Wallach, Between Socrates and Holzberg

The Tel Aviv Municipality's street names committee published a large ad in the newspapers Tuesday containing the new names of city streets previously known by number only. For example, 3824 Street in Jaffa will henceforth be known as Kurt Sochowolsky Street, or if you will, Sochowolsky Strasse, to complete the illusion that Tel Aviv is some sort of Berlin or Vienna that landed on the shore of the Mediterranean.

The most unlikely people have gained immortality. Such as the French translator Eliyahu Meitus, whose translation of Charles Baudelaire's "Flowers of Evil" was for years the only complete Hebrew rendering of this collection of poems. Gustav Mahler will also get his strip of asphalt, on the outskirts of south Tel Aviv, as befits a Jew who converted to Christianity.

Most of the city's numbered streets are in the poorer sections of Jaffa, Yad Eliyahu or Kiryat Shalom. In Tel Kabir, a stone's throw from the famous jail, behind the Panorama House commercial center on Ben-Zvi Boulevard, a street will be named after perhaps one of the greatest German poets of the 20th century, Paul Celan, a Holocaust survivor who drowned himself in the Seine in 1970. His best known poem is "Death Fugue," with its bewitching refrain, "your golden hair Margarete, your ashen hair Shulamith."

The future Celan Street is the exit from the Panorama House parking lot. There are a number of black-doored warehouses along it, one huge one housing a charity organization that distributes used furniture for free. I asked a volunteer if this was really the 1773 Street that was slated to become Celan Street. She had no idea what I wanted from her. "This is not a street," she said. "This is the Panorama House."

In the heart of the Jaffa Flea Market is a pedestrian passage full of junk shops, known as 3350 Street. At its northern corner is a kiosk selling natural juices, where a number of elderly salesmen sit dozing in the shadows. I asked one of them if he knew that the name of this alley would soon be changed to Rabbi Haim Nahum Street. "Well, why not?" was the reply. The tattoo-chested juice vendor said he lives on Dr. Nahum Nir Street in Bat Yam. If they call this street Nahum, he'll have two addresses with Nahum.

Rabbi Haim Nahum, let it be known, was one of the most fascinating and influential figures in the Oriental Jewish world in the first half of the 20th century. The chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire in its waning days, he was one of the first emissaries to Ethiopia in 1907 to seek out Ethiopian Jews, and was the chief rabbi of Egypt until his death in 1960. He deserves more than an alley in the flea market.

Then I went seeking after the street named for the poetess Yona Wallach. On the map of Jaffa, it looks simple: Turn left on Yefet Street into Isaac Harif Street, go straight and then right. In reality, Harif Street ends suddenly, blocked by tires. If one continues on foot, one encounters beyond it something between a village on the Nile Delta and a Gypsy encampment in Romania. A thin horse chewing on something, junked cars, tin shacks and a goat pen. Two tough guys tell me I am on the private property of the Daka family. I apologize and back out quickly through a puddle of sewage. Now to find 3833 Street, theoretically between Socrates (!) and Simha Holzberg streets. Finally, it appears. Between two tenements is a paved path about wide enough for a baby carriage or a bicycle. This will be Yona Wallach street. If "Yonatan," in her poem of the same name, agrees to "a hole of a thumbtack," she has apparently been assigned an alley the size of the eye of a needle.

The cry of the disadvantaged, Arab residents of Jaffa who are condemned to live on a street whose name they cannot properly pronounce, is what I heard from the Abu Nar family, living at the top of 3136 Street, overlooking the Mediterranean. First to peek out the window was the father. Five times he tried to pronounce the name Jacques Offenbach, soon to be the name of his street. "Offenbach wrote operas," I explained, making conducting gestures. "So what? That's definitely not for us," the father said. "Write, write to City Hall," he urged me. On the other side of the street is a mansion built by Jews, adorned in Eastern style, and stealing most of the sidewalk. To pass here, pedestrians have to step into the street and at the same time practice mouthing "Jacques Offenbach." If Offenbach were alive, he would probably write a humorous aria about it.