Usually, someone honored with a street in Jerusalem named after them cannot attend the naming ceremony.
According to Jerusalem laws, streets can only be named after someone who has been deceased for three years, or in the case of the Old City, someone who died before the year 1500.
But that didn’t stop Ukrainian businessman Vadim Rabinovich from attending the ceremony of renaming an Old City plaza as Vadim Rabinovich (Z’L) Plaza in April.
The abbreviation Z’L stands for the Hebrew phrase “May his memory be a blessing.”
City Councilor Rachel Azaria (Yerushalmim) petitioned the High Court of Justice for Administrative Matters, claiming that the municipality broke its own bylaws when it honored Rabinovich.
The High Court requested that the city’s legal adviser, Amnon Merhav, submit an opinion on the matter by July 1. Last week, Merhav recommended that the dispute be reevaluated by the city’s naming committee.
“Unfortunately, the documents were presented to the naming committee and the city council made it understood that Mr. Rabinovich was no longer alive,” Attorney Shmuel Shafet of the city’s legal investigation unit wrote in the recommendation.
Despite this misunderstanding, mayor Barkat and a number of city leaders were present when Rabinovich modestly accepted the honor during the renaming ceremony.
Rabinovich’s name was submitted by Shlomo Atias, the director of the Old City Development Corporation, in September 2011 as a way to thank Rabinovich for his large financial contributions to the Old City, including money to refurbish the Hurva Synagogue, Shafet wrote. According to the city’s bylaws, streets can be named after people who are not dead for less than three years “in extenuating circumstances.”
Shafet argued that the naming committee needs to discuss whether or not Rabinovich meets the criteria of extenuating circumstances.
He also pointed out in the letter that it will be difficult to rename the plaza because the naming ceremony has already taken place.
“We need to honor the law – the law is the law, but the donation of this man to the municipality is really well known and honored,” said Deputy Mayor Masha Novikov (Yisrael Beyteinu) who is part of the naming committee, but did not attend the meeting where the Rabinovich plaza was discussed.
“This man renovated the Hurva. There aren’t a lot of men like this,” she said.
“The fact that Rabinovich [plaza] was named in a fraudulent and illegal process is deeply disturbing,” said Rachel Azaria, who hailed the legal adviser’s recommendation as a victory. “I am disappointed Mayor Nir Barkat was not as disturbed as we were by the naming process, and waited for the legal process to admit his wrongdoing. I am sure that now that all the facts are known and made public, the square will not be able to be named after Rabinovich.”
There has also been debate over whether it is appropriate to name a prominent square overlooking the Western Wall after a man who is denied entry to the US for allegedly shady business dealings.
A municipality spokeswoman said that Barkat would uphold the legal adviser’s recommendation to have the naming committee reexamine the issue, but that they did not currently plan on changing the name unless the committee decides otherwise.
(Gil Shefler contributed to this report.)