The act of naming streets for people serves as a reminder of those individuals who made a significant contribution to who we are as a community and it is an enduring way to connect us to the people who built our society, in times that are ever changing. But, did you know that less than 10% of street signs in Jerusalem are named after women? It’s mind blowing that with so many remarkable women in Jewish history, so few of them are represented in the city’s street signs. In case the municipal street committee doesn’t know how to rectify this problem, the team at Israel ScaVentures has compiled a list that represents many different backgrounds that make up Israel. We hope that street signs honoring some of these remarkable women will be soon appear on the Jerusalem landscape!
1. Sarah Ahronson (January 5,1890-October 9, 1917)
Known as the “Heroine of Nili,” Ahronson immigrated to Israel with her parents during the First Aliyah in Ottoman Palestine. After witnessing the horrific Armenian Genocide, she became disillusioned with Ottoman rule and decided to aid the British forces. She worked for the British during World War I as a Jewish spy in the Nili ring. This spy ring relayed information to the British from Palestine which enabled them to capture the country. Ahronson led this organization and grew the network to as large as 40 people. She was almost caught but committed suicide before the Ottomans could capture her.
2. Dona Gracia (June 20, 1510-November 3, 1569)
Gracia was a wealthy woman in Portugal, born into a Jewish family that had been forcibly converted to Catholicism. She created an escape route for Crypto-Jews to flee Spain and Portugal as they were being arrested. Using her wealth, she was able to help those who needed it most. Dona Gracia was a successful businesswoman who risked everything for her people. At that time, Crypto-Jewish people were being targeted simply for their religion. Gracia, a Jewish woman who was forced to convert, recognized this and used her privilege to help others.
3. Gluckel of Hameln (1649-September 19, 1724)
Gluckel of Hameln was a German Jewish woman who wrote diaries in pre-modern Yiddish. Her book, The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln, opens a window into the world of Jews in the late seventeenth to eighteenth centuries. She has helped historians, sociologists, and other scholars gain a clearer understanding of Jewish life in that time period. She was also the first known woman to write memoirs in pre-modern Yiddish!
4. Daughters of Tzelafchad
These biblical sisters stood up to Moses when they saw their father’s land being disputed. The rule at that time was that when the father died, his land would go to his sons. Since their father only had daughters, they came before Moses and asked to inherit their father’s land. When Moses brought this case to G-d, He agreed, and the land was awarded to them. Their courage to fight for their place in the Land of Israel should be honored!
5. Hemda Ben Yehuda (1873-1951)
As some of the first Zionists to live in Israel, Hemda and her husband Eliezer were one of the first Hebrew speaking families. At that time, the Hebrew language was not spoken in an informal and conversational way. The Ben Yehudas were pivotal in the creation of modern day Hebrew. Hemda was also a journalist and author. Although Eliezer is more famous than his wife, she was his partner both in getting his dictionaries published and in making the monumental switch of languages in the home, so the Ben Yehuda offspring were the first Hebrew speaking children.
6. Tova Sanhadray (September 23, 1906-August 31, 1993)
Sanhadray was the first female member of the National Religious Party in the Knesset. At a time when women were not allowed to represent the religious community, she fought for religious women’s rights. She was later appointed Deputy Speaker. Tova Sanhadray was an innovator and game-changer. With persistence, she was elected to the Knesset despite prevalent discrimination against women.
7. Shulamit Aloni (December 27, 1928- January 24, 2014)
Shulamit Aloni was head of Meretz and Minister of Education. She advocated for peace and founded the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. Aloni dedicated her life to advocate for rights of different groups and to establish peace in Israel. As a female politician, she was always a minority in the Knesset, but that didn’t stop her from fighting for what she believed in.
8. Dora Gad (1912- December 31, 2003)
Gad was an interior designer who designed the residence of the Prime Minister, the Israel National Library and Ben Gurion International Airport. Dora Gad also designed the interiors of famous buildings all over the world.
9. Miriam Ben-Porat (April 26, 1918- July 26, 2012)
Miriam Ben-Porat was first woman to serve on the Israeli Supreme Court and the first woman to be elected as the State Comptroller.
10. Rachel Cohen Kagan (February 1888-October 15, 1982)
Rachel Cohen-Kagen was one of two women who signed the Declaration of Independence. Throughout world history, important documents are almost always dominated by men. Two women’s names on the Israeli Declaration of Independence might not seem like a lot, but it is significant given the circumstances.
