Grapevine: Travesty for Teddy

It was yet another case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

January 5, 2017 22:53
Yehuda Brandes

RABBI YEHUDA BRANDES (right), president of Herzog Academic College, makes a presentation to Dr. Yair Barkai, the former president of Lifshitz College, in the presence of Rabbi Shlomo Brinn, one of the heads of the Har Etzion Yeshiva.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

On the face of it, the idea to hold a tribute event for Teddy Kollek, the legendary, long-serving mayor of Jerusalem, on the 10th anniversary of his passing seemed to be more than appropriate. In fact, Ruth Cheshin, who together with Kollek conceived and headed the Jerusalem Foundation, which has done so much for the capital’s development, confessed that she was somewhat embarrassed that the foundation had not held a similar event at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, but she was glad that Beit Avi Chai had taken up the gauntlet.

Unfortunately, however, the tribute turned out to be a travesty. Several members of the audience protested that they had come to hear about Kollek and not about the current politics of the Jerusalem Municipality, and some walked out long before the evening was over. It was yet another case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Capable, dedicated and charming though he may be, there was no reason for Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Ofer Berkowitz to be part of the program. The audience had come to fondly reminisce about Kollek and not to hear Berkowitz’s views on today’s Jerusalem. To a large extent, the fault was that of moderator Tal Rosner, who, several members of the audience agreed afterward, had asked the wrong questions.

While it was entirely appropriate for Cheshin and for Kollek’s daughter, Osnat, to share memories, other invitees should have included other well-known personalities such as Amos Mar-Haim, Dalia Itzik, Uzi Wexler, Yehoshua Matza, Moshe Amirav and Meir Porush, who had all worked with Kollek, whom everyone knew as Teddy.

Unfortunately, his son, Amos Kollek, was unable to attend, due to illness, but Osnat Kollek presented several vignettes of her workaholic father, who used to leave the apartment at 6 Rashba Street at 5 a.m. and return at midnight, delegating the raising of his two children to their mother, Tamar. His whole raison d’etre was Jerusalem. He had been encouraged by David Ben-Gurion to run for mayor, and after winning the election was constantly occupied with building up the city and promoting peaceful coexistence among the different sectors of its population.

Osnat Kollek recalled that when she was 20, she happened to be in New York at the same time as her father and had persuaded him to take a carriage ride through Central Park. But he was in America to raise funds for Jerusalem, and his mind was not exactly on the carriage ride, other than to complain that the horse was going too slowly and that he had work to do.

The Jerusalem Foundation, which raised the funds for so many of the capital’s cultural projects, such as the Israel Museum, the Khan Theater, Mishkenot Sha’ananim and many others, had to battle finance minister Pinchas Sapir, said Cheshin. He didn’t object to the Hebrew University or some other institution collecting funds abroad, but reserved for himself the right to ask for funds for Jerusalem. So during the period of his tenure, the Jerusalem Foundation was known as such abroad, but went under a more innocuous name in Israel. All its fund-raising was earmarked for specific causes, meaning that it never had financial reserves.

The leaders of the Tel Aviv and Haifa municipalities came to learn from Jerusalem, as did Bethlehem mayor Elias Frej, whom Kollek advised to search out former residents living abroad to contribute to projects in the city of their birth. Unfortunately, said Cheshin, Frej allegedly tended to confuse the funds coming in for projects with those of the municipality and his own personal finances, so in the case of Bethlehem, the system became too complicated and didn’t work too well.

Cheshin noted that Teddy often raised hackles in his efforts to ensure that all residents of Jerusalem would enjoy equal rights. This in fact is borne out by a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report of May 19, 1968, about a Jerusalem City Council meeting of March 18. The report reads: “The Jerusalem City Council last night failed to adopt a motion that would have forced Mayor Teddy Kollek to get its advance approval of any statement he might make on security matters or foreign policy. The motion, if passed, would have been, in effect, a censure of the mayor for his outspoken criticism of government bureaucracy, particularly in its dealings with Arab residents of east Jerusalem. Kollek was also sharply critical of the way in which the army blew up two buildings in east Jerusalem that were owned by a captured leader of the Fatah terrorist gang. Kollek explained at the council meeting that his criticism of bureaucratic delays in finding housing and employment for some east Jerusalem Arabs reflected the views of the city’s residents as he saw them and not necessarily those of the city council.” It would appear that very little has changed in close to half a century. If anything, the situation may even be worse.

