Everybody knew him only by his nickname, Teddy. Even David Ben-Gurion, whose close adviser he became after first meeting him in London during his first mission to the Zionist movement at the age of 26, allowed him to keep his non-Hebrew name, Teddy Kollek. He had friends in the highest places, literally all over the world, whether they were well-known statesmen and politicians, or famous musicians, writers and artists. He was just as much at home with them, in crowded informal gatherings at his modest Rehavia apartment, as when he would hold his weekly coffee session inside Damascus Gate to hear requests and complaints from Jerusalem's Palestinian citizens.
The 'Post' pays tribute to Teddy Kollek
Kollek was one of those rare public figures whose unprecedented achievements were recognized in their lifetime, also years after he left office. Even when his illness at the eve of his life forced him to remain outside the public domain, his voice was heard somehow and many people would wonder how Teddy would handle this or that complex situation in the controversial mosaic that forms Jerusalem.
He agreed to become a candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, in the fall of 1965, out of sheer loyalty to Ben-Gurion and on condition that he would run on a non-party list "For Jerusalem."
Teddy's biggest challenge came when, 18 months later, the former Jordanian-Palestinian east Jerusalem had to be molded into one city together with Israel's capital in the West. It was due to Teddy's sense for tolerance and his principle of "live and let live" that Jerusalem could survive the worst tensions. It was this attitude of understanding the other side that also helped solve ongoing frictions between Jerusalem's secular and religious neighborhoods.
Teddy was driven by his conviction and thirst for action and achievement from his early youth, which people of good will simply could not resist. He initiated his first fund-raising during his bar mitzva party in Vienna, when he got enough money together to buy a canoe for his group in the Blue-White Zionist youth movement.
Teddy had been raising money for good and important causes ever since - whether it was for getting Jewish children out of Nazi Austria, or clandestinely buying vital equipment and weapons for the Hagana and the fledgling Israeli army, or for building Jerusalem's Israel Museum over 40 years ago, when many people thought it a crazy idea.
Jerusalem's many edifices and landmarks, which would not have been created without Teddy's drive, will be an everlasting memorial to him. But with Teddy's passing, his most important heritage of tolerance and humanity will have to be nurtured and constantly remembered, lest it be lost and forgotten.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.