Ben Yehuda: a man and a street name

When it comes to street signs the ones in Israel tend to humor me. I can be sitting on a bus riding from Eilat, and see a sign for Jerusalem ahead. In America if you see a highway sign it is for a place that is close by. In Israel you could be six hours away and there will be a sign pointing north for the Golan. I found this was also similar in Jordan. When we first crossed the border we saw a sign for Petra, although we still had 2 and a 1/2 hours of driving left. Maybe it’s a middle eastern thing?

Another humorous thing I’ve observed while being here is the little variation Israel has in the names of their streets. In almost every new city or town in Israel there is are streets called, Bar Kochba, Eli Cohen, Rothschild, Ben Yehuda, etc. Israel became a state not too long ago, and it needed to be developed quickly. So it makes sense that a lot of these streets are named after important Israeli figures.

Ben Yehuda Street is one of my favorite streets in Jerusalem. It is filled with musicians playing instruments, people strolling around, and restaurants, bars, and shopping all surrounding them. On Birthright it was the one street name I actually remembered and when I came back to Jerusalem in August I couldn’t wait to go back there. Here is a picture back then of me with my best Birthright friend, Sharona. Check out how long my hair used to be!

As I have been traveling more through Israel these past few months I have been noticing many streets named “Ben Yehuda.” This is when I first began to realize the similarity of street names throughout all of the cities and towns in this lovely country. So who exactly is Ben Yehuda and why are there so many streets named after him?

Unlike all of the “Main St.’s” in the states, “Ben Yehuda” is a bit more prominent for a street name to be used often. For over 2,000 years Hebrew was a dead language. But because of Eliezer Ben Yehuda the language has been revived and is now used every day.

In the past Jews only knew how to speak and read Hebrew for praying. But around 1880, Ben said, “We have a country and therefore, we have a language.” Ben Yehuda was a bit of a ‘meshugganah’ (crazy man in Yiddish, as said often by Larry David’s dad on Curb Your Enthusiasm). He was as stubborn as can be. Although don’t you kind of have to be if you want to revive a language and teach millions to follow along with you?

Many Hebrew words found in the Torah did not exist for an everyday language. For example, where is the word for ‘backbook mayim’ (waterbottle in Hebrew) in the Torah? Ben Yehuda decided to create new words for the Hebrew language. He took a lot of the roots from Russian because duh, duh, duh… he is from Russia. As I continue to learn the Hebrew language I’ve been noticing how much meaning there is behind the words. For example, “Beit Cholim” (hospital) literally means, “home for the sick people.” There are also many words that are actually the same in English (Tuna = Tuna, Tofu = Tofu), and of course some Yiddish is also thrown in there.

Ben Yehuda also helped toward enacting Ulpan — an intensive Hebrew learning course for all new immigrants to Israel. This is what I have been taking for the past three months. Without it I do not think I would have progressed nearly as quickly as I have in learning to read, write, and speak the language.

Within Israel and the Hebrew language there is a lot of direct meaning. This also humors me because many people travel to Israel to help find meaning in their own life. The Jerusalem Syndrome anyone?

3 thoughts on “Ben Yehuda: a man and a street name

  1. First, I love how this blog is categorized under fun facts. FUN!

    Secondly, the streets named after Ben Yehuda reminds me of how there are many schools in the United States name after John F. Kennedy. Society always will find a way to remember the most influential characters in our lives, whether it be through street signs or school names!

  2. Pingback: Daily Roundup: Participant Blogs – November 23, 2010 | The Masa Israel Blog

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