Week after week, Jerusalem resident Hadas Levmore was infuriated as she passed the sign for Beruriyah Street on her way to synagogue. The street was named for a female Talmudic sage greatly admired for her breadth of knowledge, but the sign made no mention of Beruriyah’s great intellectual accomplishments. Rather, it only stated she was the wife of Rabbi Meir, also a venerated Talmudic sage.
A boon to history buffs, Jerusalem’s street signs often include a one- or two-line biographical description of the person the street is named for. But for anyone with a feminist consciousness, reading these can be an exercise in frustration.
Change us on its way as citizens increasingly take action: the signs on Beruriyah Street and on Ruth Street have already been updated in the last couple of weeks.
Back in October 2015, an angry Levmore decided she wasn’t going to take it anymore. She considered printing up stickers with a biography highlighting the sage’s accomplishments (and making no mention of her marital status or husband’s name), and affixing them to the street signs.
“They’d just get washed off when the rainy winter weather came,” she said. So she thought better of the guerrilla tactic and decided to contact City Hall.
It turned out that the Jerusalem Municipality website already had an excellent biography of Beruriyah in its online database of street names. However, Levmore still had to submit a formal request for a sign change to the Municipality’s Names Committee.
In the meantime, Roni Hazon Weiss, a board member for the Jerusalem civic organization and political party Yerushalmim, was lobbying the Names Committee to change the biographical information for the signs on Ruth Street. It was time to say that she herself was the heroine of a biblical book, and not only the wife of landowner Boaz’s and the great-grandmother of King David.
It took a year and a half of patient follow up after their initial complaints to the city for both Levmore and Weiss to finally see results. They hope things will move more quickly for the other signs for streets named for female historical and biblical figures — but they’re not holding their breath.
“It’s a matter of building public awareness, and also awareness among the members of the Names Committee. It took us a year and a half for these two streets, and it was a full four years ago that we started talking about this issue as part of Yerushalmim’s campaign against the exclusion of women from the public sphere,” said Weiss.
Back in March 2013 a group of high school students took it upon themselves to write new biographical statements for 11 Jerusalem streets named for women. They printed up the new signs and taped them up. It seems neither the signs nor the students’ fervor for pushing the matter survived.
Weiss, principal of a Jerusalem high school, is considering reviving the project with some of her current students. While they’re at it, they could also come up with suggestions for more streets named for women. According to Weiss, currently only 7 percent of streets in Israel’s capital city are named for women. Plenty of ideas have already been shared on a Facebook page called Rehov MiShela (A Street Of Her Own).
But before they start naming new streets, there are still plenty of fixes to make with existing ones. Take Berenice Street, for example. Berenice was a queen of Judah during the Second Temple period. The sign on her street says she was a king.