Legendary J'lem mayor Kollek dies at 95

Held post for 30 years, from 1965-93; will be buried Thursday on Mt. Herzl.

teddy kollek 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
teddy kollek 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The legendary former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who presided over the reunification of the capital and went on to head the city for over a quarter-century as Jerusalem became a modern day metropolis, died Tuesday. He was 95. Kollek died of natural causes in the city retirement center where he lived, said a spokesman for the Jerusalem Foundation, the charity organization the former mayor founded four decades ago. Kollek served as Jerusalem's mayor for 28 years, winning six mayoral elections from 1965-1993. He will be buried Thursday in an official state funeral at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl military cemetery in the section reserved for Israel's leaders.
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  • Archive: Agent Kollek in the shadows His body will lie in state outside Jerusalem City Hall starting Thursday morning, with the funeral procession making its way across town from the square outside the city hall. "His name will always be an inseparable part of Jerusalem's glory," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who defeated Kollek in his seventh bid for mayor in 1993. "The government and people of Israel bow their heads in deep sorrow at the passing of one of the giants among the founding fathers of the state." "Teddy was Jerusalem and Jerusalem was Teddy," Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said. "With his spirit and personality he symbolized the true unified Jerusalem, the capital of Israel." Flags over city hall were lowered to half-mast following news of his death. "Teddy's spirit will rest on Jerusalem's landscape, and there has not been anything like it in the world or in history," said Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who was representing Israel at the funeral of former US president Gerald Ford. Peres, who knew Kollek from the days when they worked together with David Ben-Gurion, said in a statement that he always respected Kollek's "stubbornness and determination" in reaching his goals, and his "unique charisma and magic." "Teddy Kollek was the ultimate model of a mayor and Israeli and Jewish leader," said Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski in a statement. "For me... Teddy Kollek was the symbol of leadership, Zionist, nationalist and governmental values, patience and endless devotion to the residents of Jerusalem and the citizens of Israel." Kollek, who was awarded the Israel Prize in 1988 for his vast contributions to the state, was a founder of significant markers of the modern city including the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem Theater, the Cinematheque, the Kahn Theater and other cultural institutions. "He really forged the landscape of modern Jerusalem as we know it, and he saw the museum as the jewel in that landscape," said Israel Museum director James Snyder. After he was voted out of office at the age of 82, Kollek devoted his attention to fund-raising for the city of Jerusalem as the head of the Jerusalem Foundation, maintaining a five-day work week even as he passed the age of 90 and grew increasingly infirm. "Teddy was an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind and special human being who strove to improve the lives of all the residents of Jerusalem and saw each of them - Jewish, Muslim or Christian - as a partner in making Jerusalem a beacon of hope," said foundation president Ruth Cheshin in a statement. Affection for Kollek, commonly known as Teddy and famed for his vintage cigars, crossed political lines on Tuesday as reactions to his passing flowed in. "With Teddy Kollek's passing we have lost not only the greatest builder this city has had since the times of Herod, [but] we lost a man of great political wisdom," said Labor MK Collette Avital. "He knew how to navigate in the stormy seas of international politics, and notwithstanding the lack of recognition of Jerusalem as a capital, he managed to consolidate and strengthen its position," she said. "He wanted to be the patron of all Jerusalem, of all its communities," former Likud Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin said on Army Radio. Theodor Herzl Kollek was born on May 27, 1911, in a small village near Budapest, and was named after the Viennese founder of the Zionist movement. He grew up in Vienna. In 1935, three years before the Nazis seized power in Austria, the Kollek family emigrated to Palestine. Two years later, he was one of the cofounders of Kibbutz Ein Gev near the Kinneret, and married his wife of nearly 70 years, Tamar Schwarz, who he had met in Vienna. The couple had two children. During World War II, Kollek tried to represent Jewish interests in Europe on behalf of the Hagana. At the outbreak of the war, he succeeded in persuading Adolf Eichmann to release 3,000 young Jewish concentration camp inmates and to transfer them to England. Kollek later became a close ally of David Ben-Gurion, who he had first met in England and who went on to become his mentor, working for the latter's government from 1952 till 1965, the year he was first elected mayor of Jerusalem. He always strove to treat Jerusalem's mixed population equally, but he never managed in all his years in office to persuade the vast majority of the city's Arab population to take part in municipal elections, while east Jerusalem neighborhoods, their future uncertain, were sorely neglected under his tenure. Kollek even wrote to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat via an intermediary in a failed effort to get him to approve the participation of the city's Arabs in the 1993 municipal elections, his advisor for Arab affairs, Amir Cheshin, said. His decision to sell valued property on the Mount of Olives to the Mormon community for a college generated controversy, but with Kollek's backing the deal went ahead nonetheless. During the 1980s he deferred suggestions to enter national politics and to run in the race for prime minister, his close friend and former Israel Museum director Dr. Martin Weyl recalled. "He was restless with politics. He thought that the advantage of being mayor was that he could leave politics aside," Weyl said. Kollek had no patience for party politics, arguing that he could do much more for building the city, Weyl added. Nevertheless, when he lost the mayoral race in 1993, in an issue where Kollek's age played a prominent role, Kollek felt disillusioned that the people of the city did not appreciate the work he had done, Weyl said, a sense which only increased as his infirmity progressed, preventing him from continuing to fund-raise for the city he loved. A couple of years ago, as he became increasingly infirm, Kollek left his third-floor walk-up flat and settled in the Hod Yerushalayim retirement home in the city's Kiryat Yovel neighborhood with his wife. In his last years, the city's Biblical Zoo became his "baby," his office manager Michal Goshczini said, and one of his last outdoor trips last month was there. Kollek's son spoke of his father as a close family man despite his long work hours as mayor, which typically began before dawn and continued into the night. "He was an especially strong man in spirit and in body who was loyal both to his family and to work in an absolute manner," Amos Kollek said in an interview on Israel Radio. Kollek is survived by his widow Tamar, son Amos, daughter Osnat and five grandchildren.