11. Helena Kagan (September 25 1889-August 27, 1988)
Kagan was a pioneer of pediatrics and responsible for the expansion of healthcare in Israel. During Ottoman rule, she was put in charge of the children’s hospital, making her the first pediatrician in the country and the only female physician in the Empire. She created the Israel Pediatrics Association, a home for homeless children, and a health center for working mothers. She dedicated her life to helping women and children regardless of race.
12. Yael Rom (October 10, 1932- May 24, 2006)
Yael Rom was the first certified and active female pilot in the Israel Air Force. She was the co-pilot in the parachute drop which launched the Suez War. Today, women are still not prevalent as pilots, so it is inspiring that a woman held this position in the ‘50s! Without Rom being the first, little girls in Israel would not be able to grow up knowing they could pursue a dream in flight.
13. Sara Schenirer (July 15, 1883-March 1, 1935)
Sara Schenirer wanted to create a place for young girls to learn Torah and fall in love with Judaism. She established the Bais Yaakov school, which now has over 250 campuses and 40,000 students. Schenirer saw the need for more Jewish women to be able to learn Torah and worked tirelessly to achieve this goal.
14. Naomi Shemer (July 13, 1930-June 26, 2004)
Naomi Shemer is known as the First Lady of Israeli song and poetry. Known for her powerful song, Yerushalayim Shel Zaav (Jerusalem of Gold), her music has inspired thousands of people. Her song has been called Israel’s second national anthem, so it seems crazy that she has not been honored with a street sign in the city the song was written for. Her music lifts people up and fills them with national pride. Naomi Shemer deserves to be celebrated for everything she has done.
15. Asenath Barzani (1590-1670)
Asenath Barzani was a Kurdish Jewish woman who was given the title of the first female rabbi. Her husband was the head of her father’s yeshiva after he died and she taught there as well. When her husband died, she became head of the yeshiva and trained young rabbis. Barzani proved that Torah is for all and that it has no gender bias.
16. Zohra Al Fassiya (1905-1994)
Zohra Al Fassiya was a Moroccan Jewish woman who fled Morocco in 1962 and settled in Israel. She was one of the pioneers of modern Arabic music, and much of her music was later adapted for religious Jewish liturgical songs. She recounted her struggles in poverty, and her story is taught today in schools to illustrate harsh Westernization policies in Israel in the past.
17. Dafna Meir (November 17, 1977-January 17, 2016)
Dafna Meir was the mother of six who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian teenager. Her three children were home at the time and witnessed their mother’s murder. All of Israel stood behind her and her family and held them in their prayers. No woman, let alone a mother, should be taken from life so young and in such a vicious way. It is only fitting that the city of Jerusalem commemorates her life and her family with a street sign.
18. Sara Braverman (1918-February 10, 2013)
Sara served as a Jewish Parachutist in Mandate Palestine. She helped Jews escape during World War II and was one of the first female fighters in the Palmach, an elite sect of the Haganah, and a founding member of the IDF Women’s Corps. Braverman was an important piece of the operation which took down the Nazi regime. She put her life on the line for her people and was instrumental in advocating for women in the IDF. While she was honored with the lighting of the torch during the 62nd Independence Day celebration, she should be honored again with a street sign.
19. Zivia Lubetkin (November 9, 1914-July 14, 1976)
Zivia Lubetkin played a pivotal role in the underground efforts of Nazi-Occupied Warsaw. She was a member of a number of organizations working to stop the Nazis. She was one of the organizers of the Warsaw Uprising, leading her fighters through sewers in order to escape and fight outside the ghetto. She was lucky enough to move to Mandate Palestine after the war. Strong and powerful people like Zivia show us the courage and bravery of the Jewish people when in turmoil. She and others like her are an inspiration that we cannot forget!
20. Tzipora Rosenfeld
It’s a little-known fact that of the soldiers who fell defending Gush Etzion in the War of Independence, 22 were women. 75 additional female soldiers were taken prisoner by the Jordanians and kept hostage for a number of weeks. Most of the women who fought were single, but one mother, Tzipora Rosenfeld, sent her son to safety and sacrificed her own life in the battle for Israel’s Independence.
Of course, these 20 individuals represent just a drop in the ocean of women from whom we can and should derive inspiration. Got any other ideas for women who deserve street signs in Jerusalem? Tell is about them in the comments below so our list will grow and grow.