The People Behind Israel’s Street Names
As soon as you have spent a short amount of time in Israel you will realise that wherever you go there are numerous reoccurring street names. Whether you are in a big city, a small moshav or anything in between, some names crop up time and time again.
In the centre of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv you will find King George Street and close by Ben Yehuda Street. While there is no connection between the two figures, they are both extremely important in the history of the country.
The King George streets are of course named after King George V who ruled at the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and was always highly supportive of the Jews. . The Jerusalem street was named in 1924 while the Tel Aviv street came about in 1935 in honour of the king’s silver jubilee. Jerusalem’s King George street was dedicated in honour of the seventh anniversary of the British conquest of Jerusalem under General Allenby. You can still see the plaque commemorating the event at the intersection of King George and Jaffa, and incidentally, this is also the site of Jerusalem’s first traffic light.
Israel’s Ben Yehuda Streets are named after Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the driving force behind the revival of the Hebrew language. You are sure to learn about Ben Yehuda during your gap year in Israel but in short, in the nineteenth-century he decided that reviving the Hebrew language was an essential part of the Zionist dream and dedicated his life to doing so. Ben Yehuda moved to Jerusalem in 1881, when he was 23 years old, where he became a major figure in the establishment of the Committee of the Hebrew Language.
However, neither of these figures are the inspiration behind Israel’s most common street name, that honour goes to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder and leader of the Irgun and Revisionist Zionism movement. Jabotinsky was instrumental in training Jewish fighting forces in Palestine and dedicated his life to establishing a Jewish state. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack in 1940 while visiting a Jewish self-defence camp run by Betar in the United States (Betar was the youth wing of the Alliance of Revisionists-Zionists, a movement established by Jabotinsky in 1923).
Another very common street name is Tchernichovsky, named after the poet Shaul Tchernichovsky. He was a Russian doctor and poet who moved to Palestine in 1931 and while working as a doctor produced a huge amount of poetry. He was twice awarded the Biallik Prize for Literature and to this day he is considered one of Israel’s great poets. In fact, a few years ago he was chosen as one of the four great Israeli poets whose faces would be placed on Israel’s currency.
There are of course many other very common street names in Israel, such as David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl, Golda Meir and so on. While on your gap year try and pay attention to all these names as through them you can gain a fantastic insight into those responsible for making Israel into the country it is today.