THE BLOG
06/14/2011 04:39 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2011

Jerusalem Street Names Reveal Rich Tapestry of History

If you don't mind steep hills, Jerusalem is a delightful city in which to take a morning run.

My usual route takes me through some of the stately old neighborhoods of west Jerusalem -- Rehavia, the German and Greek Colonies, Talbiyeh and Katamon. These are well-established, tree-lined quarters made up mostly of apartment buildings, constructed of Jerusalem stone in the early years of the 20th century. Spring has lingered longer than usual this year and the bushes that creep up the sides of these homes are still blooming in many shades of purple, mauve, pink and red.

Until the latter half of the 19th century, all of Jerusalem's residents lived in the Old City, divided into the Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian quarters and surrounded by the Ottoman walls erected by the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538.

But in 1860, Moses Montifiore, a wealthy English Jew, built the first settlement outside of the walls, Mishkenot Sheananim, marked by a windmill that still stands today.

Other neighborhoods quickly followed as the city's population began to grow, sparked mainly but not solely by Jewish immigration. The German Colony, today a magnet for trendy stores and restaurants, was established in the 1870s by members of the Templar sect from Germany. In the 1930s, many of their descendants made no effort to disguise their Nazi sympathies and the British authorities eventually deported them.

Rehavia was established on a large plot of land purchased in 1921 from the Greek Orthodox Church by the Palestine Land Development Company. It has been home to many distinguished politicians and intellectuals and now houses the official residence of Israel's prime minister.

Jogging gently through these neighborhoods, one cannot avoid being struck by the wide variety of street names. In Rehavia, most streets are named after Jewish scholars and poets from the medieval Spanish Golden Age before the expulsion of 1492 -- men like Abarbanel, Ben Maimon and Ibn Ezra.

But nearby one can find many other interesting street names from different periods of history -- George Washington Street, Benjamin Disraeli Street, and King George V Street, inaugurated in 1924 in honor of the seventh anniversary of the British conquest of Jerusalem under General Allenby and scene of the city's first traffic light.

One recent run took me up Jabotinsky Street, named after the founder of Zionist revisionism which arose to challenge the predominant Labor Zionism of the 1930s. Jabotinsky is a steep hill to climb and it was a relief to turn into Chopin Street named after the Polish-born composer who didn't much like Jews.

I ran down Hapalmach Street, named after the underground fighting force that played a central role in Israel's fight for independence, and turned into Shaul Tchernikovsky Street, named for the Russian-born poet who helped revitalize the ancient language of Hebrew, making it into the vibrant, living tongue that it is today. Tchernikovsky it was who wrote:

Laugh, laugh at all my dreams!
What I dream shall yet come true!
Laugh at my belief in man,
At my belief in you
.

I made a brief foray into Rachel Our Mother, named after the Biblical matriarch, and King Hezekiah, commemorating the monarch, a confidant of the Prophet Isaiah, who survived a siege of the city by the Assyrians in 720 BCE.

But it was time to retrace my steps. I detoured into Rabbi Haim Berlin Street. He was born in Volozhin, Russia, in 1832 and emigrated to Jerusalem in 1906 to become, in his old age, the city's chief Ashkenazi rabbi.

As I headed back to my hotel, it came to me that Jewish Jerusalem of today is an amalgamation of all of these influences. (I realize that in this brief essay, I am not doing justice to the city's rich Muslim and Christian history, which would require a different run taking a different route).

It is an amalgam of ancient and modern history -- of Biblical and modern prophets, of medieval and contemporary poets, of deeply religious and deeply secular Jews, of fighters and pacifists, of Jews and gentiles, of converts to Christianity and martyrs who died rather than forsake their faith. All these figures have made Jerusalem, and by extension Israel, what it is today.