Teddy Kollek and his life-long dedication

Above all, he will be remembered as patron and protector of all of J'lem's citizens and guests.

teddy kollek b&w 298.88 (photo credit: Jerusalem municipality)
teddy kollek b&w 298.88
(photo credit: Jerusalem municipality)
Teddy Kollek, who served as mayor of a newly united Jerusalem for a quarter-century after the 1967 war, and whose charisma, charm and passion made him one of Israel's most beloved public figures here and abroad, died on Tuesday morning, at the age of 95.
  • The 'Post' pays tribute to Teddy Kollek Although Kollek's career in government long-preceded his tenure as the capital's mayor, his impact on the city was so great he will best be remembered by the title he earned in his lifetime as "the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod." Over the years, he used both the municipality and his own privately-established Jerusalem Foundation to both beautify the city, and to try to realize his vision of Jerusalem as a "beautiful mosaic," where Jews, Muslims and Christians live together in harmony under Israeli sovereignty. Although that idyllic vision was never able to overcome the competing political claims on the city, Kollek is given due credit for revitalizing Jerusalem's social and cultural life after its unification, creating numerous institutions, including the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Theater, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, Mishkenot Sha'nanim, Teddy Stadium and many others that serve all the capital's inhabitants. As much as for his achievements, Kollek was appreciated both locally and internationally because of his larger-than-life personality, which mixed the irrepressible charm and joie-de-vivre of his native Vienna, with a salty down-to-Earth Israeli bluntness. Kollek, known to everyone simply as "Teddy," seemed as at home lending an ear at all hours of the day and night to his constituency's complaints and requests as he did hobnobbing with the millionaire sponsors of the Jerusalem Foundation, or such celebrities as Danny Kaye and Kirk Douglas, whom he counted as personal friends. Kollek's career was not without disappointments. Although the Labor-linked candidate was successful year after year in being elected in a city boasting a large Likud electorate, he seemed both unwilling and unable to adapt his blunt style of governing for the national political arena. He also never fully won over the city's growing haredi population, whose solid support for Ehud Olmert in the 1993 municipal election finally ended his run at city hall. Kollek's best efforts to woo Jerusalem's Arab population were also insufficient to prevent the violent Palestinian intifada from spreading to the capital in 1987, forever shattering the "beautiful mosaic" image he had worked so hard to cultivate. But while Kollek insisted that the city must never again be divided and that it remain under Israeli sovereignty, he was also a pragmatist who believed that some concessions would have to be made in a final settlement. Jerusalem was to him "a beautiful place set in the mystical Judean Hills, conducive to meditation and thought and wonder at the meaning of life." It was perhaps even more to him; it was life itself. Kollek's deep understanding of Judaism and his highest respect for religious observation and institutions were frequently tested by ultra-Orthodox extremists who denied both Zionism and the state or national authority, and wished to create their own mini-state within the city. But despite being known for his short temper, Kollek usually responded to their vicious attacks, frequently personal, with patience, moderation and understanding. He was certainly above the petty matters of the moment, and believed in his sense of justice and overall responsibility. Kollek had a life-long record of service to the Zionist cause. The crushing burden of security and the perennial problems of Jewish survival were concerns for him long before he even dreamed of becoming the capital's mayor. Kollek's talents, his steadfast Zionist conviction, his ability to organize and inspire the Jewish youth before the outbreak of World War II, his rescue activities during the Holocaust and his pioneering work toward the establishment of the Jewish State should also never be forgotten. But above all, "Teddy" will be remembered as patron and protector of all Jerusalemite citizens, tourists, guests and visitors, whatever their backgrounds and beliefs. His father-like, towering figure and his spirit of creativity will continue to dominate the Jerusalem scene for generations. Child of Vienna Kollek was born on May 27, 1911, in Nagyvaszony, a small Hungarian village not far from Budapest. His parents married in 1910 in Vienna, but shortly afterwards went to Hungary, where Kollek's father, Alfred, was an employee of a timber company owned by Vienna Rothschilds. One of Kollek's grandparents, a rabbi and teacher, came from Hungary and three others from Bruen, a German-speaking town in Marovia. Kollek always took pleasure in noticing