Teddy Kollek, “Perpetual Mr. Jerusalem”, is laid to rest in state ceremony
Many thousands paid their last respects to the former mayor of Jerusalem, filing past his bier at Safra Sq. Thursday morning and following the state funeral procession to the national cemetery on Mt. Herzl, Jerusalem.
As one of the “Ben Gurion boys,” Teddy Kollek was mostly a behind-the-scenes shaper of Israel’s history from its earliest days – until he stepped into the limelight as mayor of Jerusalem from 1965 to 1993.
It was only then that his outstanding skills as a master administrator and familiar of international glitterati from Hollywood to Monaco came to the fore in his quest for support and funds to develop Israel’s backwater capital into a world-class city.
Born in Hungary in 1911 and named Theodor after Herzl by his Zionist father, he grew up in Vienna and moved to Palestine with his wife Tamar in 1937 shortly before the Nazis took power.
He was a founding member of Kibbutz Ein Gev, served in the Hagana and heading its arms purchasing mission. In this bygone age, performed never-published feats of derring-do as organizer of operations to bring Jews out Nazi Europe to the hostile British-controlled shores of Palestine and deep contacts with the beleaguered Jewish communities behind the Iron Curtain – more about which in a separate personal memoir on this page.
From 1952 to 1965, Teddy Kollek was director general of the David Ben Gurion’s prime minister’s office. As well as structuring the new administration, Kollek also acted as trusted aide for the discreet foreign contacts made by Israel’s first prime minister, making use of connections forged in his earlier posting as envoy to Washington.
It was in 1967, when the defeated Jordanian army retreated from the Old City that Jerusalem was finally reunited with its core, Temple Mount and the Western Wall. To remodel the small town, stunted by rusty barbed wire border fences, into a vibrant city, Kollek enlisted flocks of the world’s finest architects, town planners, historians, artists, writers and musicians – and charmed hundreds of millions of dollars from willingly opened purses.
He built the national Israel Museum and its subsidiary network, a large theatre-concert complex, a retreat for creative artists, master classes for budding musicians, parks, new neighborhoods and social welfare institutions. Kollek also promoted a hotel boom which brought floods of tourists and pilgrims.
Teddy gave Jerusalem, new and old, a new infrastructure, personally overseeing every detail, from garbage collection to a new sewage system to replace the 2,000-year old Roman pipes under the odoriferous Old City bazaar, while working hard to give Jew and Arab, Muslim and Christian, ultra-religious and secular communities, their place as citizens in the reunited capital.
His philosophy was one of co-existence in a never-again-to-be-divided Jerusalem. Teddy Kollek once wrote: “Jerusalem’s people of differing faiths, cultures and aspirations must find peaceful ways to live together other than by drawing a line in the sand.”
He is survived by his wife Tamar and a son and daughter, Amos and Osnat.
Often irreverent about pomp and circumstance, Teddy Kollek never set much stock by national honors – especially when accompanied by long speeches. And, aside from the Israel Prize, was underrated in the national stakes, despite his incredibly long catalogue of national achievement.
But for young Jerusalemites, he will always be remembered for the state of the art sports stadium he gave the city. They call it “Teddy” – a spontaneous mark of affection which “Mr. Jerusalem” would have appreciated most.