O captain, my captain

I had always wanted to be exactly like my father, and I was always exactly the opposite. He was optimistic, charming, diligent, organized, dedicated, tidy, full of enthusiasm and love of life.

By AMOS KOLLEK
February 4, 2007 10:32
4 minute read.
amos teddy 88 298

amos teddy 88 298. (photo credit: )

I remember the night my father lost the election in Jerusalem. We were gathered in my parents living room, watching the TV. I remember the unfamiliar expression that crept on my father's face. The total disbelief, the wounded pride, the held-back anger. I wasn't unhappy like everyone else around me. I thought, well, all right, maybe I'll have a father now, for a change. I was 46 years old. He was 82. Why not? We had a lot of unfinished business, he and I. A father-son relationship to explore. I guess I'm not such a great patriot. I think about myself before my country or my city. I always have. Around me people were grieving for him and for Jerusalem. The ungratefulness of the citizens! And what would become of the Holy City now that its great and benevolent builder and leader was no longer captain of the ship? I thought: The city will survive. What about me? Two years later I made a documentary film about my father. I did it for the money, mostly, or so I told myself. I never wanted to be remembered as Teddy's son. I wanted to be Amos. We traveled to Vienna. He went into the house where he had grown up. There was a plaque outside, above the entrance, stating that this was the place where Teddy Kollek, Mayor of Jerusalem, had lived in his youth. We went into an apartment where two elderly Austrian women met us. They had lived in that building all their lives, including when they and my father and his brother Paul had been children. They seemed in great awe, those two women, mesmerized by the moment. They were meeting this Great Man. They who had grown up in families that had probably been Nazi or pro-Nazi. Two simple colorless matrons, meeting with this miraculous Jew, this great hero, probably the most famous person they would ever know. My father was very polite with them, but he wasn't warm or friendly. The feeling that haunted him the most throughout his life, he had told me many times, had been the horror of the Nazis. Particularly the murder of masses of helpless Jewish children. He didn't pretend to like these elderly neighbors, who offered him coffee and cookies, or to be happy to see them. After we had left them he said he was sorry the City of Vienna had put the plaque with his name outside the house. Because he didn't want to be remembered in Austria. Afterwards he walked with my mother in the neighborhood where she used to live, where he had picked her up to go to the meetings of the Zionist youth movement and then walk her back home. They strolled the narrow streets, holding hands, two old people who had lived their lives together, pursuing the great dream of Israel. My parents. And I wanted to film this moment forever. To freeze it in time. To never let it go. I HAD always wanted to be exactly like my father, and I was always exactly the opposite. He was optimistic, charming, diligent, organized, dedicated, tidy, full of enthusiasm and love of life. He lived in the moment, never looked back, worked at all hours and always just wanted to do more. A blond man with a big infectious smile, who enjoyed every moment and couldn't wait for the next. Unlike his depressive, soul-searching son, he didn't waste his time looking for the meaning of life. He had figured it out very early on. He was busy building a country, a city, a museum, a stadium, a zoo. He never questioned the road he traveled. But I did learn a few things from him. He had no respect for people who didn't finish what they had started out to do. And he loved all forms of art. (Except the movies.) He bought me my first record of Frank Sinatra and brought me to the set of Exodus, where Otto Preminger was filming Paul Newman and Eva Marie-Saint telling the story of Israel's War of Independence. We weren't very close, as I wanted us to be, but neither were we nearly as distant as I sometimes thought we were. I do know that he respected my opinions, and we collaborated on a lot of articles, and on one book. He came to the premieres of all my movies and helped me with everything I ever did. He never said no to anything I asked of him. In the last few years we didn't talk much. He seemed to be fading and I was never sure what was really on his mind. He loved all the grandchildren, that much I know, and despite the fact that he could move only with difficulty, he played with them with energy and joy that were truly amazing. One day, about a year ago, he suddenly asked me to take him out of the apartment. He seemed restless. I went with him out, down the corridor and in the elevator to the ground floor. We moved through the lobby and he kept saying: "No, not here. Not here." We finally came to the entrance and got outside. There we stayed for a moment, on the sidewalk, silent, while he looked around. He was 94 years old. He suddenly turned to me and said: "Where shall I go now? What can I still do?" I didn't know what to say. He was staring directly at me, waiting for the reply. I tried to come up with something, anything. But I just couldn't. I finally said: "I wish I knew the answer." He said: "If you don't, nobody does."


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