that Franz Kafka, Arthur Schintzler, Max Brod and Sigmund Freud were all born in the same Moravian neighborhood. He was brought up in a moderately traditional Jewish household, and was named Teddy after Theodor Herzl. As a child he traveled around Austria with his mother and to Germany or wherever his father, an officer of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was billeted during World War I. In 1918, the family returned to Vienna and Kollek entered his second year of elementary school. While the family lived by all old values: tradition, honesty, hard work, loyalty and Jewishness, Kollek was never an exemplary pupil. He was more interested in Zionism and halutziut (pioneering). During the 1920s, the Kollek household, however, was a central meeting point for Viennese Zionists and frequent visitors from Palestine. As a youth, Kollek heard about Yishuv's struggles from Yosef Baratz, one of the founders of Kibbutz Degania. It was only natural that as a young boy, Kollek joined the Zionist Tchelet-Levan (Blue-White) youth movement. During the late 1920s, in the atmosphere of steadily growing anti-Semitism and the approaching storm, Zionism, agriculture and communal living became his whole life. In 1930, he quit high school and went to hachshara (preparation) on a little farm. The following year he attended a Zionist Congress in Zurich as an orderly to Chaim Arlozoroff. Soon he became an acknowledged leader of the Tchelet-Levan and Habonim labor youth movements. As leader, he traveled far and wide across central Europe to organize training farms, summer camps and to recruit new members. This interfered with his aliya, for he was always needed on location. In 1932, Kollek suffered a short imprisonment after his Zionist youth group fought Nazi Hitler Youth in Dortmund, and it was only his Austrian passport which saved him from dire consequences. Only in 1934, when he was already 24, did Kollek get his certificate to go to Palestine. Tamar, his girlfriend whom he won over to the Zionist cause, followed him only in 1937. They married in a hurry just before her tourist visa was to expire. Kollek joined a group of other Zionist pioneers that was just beginning to trickle from Austria and Czechoslovakia, and they converged on Hatzer Kinneret, an old Turkish farm on the Sea of Galilee. They worked in the surrounding area and Kollek suffered severely from typhoid. He was sent to recuperate at Motza, where saw Jerusalem for the first time. It was only in June 1937 that his group settled in Ein Gev in a fast tower-and-stockade operation. Kollek was selected as Ein Gev's first leader, a modest introduction to municipal politics. The settlement was quickly put up to establish the Yishuv's physical presence on the eastern shores of the Kinneret in anticipation of an eventual decision of the British Royal Commission to partition Palestine. In spite of the grave difficulties, Kollek claimed that the founding and developing of Ein Gev were the happiest time in his life. Three years later, in September 1938, Kollek went to England and Europe, by then a house on fire. He organized British Habonim and arranged visas for German youth wishing to escape Nazi clutches. His mission was but a cover for his feverish organizational Hagana activity. While the Nazi march went on and the British White Paper effectively closed Jewish immigration, "illegal" aliya, the smuggling of arms and pursuit of all available avenues of escape became order of the day. In the wake of Kristallnacht (The Night of the Broken Glass, November 9-10, 1938), when about 3,000 halutzim throughout Germany were sent to concentration camps, Kollek worked out a scheme for their rescue. In spite of the British unemployment level, Kollek managed to obtain 3,000 British agricultural pink cards. Using the pink cards, the German youngsters, most of them halutzim on hahshara, entered Britain as an agricultural laborers. Many later joined armed forces and settled in Israel after the war. In the spring of 1939, Kollek simplified the financial problems of Czech Jews fleeing Europe. Then he went to Vienna where he met Adolf Eichmann, who had been in charge of the "Jewish problem" in Austria and Germany. He came to Vienna with a large number of British visas made out to Austrian Jews. He persuaded Eichmann to let them go. The next time he saw Eichmann was in Israel in 1961, when he was in charge of arranging the technical preparations for his trial in Jerusalem. Kollek returned to England and then to Ein Gev when World War II broke out. He made arrangements for smuggling arms and Jews from the neighboring Syria until December 1940, when he was asked to return to England on a mission for Keren Hayesod. He stayed there for over a year and spent a great deal of time with Chaim Weizmann and David Ber-Gurion. He returned to Israel again in 1941 and found himself increasingly involved in intelligence work. Kollek and his boss, Reuven Shiloh, head of the undercover affairs for the political department of the Jewish Agency, maintained close contact with the British, Americans, and