Student Life: Rehov Tagore, Ramat Aviv

Clearly the city fathers thought it would be appropriate for the streets around the university to bear the names of men of letters, philosophers, writers and Jewish scholars.

Probably not many of the Ramat Aviv residents who walk or drive along Rehov Tagore have even a passing knowledge of the gentleman after whom the street is named. If they look closely at the street signs they might see the forename Rabindranath attached to the Tagore in small letters, and this could be the clue they need to know that his origins are in some exotic and distant place. Rabindranath Tagore was a famous Indian poet and philosopher who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. The street starts right opposite the main gates of Tel Aviv University's sprawling campus and winds around to end at Rehov Einstein at the Ramat Aviv Mall. Clearly the city fathers thought it would be appropriate for the streets around the university to bear the names of men of letters, philosophers, writers and Jewish scholars. So there are streets for Hans Christian Andersen, Henri Bergson, Daniel Moritz Oppenheim and, of course, Albert Einstein. The area is mixed, with old four-story buildings, more modern nine-story buildings and a couple of super-modern 11-story towers. Although Tagore itself does not appear to be especially affluent, other streets not far from it have more of a cachet. Rehov Haim Levanon, named after a former mayor of Tel Aviv, which was Rehov Ha'universita until about 12 years ago, is lined with penthouse-topped luxury buildings. President Shimon Peres has a home around the corner on Oppenheim, and the Rabin family home was also in the area on Rav Ashi. The decision to name a street after Tagore was taken by the Tel Aviv Municipality to commemorate the centenary of his birth in 1861. According to the city spokesman he was an avid supporter of the Zionist cause and therefore worthy of having a street named after him. A committee of 16 people, eight of whom are on the city council and eight from outside but who are knowledgeable about the history of the city, decide on street names for Tel Aviv/Jaffa. Judging by the character of the shopping center located on Tagore, it is very much geared to the large student population who rent apartments in the area. Three pizza places, a few coffee shops and a launderette are good indications of a transient young population. The center also has rather tired-looking clothing and underwear shops, a bookstore, banks and a Blockbuster video. What used to be an absorption center, Beit Milman, has been turned into student dormitories, while one corner of it belongs to Chabad which runs a store selling Judaica, pictures of the rebbe and holy books. Under the dorms, chained bicycles - obviously a favorite form of student transportation - lie in a haphazard mound of metal and plastic. The dorms are especially cosmopolitan, and the languages frequently heard are Russian, Arabic, Spanish and, of course, plenty of English. Strolling up toward the mall, a lovely park on the left provides shade for residents walking their dogs, feeding the pigeons or just breathing in the fresh air. The olive trees and date palms have a venerable air about them. A handsome modern building, the Sol and Cissy Mark Chess Center and Municipal Library is also on this side next to the park. On the sidewalk notice boards carry ads for students - book sales, flat-sharing, concerts. SO WHO was Rabindranath Tagore commemorated in Tel Aviv not by a small alley but a divided road lined by trees and tall buildings? He was born in 1861 in Bengal to a wealthy family of the Brahmo Sanaj sect and educated at home until 17, when he was sent to England. He returned to India to begin his writing career and later helped manage the family estates, which brought him into contact with the common people and increased his interest in social reform. He was a close friend of Mahatma Gandhi and from time to time joined in the nationalist struggle, but they did not always see eye to eye on methods to shake off the British. In fact Tagore was knighted by the British in 1915 for his writing, but within a few years handed back his knighthood to protest British policies in India, especially the massacre of Amritsar. His literary output included plays, novels, short stories and poetry, and it is as a poet that he is remembered. His work was translated into many languages, including Hebrew. He was known to be an inveterate traveler: between 1878 and 1932 he visited 30 countries on five continents. I cannot find any reference to his having visited Palestine, although he was in Persia and Iraq. His travels enabled him to interact with notable contemporaries including Einstein and Bergson, his neighboring streets. But he did have strong and sympathetic feelings towards Zionism. He was in frequent contact with Martin Buber, who wrote to him in 1926 that "the Jewish purpose should be one of pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, in alliance with the peoples of the East..." Later they met and talked about Zionism. Tagore had always admired the Jewish people for its love of peace and scholarship, but he felt there was a great danger that the establishment of a Jewish homeland might result in too great an influence of Western ways. He wanted to see Palestine more in the image of the East, minus the industrialism of the West, and Buber was sympathetic to this view. He died in 1941. Tagore is a sort of Indian Oscar Wilde with many quotable gems and aphorisms. Here's one of his most famous. "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."