Jerusalem Residents Fight City to Keep Street Names of Old

It seems a wave of street name changes is in the offing in the Nahlaot and Mahane Yehuda neighborhoods.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Agas ("pear" ) Street, in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, has not existed for years - ever since the municipality changed its name to Yaakov Eliyahu Banai Street, after one of the musical family's founding fathers. As a result, the area's pattern of streets named for fruit was broken.

Nearby Agrippas Street has been split, with half of it now called Rabbi Shmuel Baruch Street, after a leader of the old Kurdish community. Now it seems that a wave of street name changes is in the offing in the Nahlaot and Mahane Yehuda neighborhoods. Eshkol Street will become Rahmu Street, after the founder of the legendary restaurant at the end of the street, and Shilo Street will be turned into Rabbi Sharabi Street, after the founder of a yeshiva on that block.

Nahlaot residents protesting a planned change to the Jerusalem neighborhood’s Shilo Street. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

But the residents of the two neighborhoods have had enough. They want the municipality to stop stealing the veteran street names so it can memorialize people, and they have drawn up a petition to this effect. Joining them are historians who see the changes as a blow to Jerusalem's heritage.

Residents note the street names had some logic behind them. For example, Shilo Street is one of three streets representing the places the Tabernacle stood before it arrived in Jerusalem.

Nearby streets were named for other important biblical cities, while east of there the streets are named for important mountains in the holy land, and to the west the streets are named for ancient rivers, like Prat and Hidekel.

"The names had thought behind them," says Kobi Frij, one of the protest organizers. "Let the municipality think creatively and memorialize these people in synagogues, classrooms or on benches. Why erase the past?"

Historian Nirit Shalev-Khalifa of the Jerusalem-based Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi institute backs those arguing against the changes. In a letter she wrote to the activists, Shalev-Khalifa notes that many of the area's streets were named by a committee convened in 1920 that included such figures as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and David Yellin.

"Changing the names is an act of disrespect to their legacy and the desire of their generation to fashion the image of Jerusalem," Shalev-Khalifa says, adding that just as today no one denies the importance of preserving historic buildings, the same respect should be shown to historic names.

Geographer and linguist Prof. Yehuda Ziv, a member of the advisory board to the Municipal Names Committee, also opposes the changes. "Lately they've been cutting streets because there are all kinds of people they owe something to," he says. "They're slicing up Agrippas Street like a salami."

The protest is now spreading to the Musrara neighborhood, where the municipality plans to rename a major downtown street, Shivtei Yisrael ("tribes of Israel" ) Street after the late Education Minister Zevulun Hammer.

"This whole business of changing names is unacceptable in my view," says Musrara resident Uriel Adiv. "This street was called St. Paul by the British, after the church that's on it, and when the state was founded the name was changed, which is legitimate. But that's it, finished. There are new neighborhoods - let them put the names there."

It should be noted that new street names don't go over too well with Jerusalemites. Very few even realize that part of Agrippas Street has been appropriated, and anyone looking for Banai Street in the market area is going to have a problem.

The activists point out that Rabbi Mordechai Sharabi, for whom Shilo Street will soon be renamed, would have been put off by the idea. "Honor and material things were far from him," the residents' petition reads. "He would have seen the measure being imposed on the area's residents as superfluous, to say the least."

The Jerusalem Municipality said, "All requests to change street names are examined by an independent, professional committee, headed by the honorable Supreme Court Justice Emeritus Jacob Turkel. The decision to change the names was advertised in the newspapers, in flyers to the residents and on notice boards, to inform residents and allow them a month, till January 5, to submit objections. The Municipal Names Committee will convene shortly to discuss the objections."

About the seemingly doomed Shilo Street, the city said, "Rabbi Sharabi lived, taught and founded a yeshiva on that street, and given his connection to the street, the committee decided on the name change."