Sunday, September 09, 2007

From Gaza to Berlin

For the last four days I have lived on Rechov (Street) HaRav Berlin, named after Rabbi Chaim Berlin of the eponymous yeshiva. Rechov Berlin intersects, at a very acute angle, Rechov 'Azah (Gaza), so named because it is along the route of the ancient road that connected Jerusalem to Gaza (see also Derech Beit Lechem, Derech Hevron, and I believe Rechov Yafo).

At the intersection is a falafel stand called בין עזה לברלין (Bein 'Azah leVerlin), literally "between Gaza and Berlin", but its English name is "From Gaza to Berlin".

It's a clever name even just on the surface, because it combines two place names far from Jerusalem that, by accident, happen to be names of intersecting streets. (Jerusalem is, of course, not between Gaza and Berlin in any geographic sense.)

But it goes beyond that, because these aren't just any place names; they are particularly evocative. And the way in which they are evocative for different people is an interesting Rohrschach test.

I have discussed this with several people who heard the name and said something along the lines of "Two places where Jews were killed". My interpretation of the name was completely different: Gaza (in light of current events) represents the epitome of chaos, and Berlin (according to its self-perception in the late 19th century or thereabouts) represents the epitome of "civilization", and the rest of us are "bein 'Azah leVerlin" -- somewhere in the vast intermediate space between chaos and civilization.

Maybe it's because my grandmother is from Berlin and my family lived in Germany for centuries, and so I don't look at Berlin (or Germany in general) only through the prism of the Holocaust.

What does the name mean to you?


  1. Hello, Mah Rabu, welcome to Israel. I hope you have a fruitful visit here. Me, my wife and kids made aliyah 21 years ago.
    Gaza, throughout the centuries, has always been viewed as the gateway to Eretz Israel. IIRC it was settled permanently by Jews at the time of Yohanan Hyrcanus during the time of Hashmonaim rule down to modern times. The largest synagogue mosaic floor ever found in Eretz Israel is found in Gaza City and dates from some time around the 4th century, I believe. The famous Shabbat song "Yah Ribbon" was written by Rav Najjarah in Gaza. The Zionist movement 100 years ago made an effort to encourage a Zionist settlement there in addition to traditionalist community that already existed. The Arab terror campaign in 1936 threatened the Jewish community there, but the Jews were evacuated without suffering any casualties.
    In the 1920's, Rehovot farmer Tuvia Miller purchased land near the Arab village of Dir El-Ballah and farmed it. This land later became the Kfar Darom settlement which was founded by religious pioneers on the famous "night of the settlements" which was motzaei Yom Kippur in 1946 in which 11 "illegal" settlements were set up in one night in the Negev region. Kfar Darom faced a hero battle with the Egyptian Army during the Arab invasion of 1948 and the Jewish fighters were forced to withdrawal after a desperate battle that held up the Egyptian forces for a considerable time (a new book by military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki has come out describing the battle).

    Kfar Darom was rebuilt around 1971. We visited it a number of times and a well-known institute called "HaMachon l'Torah v'ha'Aretz" was started there which does a lot of research into the "Mitzvot teluyot b'aretz", i.e. the agricultural halachot connected with Eretz Israel.

    It pains me greatly to think about Kfar Darom and Gush Katif, but one must always look to the future and not just mourn the past.

    Again, best wishes on your current visit.

  2. My associations-- a meeting of middle eastern and european cultures, rather symbolic of Israel.

    actually, and even stronger association is how much time I spent at that bus stop two years ago.

  3. i pass by it almost every day on the #32 bus from gilo to ramot.
    i figured it had to do with where the owner had lived, like tom friedman's book. guess not.
    so, when are you coming for shabbat?

  4. like you, my family hails from berlin, where my late father was born. we have all had a lot of hassle from our ashkenazi neighbours with regard to our attitude to germany. i have had family members living there for the past 400 years (suriving the holocaust with hungarian passports and then through the kindness of nuns). one of my siblings moved back there, and the first of the next generation of two families forced to flee the nazis was born in berlin 18 months ago.

    to this day i consider myself to be a german jew!
    with greetings from massachusetts :-)
    shana tova

  5. dude - that's exactly what I thought, altho mine was more along the lines of "2 world centers of Jew-hatred."