Kollek's Zionist history

A new biography makes it clear that the man best known as mayor of Jerusalem was an important figure in Israeli history long before 1965.

kollek cigar 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kollek cigar 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Teddy Kollek is best known as mayor of Jerusalem, the position he held from 1965 until he was unseated in 1993. However, the biography Teddy Kollek by Ruth Bachi-Kolodny makes it clear that Kollek was an important figure in Israeli history long before 1965. Born in Vienna in 1911, Kollek's parents were both Zionists, and he joined one of the Zionist youth movements at 11. He read Zionist literature and met pioneers from the Fourth Aliya en route to Palestine. As his Zionist identification flourished, anti-Semitism grew in Austria. In 1935, he sailed for Palestine, leaving behind his sweetheart, Tamar Schwartz, whose parents insisted she complete her matriculation examinations before making aliya. She joined him a couple of months later in Kibbutz Ein Gev and they were soon married. Kollek became a leader in the kibbutz, raising money to develop tourism and music there. In 1938, he was sent to London as a representative of the Jews in Palestine. He helped prepare youth for kibbutz life, and later worked in Prague and Vienna to rescue Jews. In 1940, Kollek made a second trip to London as a representative of the Department for Special Tasks in the Jewish Agency, which involved dealing with the British on joint military plans and traveling to Cairo and Jerusalem to carry out the work. During the trip to London, he met David Ben-Gurion, marking the beginning of a life-long friendship. In 1943, the Jewish Agency assigned Kollek to Istanbul to connect with Holocaust survivors there and send them to Palestine. He also established liaison relationships with British and American intelligence services. When World War II ended, Kollek was selected to go to London to persuade the British to support an independent Jewish state. While there, he established a number of important relationships that would later prove extremely useful. After a year, he went to Europe to help Holocaust survivors move to Palestine. From 1947 to 1949, Kollek headed a mission in New York to secretly procure weapons. He then became an envoy in the Israeli Embassy in Washington. In 1952, Kollek returned home to serve as executive director of the Prime Minister's Office, a job he held until 1963. Among his major achievements during those years was the purchase of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the promotion of tourism and the establishment of the Israel Museum. After leaving the Prime Minister's Office, Kollek worked briefly and unhappily in the private sector until he was persuaded to run for mayor of Jerusalem. During his years in office, he transformed the city into a modern metropolis with impressive buildings, cultural events, parks and museums. Most of all, after Jerusalem was united following the Six Day War, he worked with Arabs, Christians and Jews to bring hope to a complex, often impossible, situation. Kollek, who was deeply involved in many of the important events affecting Israel, is appropriately treated with great admiration in this biography. Because his life was so full, Bachi-Kolodny, a writer and radio broadcaster, occasionally glosses too quickly over what happened. Nevertheless, she has provided a significant introduction to the complicated life of a notable and illustrious Israeli. The writer is the founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University, and dean emeritus at the School of Social Work, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.