Streetwise: Rehov Amrami, Kfar Saba

In a new column, the 'Post' takes a look at the people behind our country's street names.

amrani street 88 224 (photo credit: David Deutsch)
amrani street 88 224
(photo credit: David Deutsch)
Living on a street which bears the same name as you has something of a cachet about it. It's a bit like being lord of the manor in England and makes you something of a local aristocrat. Yael Amrami lives on Rehov Amrami in Kfar Saba. She is the daughter-in-law of the man after whom the street was named, Baruch Amrami, who came to Palestine in the Second Aliya, in 1921. Now 85, she remembers her father-in-law well. Any gaps in her memory were filled in by her son, also Baruch Amrami, a well-known lawyer in the town. The first Baruch Amrami was born in 1888 in Novozikov, Russia, to a religious family and studied in yeshivot until the age of 17. The 1905 pogroms turned him into a Zionist and he left the yeshiva world and joined the Poalei Zion movement. He fled to America but continued with his Zionist activity, which he regarded as the solution to Jewish suffering in Russia. According to his grandson, he studied dentistry and left Russia for Manchuria after the revolution, settling in Harbin like many Russian Jews. He established the first Hebrew school in the Far East and insisted that his three children speak only Hebrew at home. In China he held several public positions, including being on the board of a Russian-language newspaper and delegate to the local Zionist Conference. In 1921 he brought his family - his wife Fenia and three children, including Yael's future husband Eliezer - to Palestine. Yael says they brought rubles from Russia but discovered they were worth nothing after the revolution and threw them away. At first they settled in Petah Tikva but he disliked the fact that Arab labor was used there. He looked for another place to fulfill his dream of Jewish labor and a few months later arrived in Kfar Saba, which had been abandoned at the time of the Arab riots of 1920 and had not yet been rehabilitated. "He was friendly with [Jewish National Fund president Menahem] Ussishkin who offered him a clerical job in Jerusalem," Yael says. "But he refused. He said, 'I didn't come to sit; I came to build the country.'" He was invited to the opening of the Hebrew University in 1925, which he attended, but was clearly determined to leave the world of letters and learning to work the land. As soon as he settled in Kfar Saba, he began his career as a farmer, planting orange groves in the area where Yael still lives. The family started life in a tent but quickly moved to the comparative luxury of a stable, sharing accommodation with the chickens and cows. Although he had the best of intentions, he was not a very successful farmer and was always in debt. "Look at him," says his grandson Baruch, pointing to a faded photograph taken in the 1920s. "He's wearing shorts and trying to look like a man of the land, but he's really a nich-nich [nerd] who was more at home in his public life as the first chairman of the village committee. In the early days, there were no more than 50 families, so you couldn't call him the first mayor as it wasn't a town." One of his first achievements was to transfer administration of the Kfar Saba settlement from Petah Tikva to a local committee. He founded the water company and the first bank of the village. Baruch points to a copy of a document signed by all the elders of the town in 1923. "If you look, you'll see that they all kept their European names and he was the only one who took a Hebrew name," he says. "The family name was Yellinson and as he was a Levi, he took the name of the first Levi - Moshe Ben Amram, which became Amrami. You find the name among the Yemenites, but it's unexpected for an Ashkenazi." Baruch has letters in his possession which his namesake sent to his son Eliezer asking him to send money as the farm was not doing well financially. "I have many debts," he wrote to his son who worked in a packing plant. "Please could you send me one lira to help cover my expenses." As money was so short, only one of the three children could be sent away for an education. By all accounts, Fenia was also a remarkable woman. After her husband died at 52 in 1938, she ran a library from their home and would travel regularly to Tel Aviv to bring books in five languages for her clients. Her young daughter-in-law, Yael, who married Eliezer when she was 17, would often accompany her, and remembers her well, riding back from Tel Aviv on the bus, with a sack full of books and always dressed impeccably with a big straw hat. "I remember a long queue of people waiting outside to change their books," she says. In 1948, soon after the establishment of the state, the street, still unpaved but soon to become a through road parallel to the main drag, Weizmann, was given the name Rehov Amrami. Today it is a pretty tree-lined street with very few high-rise buildings and only a few shops. Yael and Eliezer moved out of the stable they had lived in and built the house which still stands. Eliezer followed in his father's footsteps as a farmer and, although he never held office, was very active in the various volunteer activities of the town. In 1991 he was awarded the title of Yakir Kfar Saba. His two sons are both prominent lawyers in the town, which now numbers 85,000 people. The whys and wherefores of street-naming Rina Paz is the chairwoman of the local street-naming committee of Kfar Saba. "We consider every suggestion that comes up and decide for or against it. As soon as there are two or three requests, the committee meets to discuss them," she says. "Then once we have given our recommendation, the city council has to confirm it." Do they ever refuse a request? "It happens sometimes, but rarely. In general the streets bear the names of people who were notable in the history of the state or in Kfar Saba itself. We have just confirmed that as soon as a suitable street becomes available, we will name one for Rehavam Ze'evi and one for Aharon Yariv." Some areas of the town have a theme - flowers, trees and the like. Kfar Saba has an area of generals. Whenever you see a Rehov Oren (pine) and a Rehov Alon (oak) you can be sure there's a Rehov Dekel (palm) nearby. Some streets have neutral names so they can be discarded the minute a notable person dies and needs to be commemorated. Rehov Ben-Gurion was Hatikva until 1973. Street names evolve too. For years we lived on Rehov Blaustein and had no idea who it was named after. Now the street is called Rahel Hameshoreret, the poetess Rahel, whose surname was Blaustein.