Monday, September 19

What is in a name?

The French artist Alain Fleischer points out that the end of memory is the death of death, in "La Nuit Sans Stella" (The Night Without Stella). When the names are wiped out from the gravestones and the enamel images thrown out somewhere else, even memories fade.

In Jaffa whole streets as well as neighborhoods (e.g. Manshiye) have been wiped out, their buildings destroyed, the rubble thrown into the sea, thus creating the infamous "Givat HaZevel" or garbage hill.

But many of the still existing streets are difficult to recognize. Their names have been changed, e.g. "Howard" Street became Raziel Street, "Nuzha" became Jerusalem Boulevard etc. . People got used to the new names and very few still remember (or are aware of) the original names.
These name changes were not naive by any means, as they helped wipe out Jaffa's rich cultural Palestinian past. The old street names are reminiscent of the time when Jaffa was indeed "the Bride of Palestine", a cultural and intellectual center.

Jaffa has many unnamed streets, small alleys as well as little roads and side streets, indicated only by a number. A group of Jaffaites asked the municipality to consider giving those streets, especially in Arab majority neighborhoods, relevant names.
In all of Jaffa, there are 3 or 4 streets with Arab names. Even in 100% Arab neighborhoods, the streets are called after rabbis etc. and Jewish concepts. Sometimes this leads to funny mistakes. Friends of mine live in "Bsht" street, the Hebrew acronym of "HaBa'al Shem Tov", an important mystic rabbi who lived all his life in Eastern Europe some 200 years ago. But most of the people living there, both Arab families and recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union call the street "Bsht", unaware of the real meaning. The Ba'al Shemtov (of blessed memory), who had, according to the myth, a good sense of humor, would have had a good loud laugh, i like to think.
But who of the inhabitants is aware of the meaning of the name. Instead it is "bsht".

Some of the worst public housing in Jaffa is located in a street caled "Mikhlol Yofi" (Total Beauty) and another street is called "HeShemot HaGdolim" (the great names). Only a real cynic could think of these names for those streets, or someone who never visited the place. It's probably the latter.

But, as i stated before, a name is a name and once people get used to a street name, it is diificult to change it.

Now what about the numbered streets? The municipality intends to provide these with names. A small group of Jaffaites asked for street relative to Arab and Palestinian culture.
It would be nice to live in "Emile Habibi" Street (Palestinian Israeli author and recipient of the Israel Prize for Literature) or Abed El Wahab Plaza, or perhaps Om Kalthoum Road. And what about Fadwa Toukan Alley?
Yet i'm pretty sure it won't happen. Instead we'll get another bunch of names meaning nothing to Jaffa residents and wiping out yet one more piece of Jaffa's cultural identity.

And, by the way, in all of Tel Aviv, about 5% of the streets are named after women. That's much less than a sorry record.

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