Word of the Day / Midrahov

If you are strolling down a pedestrian walkway in Israel, it's good to avoid the tourist traps and also know the origin of such streets' Hebrew name.

This compound of the words for sidewalk (“midraha”) and street (“rehov”), usually pronounced MEED-ra-khov (though its official vowelization is “midrehov,” with an “e” sound), is more elegant and evocative than its English equivalent, “pedestrian mall” or “pedestrian zone,” calling up as it does the image of a street-like sidewalk or a sidewalk-like street where people wander around without having to fear oncoming traffic.

One of the country’s best-known midrahovs is the one on Ben Yehuda Street in downtown Jerusalem, which stretches from King George Street to Zion Square and is packed with stores, restaurants and Judaica shops (read: tourist traps); it’s also a hot spot for beggars, street performances and the occasional festival. And Tel Aviv has Nahalat Binyamin, near Carmel Market, where artists and craft-makers gather twice a week to sell their work.

Perhaps the compound nature of “midrahov,” the elision of the distinction between spaces for vehicles and spaces for people, has seeped into Israelis’ subconscious, which might explain why in Israel, walking on that most traditional of pedestrian-only zones – the sidewalk – so often entails sidestepping parked cars.