Hebrew Diaspora Zionist Place Names (Tel Aviv)

tel aviv

A Jewish State or whatever it is you want to call a country with an entrenched Jewish majority is defined if only in part by a concatenation of names.  Because of its sheer size, Tel Aviv is a particularly extensive and intensive Jewish place, an exclusive and self-impacted concatenation of Jewish street names. Zionism is nominalism. In Tel Aviv, there’s no getting out of the Jewish, but the Jewish is almost utterly name-dependent.

I like in particular how Ibn Gabirol turns into Shai Agnon at a empty, non-descript juncture separating north Tel Aviv and Ramat Aviv, as if with no thought to the dignity of either artist. But they’re all there, all the guys, and nary a woman: Bialik, Ahad Ha’am, Rambam, Ramban, Begin, Shaul Ha’Melech, Balfour, Allenby, Herbert Samuel, King George, Brenner, Borgahaov, Usshiskin, Ben Gurion, Rothschild, Herzl, Recanati, Sapir, Ben Zvi, Rashi, Bar Ilan, Saadia Gaon, Lilillienbaum, Arieh de Modena, Bar Yohai, Malbim, Bograshav, Sirkin, Rubbin, Gordon, Nordau, Wiezman; and the list goes on, a geographic-cultural-gendered index to Jewish history and culture.

With all these urban Jewish plus a few British Mandate era placeholders and a few other exemplary gentiles, there is no place whatsoever in Tel Aviv made for an Arab street name. I’m sure it’s no different in Arab cities, towns, and villages, the difference being that Tel Aviv is such a large place, relative to the country. Nominally, the countryside outside of cities and towns  is much more democratic, what with its more diversified mix of Arab and Jewish place names.

But here’s the funny thing about Tel Aviv. Except for Rabin, who by now has a street named after him in what must now be every Israeli town with a Jewish majority, all the streets in Tel Aviv are named after diaspora Jews. “Ben Gurion,” “Begin,” “Arlozoroff,” “Ben Yehuda,” just where do you think they were born? So much for negating the exile. Historically, Zionism was a Diaspora discourse. You can see that on the map of Tel Aviv.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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8 Responses to Hebrew Diaspora Zionist Place Names (Tel Aviv)

  1. David Kaufman says:

    two quick points, Zak: 1st, you should know that there’s a movement afoot in Tel Aviv to begin adding Sephardic names, responding to the Ashkenazic hegemony (at least among the more contemporary figures); and 2, your concluding point is a bit specious given that most of the “Diaspora” Jews so honored are figures from the history of Zionism, some in Diaspora Zionist politics, but most active in the Yishuv and the early years of the State–that is, they were ‘exile-negaters’ themselves.

  2. Michel Azouly says:

    Without even thinking about it (or looking at a map) I can think of dozens of Tel Aviv streets named after Israelis. Bograshov, Begin, Yehezkel Kaufmann, Yehuda Meregusa, Eliahu Sapir, Shamryahu Levin . . .what are you talking about?

    • zjb says:

      how many of them were born in the Diaspora? again, let’s not forget that Zionism was a phenomenon of the Diaspora it wanted to negate. right?

  3. L Weinman says:

    Man you need to do more research streets are named after eliezer kaplan, golda meir, there is a menachem begin parkand street, a yigal alon street, a schocken street, It also seems by your strange definition folk like borochov and achad haam are diaspora jews because they were born there and their entire life devoted to establishing a jewish homeland..throw in Shimon Peres then with that group of “diaspora” jews.. Also of course is the logistical problem if the city was established in 1909 and certainly most of the grid set up by the 1960s how exactly do name most of the streets after people from the post yishuv and early days of the state: take down tchenikovsky street and rename it for yehuda amichai ?

    Maybe street names in NY or Boston should be changed so they dont reflect pre state leaders….and what’s with Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village, Irving Place, and Washington Square Park and no streets named after Moynihan, Jacob Javits, Ronald Reagan, LBJ,or John Lindsay ?

    14 (of the 400 ) streets in yafo are named for arabs and the city council has moved in recent years to name unnamed streets for arabs

    • zjb says:

      Jaffa is Jaffa and its street names are Arabic. But I’m not sure why he wants to bridle, when the point I wanted to make is nowhere near as “political” as the defensive response it provoked. What strikes me about Tel Aviv is how almost all the streets are named after persons. This is not consistently the same as in the United States (Elm, Oak, 1, 2, 3, etc.). In Tel Aviv, it seems there was an impulse to turn the street map into a library index. Mainly, LW seems to not understand the argument that perhaps, just perhaps Zionism was a Diaspora. phenomenon, not Israeli.

  4. L Weinman says:

    Levinskt, kaplan, ben gurion, dzeingoff…need i go on. Of course there are major streets for balfour, king george and modigliani where do they fit in your analysis ?

    • zjb says:

      LW, defender of the people, missed the point that I mentioned the British Mandate figures and neglects the fact that ben-gurion, dizengoff, and let’s add m. begin, were all born in the diaspora.

  5. Raymond says:

    In a related observation, it’s amazing how many history books fail to take into account events that haven’t try occurred.

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