to a lesser extent French Intelligence. A close cooperation with the British developed when the German army reached El Alamein and still seemed invincible. Plans were made in event of a Nazi breakthrough. Later, following British victory at El Alamein, Hagana planned to drop young people behind enemy lines. All such activities kept Kollek extremely busy and his contacts with the British became extremely valuable. In December 1942, it was decided that Kollek would go to Istanbul to establish permanent contacts with British and Americans there and thus boost the Yishuv's efforts to save the Jews of Europe. In Turkey, Danny Shind (of Ayelet Hashahar), Venya Pomerantz (of Aliya Bet) and Menachem Bader sought ways to smuggle out Jews from Nazi-occupied territories and purchase the boats to ship out the refugees. It was a dangerous game of searching for contacts among the local Nazis, while simultaneously outwitting the British who regarded each saved Jew as a burden. Money was smuggled into Nazi-occupied zones, and it was used to buy arms and shelter. Contacts were maintained with Zionist members of various organizations. Intelligence was gathered. All these activities required constant, careful maneuvering between Allied agents and the German Gestapo - under the protection of unfriendly and often obstructive Turks. But if there was any opportunity to establish a contact or save a life, even if it meant bribing and cheating, Kollek was the man to do it. For Kollek, however, the limited ability of his organization to help the Holocaust victims made his six-month stay in Istanbul one of the most frustrating periods in his life. He returned to Ein Gev in the summer of 1943, and subsequently was ordered to the intelligence desk at the Jewish Agency's offices in Jerusalem. He went to England and France in June 1945, and was one of the first officers of the Jewish Agency's to reach Paris after the Liberation. Kollek assisted in the setting up of Aliya Bet "illegal" immigration offices in Paris and subsequently continued his intelligence work in England. He returned to Ein Gev in the middle of 1946, the time of a steadily escalating tension in the struggle for free immigration. In October 1947, Ben-Gurion assigned him to join the Hagana mission in the US. It was Kollek's task to buy, transfer, refit and repair obsolete World War II arms and secretly ship them to Palestine. The arms embargo on American-supplied equipment to the Middle East effected only the Yishuv. Kollek's work touched on experiments in weapons-production physics and chemistry, dealings with factories and junkyards. Kollek desperately sought out all available planes and ships, which might stop a well-armed invasion by Arab States. Kollek's courage, resourcefulness and an uncanny ability to raise money and secure loans in the most unexpected places and from the least promising donors eventually paid off. He also assisted in recruitment of personnel and volunteers who would assist the Hagana and Mossad L'Aliya Bet. Kollek's activities continued after the establishment of the State of Israel, when his mission was incorporated within the Ministry of Defense. The pressure on Kollek grew and he made continuous efforts to find more planes, arms, men and money. Once, when given a particularly good opportunity to alleviate the Israelis defense burden, Kollek went to one of his friends, Bill Levitt, and within quarter of an hour received a check for $1,000,000, a gigantic sum in those days. This loan was later certified by note No. 1 and signed by the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. Kollek left the US in April, 1949, only after he was advised by his legal experts that his activities could get him in trouble with the increasingly suspicious FBI. At Ben-Gurion's side In Israel, Kollek became involved with the establishment of Israel Bonds and organized the first economic conference of the world's Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. In 1950, he took over the US desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and for the next two years he served as Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington. The war was over, but hard currency was needed more than ever before. The State of Israel could hardly pay for its oil and was in desperate straits. The Treasury was in a state of constant crises and there was hardly money to pay for food. Kollek proved himself as a wizard at mobilizing economic assistance. One day, the government needed desperately $20 m. and had to have it within 48 hours. Kollek was on a plane from New York to Washington when he noticed Averell Harriman, then Director of Mutual Security Agency, and got the money from him. In the summer of 1952, Kollek became Director-General of Prime Minister's Office. That made him David Ben-Gurion's right hand man, as well as the head and promoter of innumerable official, public and social committees and organizations, and, of course, the chief unofficial government economic adviser. Kollek assisted in establishing the Research Council and the