What's in a (street) name?

Malha residents take to the streets to save their names.

street sign 88.298 (photo credit: )
street sign 88.298
(photo credit: )
According to Shakespeare, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But Shakespeare wasn't talking about having your street name changed. In early December 2005, the Jerusalem Municipality published an official notice in two Hebrew newspapers, informing the public that the Municipal Naming Committee had decided to rename a number of the city's streets. Included in this notice were Hashual (the fox), Hakfir (the lion cub) and Hanamer (the tiger) streets in Malha. Rehov Hashual is supposed to now be named for Ya'acov Salman, who was deputy military governor of Jerusalem after the Six Day War. Rehov Hakfir is to become Rehov Haim Kubersky, after a director-general of the Interior Ministry, and Hanamer is to be named in honor of Yitzhak Nebenzal, who was state comptroller from 1961 to 1981. Malha is an upper-middle-class neighborhood built about a decade ago. Located in southern Jerusalem, it is adjacent to the Jerusalem Mall and the Technological Park. It is also very close to the Biblical Zoo, which is why all of the neighborhood's streets are named after animals. "A number of residents brought to my attention notices that had appeared in the newspapers that the city was going to change the names of three of our streets," relates Hanan Schlein, chairman of the New Malha Neighborhood Committee, a volunteer organization of neighborhood residents. "That was the first I heard of the changes. I would like to point out that as chairman of the neighborhood committee, I have had an ongoing relationship with city officials and we have worked together in the past... Nevertheless, our committee did not receive any prior notification... We had to learn about it from the newspapers." The law requires that in addition to publicizing the Naming Committee's decision in the newspapers, local residents have to be given notice as well, so that objections, if there are any, can be submitted within two weeks. The city posted notices in public areas along Rehov Hanamer, along which are 23 apartment buildings with some 250 families. No notices were posted on Rehov Hakfir, which is made up of private homes housing some 200 families. No notices were posted on Rehov Hashual, either, but no residents currently use this street as an address. "The city is claiming that it publicized the changes in accordance with the law," Schlein continues. "But not one resident of Rehov Hakfir was informed of the name change." Lacking a community center, the neighborhood committee started gathering signatures objecting to the name changes, using the local laundry and the local grocery store as headquarters. Neighborhood teens also stood outside the schools to gather signatures. The committee sent out a letter informing residents of the city's intention to change the names of the three streets and instructed them to sign an enclosed flyer and return it to the committee. The committee also advised residents of the bureaucratic hassles that a change of address involves. Hinting that other streets could be next, they also noted that these three streets are "the harbingers" of things to come. Despite their objections, the Interior Ministry has already published notices that it will soon begin informing other government bodies, such as the Income Tax Authority and the National Insurance Institute, of address changes. But residents claim that this still leaves them with the task of informing banks, insurance companies, gas and utility companies and others - not to mention changing business cards, letterheads and such. "Within two weeks, we had some 400 signatures [opposing the change], plus dozens of individual letters which we sent to the city," Schlein notes. "The Naming Committee has to meet to review our objections. If it accepts them, the name changes will be canceled. If it rejects them, then the matter will go to the city council for a vote." "It is not fair. We came to live on a street with a specific name and now we will have to spend time and money to change all our documents and notify all our friends and relatives," states Mihal Remer-Rosenthal, a member of the neighborhood committee. "We also object to the name change because it will destroy the uniform character of Malha where all the streets are named for animals. And we are sure that as soon as the city manages to change these three streets, it will proceed to change the rest of the streets as well." Rahel Mizrahi, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly eight years, says that she has become "attached" to the name of her street. "It's not that I would choose a street according to the name - although I might have trouble living on a street named for someone I really don't agree with politically," she says. "But I've become used to the street name. It gives me a certain feeling, it's the name I taught my kids to say when I taught them their address when they were little. I can see the zoo from my living room porch, so it makes sense to me that the street I live on is named for an animal." Why does the name-change bother her so much? "It will be a big hassle to change everything," Mizrahi answers. She stops for a moment, reconsiders, and adds, "And besides, I'm used to the name and I hate changes, especially when they're imposed on me." Schlein has also written to Shmuel Shafat, legal adviser to the Naming Committee, asking that everyone who signed against the name changes be informed of the committee's decision. But in their reply, the Naming Committee said that this would be impossible: there are just "too many people." "I don't see why residents can't be informed of the decision," Schlein complains. "I also would hope that we would be invited to appear before the committee to explain our objections. And, if our appeal is rejected, I would like the residents to be informed before the matter is brought before the city council. We would like real cooperation from the city and not just 'pretend' cooperation." The municipal spokesman's office told In Jerusalem that there is a dire shortage of streets that can be named after distinguished Jerusalemites who have passed away. "Therefore, it is the municipality's policy to commemorate these people with streets that aren't already named for someone. The municipality published ads in newspapers announcing its intent to change those street names. These ads called for the public to voice their objections to the decision and all objections will be heard by the Naming Committee. Once all objections are heard and discussed, the issue will be brought before the city council, which has the authority to turn down the proposal," the spokesman said. If the decision does come to the city council, it will require a two-thirds majority to pass. Malha residents had approached the head of the opposition in the city council, Nir Barkat (Jerusalem Will Succeed), for his assistance. In his response to IJ, Barkat said, "In a city that claims to give service, I would expect the Naming Committee, headed by Mayor Uri Lupolianski, not to make life difficult for residents. In light of the overwhelming opposition of Malha residents, I have asked the Naming Committee to stop the name changing process."