Friday, February 22, 2019 -
Print Edition

Herod . . . Trump . . .  Trumpeldor

As a gesture of gratitude to Trump being the first US president to acknowledge the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israel Katz, Israel’s minister of transport, announced the naming of a new train station in the Old City of Jerusalem after Donald Trump.

People are up in arms.

Memorializing Trump’s decision at the threshold of Judaism’s holiest site just feels wrong. The new name for the Kotel train stop would be everlastingly associated with Donald Trump?

It’s insane, I thought to myself.

Then . . . wait a second, I thought to myself. The reality, or the irony, hit me . . . Herod’s Gate! Herod, who refurbished the Temple so extensively, is memorialized at Jerusalem’s holiest site.

Then . . . the city of Caesaria. And Tiberias . . . all Roman leaders!

Personally, I focus on the steps leading down to the Kotel, through the Old City, and the legend of Rabbi Judah Hanasi is what speaks to me as I enter this sacred space.

But Israel is layered with contradictions, replete with political machinations through the centuries, and made up of complexities of all kinds. Time and again, we have held onto Israel through political choices or favors. Granted, there is the spiritual dimension; there is the hope of a perfect redemption. But until then, Israel’s existence is part and parcel of political reality.

Donald Trump is part of the political reality.

Even the Second Temple, though initially built due to permission from Persia’s King Cyprus, was politically intertwined.

The current modern State of Israel itself came into existence due to a narrow vote of nations who supported her creation at the UN — Stalinist Russia among them. The the bottom line is, if we had waited for a more refined society like Great Britain, for example, to lend its approval to the UN Partition Plan that was the seed of Israel’s birth, Israel wouldn’t exist today. Infamously, Britain abstained.

I have taken a special pleasure in walking and knowing the interwoven streets and alleyways of beloved Jerusalem . . . mapping my way through neighborhoods rooted in names of holy sages or famous Jewish historical or literary figures. But also rooted in the names of politicians. It’s complicated.

Jerusalem street names ought to reflect her Jerusalem-ness.

Not far from where I lived in Jerusalem was a Trumpeldor Street, named for Joseph Trumpeldor, a Palestinian Jew who fought for Britain in the “Zionist Mule Corps” during WWI and then died defending Tel Hai, in Israel.

So there’s that precedent to the word “Trump” if not the person. A street name constructed from the word Trump would not be a first for an Israeli Street. And oddly enough, the carpool and hitchhiking pick up stops in Israel are knows as trempiadas, so the corny word play about the Trumpiada has been making the rounds, too.

Of course the issue here is the person, not the name. You don’t think of an American president prominently named at the Kotel. It just feels inappropriate, not in the spirit of the place.

Even Abraham Lincoln St. (with its famous phonetic Hebrew spelling leading to its mispronunciation, Ling Colon; another Jerusalem street story for another time) is tucked away in Jerusalem’s Rechavia neighborhood.

The real issue with this declaration is its impulsiveness.

Nothing formal on the ground has been executed. Even if you feel that for symbolic reasons, as well as for historical integrity, moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is essential, wouldn’t it be a good idea to wait and see how Trump’s declaration plays out before naming a train stop for him smack in the holiest part of the city?

I haven’t been in Israel for a while, so I am not up to date on all the new train stops. But the way so many responded, I just figured this was a new Old City stop on the route.

Which I was surprised by, because how on earth can the municipality excavate for a train stop in the Old City, the center of archaeological digs and treasures? Aren’t there endless laws and stipulations about building anything in the Old City of Jerusalem, let alone a train station?

Then I happened on an article that said something like, the expected date of completion for the train station will be in about four years.


If this train station that everyone is having a meltdown over will be built in four years, then by Israeli real estate definition this actually means at least double, so eight years.

By then, who knows what will be with Trump, with the US embassy, and with the train station?

But if somehow the US Embassy moves to Jerusalem without triggering bloodshed and peace is in fact achieved, then the Messiah will truly have arrived and the train station can be named for him.

Similarly, if in fact history will prove that Donald Trump’s declaration about Jerusalem was a turning point for good in the Middle East, he will then have indeed become a part of Jerusalem’s story, and his name can grace an entire piazza in Jerusalem.

But until such time, while I appreciate Israel’s desire to express gratitude, please, let’s stick with Rechov Trumpeldor.

Copyright © 2017 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

Leave a Reply