Scientific Translations project. He formulated an agreement with Jacob Blaustein and the non-Zionist American Jewish Committee. He headed a committee on unemployment relief and was the official brain behind the US technical training and aid mission, which within a short time performed wonders by adapting hundreds of new immigrants to a productive way of life. Kollek helped in the purchase of the Dead Sea Scrolls and drew up the first blueprint for massive US assistance. Tourism held promise. Kollek prepared plans for encouraging tourism to the ambitious number of 100,000 a year. In 1955, his office absorbed the Tourism Department and in 1958 he became the Chairman of the newly created Tourism development Corporation. Due largely to his efforts, tourism reached 300,000 visitors per year during the early 60s, long before the Six Day War. Kollek developed Jerusalem as a potential visitors' center. With the aid of Gershon Agron, the late editor of The Jerusalem Post, Kollek obtained a plot of land for the Israel Museum. This magnificent project which embraced the Bezalel Museum, the Antiquities Dept. and the Shrine of the Book, drew major contributions from all over the world. Kollek's magic touch involved the wealthy Gottsman family. A magnificent museum was built and it was again Kollek's personal wit, charm and "chutzpa" which secured most of its art collections and exhibits. Kollek left the Prime Minister's office on January 1, 1965, and gave his full attention to the preparations for the museum's opening. His great day finally came on May 11, 1965, when the museum opened its doors to some 2,000 guests, the most distinguished gathering ever held in the capital. Kollek retained the Chairmanship of the Israel - American Joint Desalination project and of the Board of Africa - Palestine investments when his candidacy for the post of the mayor of Jerusalem was being mooted within the circles in capital. When in 1965 Ben Gurion, who was in retirement at Sde Boker, broke with Mapai and founded the breakaway party Rafi, Kollek became one of the first members, even if he had misgivings. Kollek was hardly a typical party man and often expressed his criticism of the new party's structure. But he wished to help Ben-Gurion, and 1965 marked his initiation into electoral politics . Kollek agreed to run for Jerusalem Mayoralty on the Rafi ticket and won five seats, a substantial personal victory. The Coalition Agreement made Kollek the mayor of Jewish Jerusalem on November 14, 1965. When elected, Kollek presided over only half a city. His office overlooked the barricades that divided Jerusalem, today almost forgotten. Beyond the municipal building, a mute witness to sporadic sniper fire, stood the walls of the Old City. Jewish Jerusalem was an underdeveloped, poor, provincial town, a fortress on the border. The municipal treasury was empty, investment in Jerusalem was negligible and housing slow to expand. Tourists stayed for one day only. In February 1966, Kollek and his deputies voluntarily waived ten percent of their salaries. In addition, Kollek won Jerusalem the status of a development town, which increased the budget and government assistance. So things started moving. Kollek went abroad and attracted financial help. He set up a new, important project, the "Friends of Jerusalem." He also welcomed the German publisher Alex Springer on his first visit, and received a gift of $1m. from him for a library and another wing of Israel Museum. On the dawn of the Jordanian attack in the first day of the Six Day War, Kollek toured the city's defenses. A bullet pierced his car as he was making his way through frontline positions. Kollek visited the Museum and the Shrine of the Book, where he ordered precious exhibits and the Dead Sea Scrolls to be lowered into the shelter. He personally checked hospitals, civil defense stations, municipal services and Magen David Adom posts throughout the city. On June 7, Moshe Dayan invited Kollek to become one of the first official visitors to what was only a day earlier the Jordanian sector. "We have made our city bigger," a soldier quipped. "A bigger headache, you mean?" was Kollek's instant repartee. One of his first aces was to take down the slum hovels bordering the Western Wall. On June 28, Kollek ordered the dismantling of the walls separating the Arab and Jewish sectors, allowing for a free movement between the two. The Six Day War and the successful unification of the city were Kollek's supreme test. He responded to the challenge with the same vigor, enthusiasm and disregard of bureaucratic norms which were the hallmarks of his life's work. "I am profoundly aware of the great responsibility," he declared as the first mayor of reunited Jerusalem on June 20, 1967, when the Interior Minister Moshe Shapiro handed him the administrative order that enlarged the city's limits. The order added some 30,000 dunams to the former 40,000. In one of his first official acts, Kollek cabled Abba Eban at the UN and suggested that the world body move its headquarters to Jerusalem. "Everybody has