraction, for free, on Ben Gurion Street, one of many in the country, including in the coastal cities of Ashkelon, Herzliya, Netanya, Haifa and others.

Deisengoff Square

Left: Deisengoff Square 1937 (credit: Israel Archive), Right: Deisengoff Square 2015

Independence Hall was initially the residential home of the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff (1861-1936). Born in what today is Moldova, Dizengoff’s crowning achievements include the development of Tel Aviv, with the iconic street named after him enjoying a central place in the culture and evolution of the city. Built in the 1930s as a main north-south street, Dizengoff Street is lined with bars, coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques, as well as a newly renovated central square and iconic fountain.

Equally popular is Balfour Street, named after British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour (1838 – 1930), a signatory to the Balfour Declaration, the 1917 document confirming support from his government for a homeland for the Jewish people in the British Mandate of Palestine. Ukrainian-born Haim Arlosoroff (1899-1933), after whom Arlozorov Street is named, was responsible for the Yishuv, or Jewish community in the land of Israel before the state was founded. Arlosoroff organized a historic meeting in 1933 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem between Jewish Zionists and Arab leaders of Transjordan to promote greater collaboration in what was then British Palestine. From the cities of Holon to Hadera, Afula to Raanana, Arlozorov Street is named after this man, who was also instrumental in the establishment of the Mapai Labour Party, which merged into today’s Israeli Labour Party in 1968.

While Arlosorof played a key role in the creation of the Labour Party, the legacy of Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky (1880-1940) ultimately gave birth to today’s Likud Party. Born in Ukraine, the philosopher and poet was a Zionist leader, author, orator, soldier, and co-founder of the Jewish Legion of the British army in World War I. He enjoys the distinction of having the most streets, squares and parks named after him – almost 60 Jabotinsky Streets – in cities including Ashdod, Tiberias and Beer Sheva.

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Left: Haviva Reik, Right: Hanna Senesh (credit: Israel Archive/Wikipedia)

Heroines of the War
If Jabotinsky was a hero of World War 1, there were two prominent heroines from World War 2 – members of the Jewish resistance to the Nazi occupation in Europe – and after whom many streets have been named. In south Tel Aviv, east of the Ayalon River, Haviva Reik Street is a tribute to Haviva Reik (1914-1944), a Slovakian parachutist sent behind enemy lines by Britain and the Jewish Agency to resist German occupation in Europe. Hannah Szenes Street honors Hannah Szenes (1921–1944), another parachutist, who was air-dropped into then-Yugoslavia to help rescue Hungarian Jews being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Both women were eventually captured and killed.

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Le’Chayim to Chaim
While Hannah Szenes was also a renowned poet, Israel’s national poet is widely recognized as Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1943), a pioneer of contemporary Hebrew poetry. With a Bialik Street in Israel’s three largest cities – Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, among many others, Bialik was a well-known literary figure before he moved to the Holy Land in 1924. He contributed significantly to the revival of the Hebrew language by writing his works in Hebrew and dedicated himself to cultural activities after he moved to Tel Aviv. His home in Bialik Street is a worthwhile museum, as much for its European and oriental architectural style as the display of memorabilia connected to his life and work.

Bialik Street

The Bialik Museum and Bialik Street sign

A Language Revived
Bialik’s work could not have thrived as it did if it were not for Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922), who was principally responsible for the revival of Hebrew as a modern spoken language. You will find a Ben Yehuda Street in many towns and cities, honouring a man credited with restoring Hebrew as the mother tongue of the Jewish people, after it had been largely dormant as a spoken language for 2,000 years. After moving to Jerusalem in 1881, this successful newspaper editor made lists of new words which he would spread to Palestine’s Jewish inhabitants using Hebrew newspapers.

While there were many literary and artistic achievements, nobody arguably epitomised success in the scientific field more than Chaim Azriel Weizmann (1874-1952). The first President of Israel, Weizmann was also an accomplished biochemist – lecturing at the University of Manchester, UK – and later founder of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. The Weizmann Street in Tel Aviv is walking distance from the Link Hotel & Hub, also a pioneer – in the use of cutting-edge technology in the hotel industry.

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 Link Hotel & Hub tel aviv

The Hub at Link Hotel & Hub

With other streets and avenues named after biblical kings and queens – such as Shaul Hamelech (King Shaul, the first king of Israel), Ester Hamalka (Queen Esther) and Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), walking through Israel’s main cities and tourist attractions is a fascinating experience that reflects on the ancient, honors the past and transports you to the now.

Written by  Lee Saunders