■ FOR THE first time in several years, an ambassador of Myanmar stationed in Israel hosted a reception to mark his country’s independence day. Ambassador Maung Maung Lynn and his wife, Khin Lay Mu, hosted a reception at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv to mark Myanmar’s 69th anniversary of independence. Representing the government was Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel had been scheduled to attend, but notified the Foreign Ministry only a few hours before the function that she was indisposed. The ambassador was extremely gracious, and not only welcomed Kara as an honored guest but thanked him for his kindness in coming to spend time with the people from the Myanmar Embassy.

Also present were Myanmar students currently studying in Israel and dressed in the traditional costumes of various Myanmar regions. The students sang and danced for the guests, who included Yun-sheng Chi of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv (the de facto embassy of Taiwan in Israel), who is seldom seen at national day events, due to the possibility that his presence might offend the Chinese ambassador. But the Myanmar reception was in some respects a celebration of Asian unity, with guests including representatives of nearly all Asian countries that have relations of any kind with Israel.

Lynn observed that his country, formerly known as Burma (and still known as Burma by some other countries that desist from acknowledging the 1989 name change), and Israel each achieved independence from British rule in 1948 – Burma in January, and Israel in May. Burma was the first Southeast Asian country to recognize Israel, and diplomatic relations were established in 1953. The bond of friendship between the two countries has remained unbroken, and Lynn is proud of the fact that Israel’s founding prime minister, Ben-Gurion, spent his longest trip abroad when he visited Burma in 1951, and that Burmese prime minister U Nu was, in 1955, the first foreign prime minister to visit Israel.

Other noteworthy visits by high-ranking Israelis to Burma included those of president Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and foreign ministers Moshe Sharett, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres.

Both Lynn and Kara mentioned the thousands of Myanmar students who have come to Israel under the auspices of Mashav, the Foreign Ministry’s Agency for International Development Cooperation and other agencies, and Lynn was also emotionally moved by the fact that Israel has a Burma Road, which was built as a bypass road during the siege of Jerusalem during the War of Independence. Lynn said that aside from the close latter-day relations between Myanmar and Israel, there is a legend in his country that the Burmese people were linked to the lost tribe of Levi.

■ HERZOG ACADEMIC College in Jerusalem recently inaugurated a campus for teacher training and continuing education at Heichal Shlomo in the heart of the capital.

HAC is the result of a merger between Lifshitz College of Education and Herzog College. As far as is known, Lifshitz College, co-founded in Jerusalem in 1921 by Rabbi Eliezer Meir Lifshitz and Rabbi Moshe Ostrovsky-Hame’iri, was the first religion-oriented training seminary for teachers in Israel. It trained future teachers and educators for senior positions in Israeli and Diaspora education systems. Herzog College, a Torah-committed teacher’s training college, was founded in 1973 in Alon Shvut.

The two institutions amalgamated in recent years and now offer a wide range of BA and MA programs with separate classes for men and women, with four campuses. It is currently the largest religious academic college in Israel, with 2,750 students, 2,350 of whom are in undergraduate school and 400 in graduate schools. In addition, 2,000 teachers and educators study in the various professional development tracks. The new campus will include 550 students studying for graduate degrees, and some 1,500 teachers who will be taking development courses.

The inauguration ceremony included a panel discussion on truth, faith and the formulating of identity in a postmodern world. Participants were Rabbi Ya’acov Medan, Rabbanit Dr. Michal Tikochinsky, and Dr. Tsuriel Rashi. Among those present were Rabbi Yehuda Brandes, president of Herzog Academic College, and Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem.

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