shown goodwill for the unification," he used to say, "but goodwill is not enough." Finance, water, sewage, electricity, roads, welfare, schools, health and employment were but a few of the problems that he tackled successfully. Kollek was a superb pragmatist and his whole philosophy of life was essentially simple. He firmly believed that in the end everything boils down to a question of communication between people. But Kollek also realized that no amount of municipal service would turn Arabs into Zionists or make them love the Jews. Jerusalem's Arab population was deeply divided and had no united leadership. The fire set at Al Aksa Mosque by a mad Australian Christian on August 29, 1969, seriously undermined the initially successful attempts Kollek made to allow Arabs to elect their own municipal representatives. The void had to be carefully filled with patience and understanding. The patience had to extend beyond the enmity and terrorism which aimed to show the world that Jews were unable to cope. The UN policy of internationalization had to be discredited and Vatican reassured. Due to Kollek's efforts, the world was shown that Jews were fit guardians of the Holy City. Kollek's administration, made up of Jews and Arabs, was concerned with the day-to-day process of living. Kollek integrated the municipal Jewish high tax with the Arab low-tax. His breadth of imagination surprised all. He illuminated the walls of the Old City in response to which Arab youngsters coined the phrase, "Kollek town". Many Jews criticized Kollek's decision to allow Jerusalem Arabs to raise a monument to their fallen. Kollek kindly reminded his Jewish critics that he headed a city of which a quarter of the population was Arab. Kollek's major achievements included the restoration of the Jewish Quarter and the renovation of Mishkenot Hasha'ananim. He took great care that the rebuilding and development of the Jewish Quarter included the preservation of the Cardo and other fascinating archeological finds. The Old City walls were surrounded by a ring of gardens, while the Mishkenot neighborhood was beautifully integrated into the ring of gardens descending down to the Hinnon and Kidron valleys. Mishkenot was made into a residence where local and foreign artists, musicians and writers could come, breathe Jerusalem air and work in peace and tranquility. Kollek was prepared to turn any empty spot to which the municipality could get a title or long-term lease into a nice, clean garden. The Jan Mitchell Garden, the Zurich Garden, the Wolfson Gardens, the Sir Charles Chlore Gardens, the Carob Walk and the 200th Anniversary of the USA Gardens were all Kollek's inspired additions to the city. Kollek's Jerusalem Foundation, an independent non-profit philanthropy, underwrote the building of gardens, parks, sports fields, libraries, youth clubs, synagogues and many other projects for which Kollek did not need outside budgetary approval. This allowed Kollek to concentrate on the beautification of the town. His aesthetic inclination placed him in constant conflict with the development authorities. Kollek's known lack of enthusiasm for politics was amply compensated for by his extraordinary efforts in promoting culture. He rebuilt the old Khan into an intimate setting for plays and concerts, and was the principal force behind the building of the Jerusalem Theater which opened in 1972. Kollek restored the Art Complex and Museum at the Tower of David. He founded and fostered the growth of Jerusalem Committee, which became the World Advisory Council on Jerusalem, an international body of top scientists, architects, churchmen and artists who met here periodically to discuss objectively the city's growth and development. Kollek made it his business to know and meet everybody: politicians, cinema stars, actors and writers whom he gently encouraged to support Israel and the capital. In spite of all his activities, Kollek never neglected the ordinary, routine business, of orderly municipal administration. The State Comptroller's reports gave the Jerusalem municipality a clean bill of health. Kollek's day usually began at dawn and ended long past midnight. But while he was chiefly concerned with the present and the preservation of the past, his thoughts and ideas were preoccupied with the future. He sought the peaceful, eternal Jerusalem. Kollek was a leading advocate of the "boroughs" scheme as the most viable solution to the problems of the city. Under this proposal, modeled on greater London, Jewish and Arab boroughs would look after their own local affairs, while strategic and overall planning was left to a greater Jerusalem council. He favored communal neighborhoods and the expropriation of land for development. He was also well aware that in public life it is next to impossible to satisfy everybody. Kollek's term as mayor finally ended in 1993, when, at the age of 83, he lost to a youthful Ehud Olmert. He is remembered for the vast amount of building and development he initiated in Israel's capital and is touted as one of Israel's greatest figures.