A tribute to Teddy

Kollek was known as the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod. 'In Jerusalem' looks back at the life of the man who shaped the modern city.

teddy kollek b&w 298.88 (photo credit: Jerusalem municipality)
teddy kollek b&w 298.88
(photo credit: Jerusalem municipality)
Early Tuesday morning, Teddy Kollek departed from his beloved Jerusalem, which he had transformed from a sleepy small town into a bustling modern city. At 95, the man whose name has been intimately connected with the eternal city died 14 years after he lost the mayoralty to Ehud Olmert. Mayor Uri Lupolianski couldn't have put it better when he said, "Teddy was Jerusalem and Jerusalem was Teddy." Early Tuesday afternoon, the only sign of the morning's commotion in the lobby of the Hod Yerushalayim retirement home in Kiryat Hayovel, his home for the past 14 years, was the mourning announcement on the notice board. Earlier in the day, the building had been teeming with journalists, photographers and curious residents. "He used to come here every day in his wheelchair," recalled Yisrael, a bookstore owner in the local shopping center. "He came with his caretaker, drew money from the ATM, rested a while and went back home. He didn't talk to anyone, although there was always someone who came to greet him with respect. He was a living legend." TEDDY KOLLEK'S life could easily provide material for a Hollywood production. He was born Theodor Kollek to a Jewish family in Nagyv zsony near Budapest in 1911 and grew up in Vienna. Named after Theodor Herzl, Kollek shared his father Alfred's enthusiasm for Zionist ideas. In 1934, four years before the Nazis marched into Austria, the Kollek family immigrated to Palestine, and in 1937, the young Kollek was one of the co-founders of Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shores of the Kinneret. In the same year, he married Tamar Schwarz, with whom he had two children, Amos and Osnat. He was later sent to Europe to represent Jewish interests on behalf of the Hagana. When World War II broke out, he persuaded Adolf Eichmann to release 3,000 young Jewish concentration camp inmates and transfer them to England. Kollek became very close to David Ben-Gurion, and headed the Prime Minister's Office from 1952 to 1965. In 1965 Teddy Kollek succeeded Mordechai Ish Shalom as mayor of Jerusalem. He served six terms in office - a total of 28 years - being reelected in 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1989. In 1967, as a result of the Six Day War he became the mayor of the reunited city and opened it to the world. But in 1993, at 82, at the urging of the Labor Party he ran again and was defeated by Olmert, the Likud candidate. Kollek used to say that "being born and raised in the stronghold of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he had inherited their typical manners, which later became one of the secrets of his 'charm,' and won him the love and friendship of friends and opponents alike," said MK Reuven Rivlin, who headed the opposition while Kollek was in City Hall. Despite their positions on opposite sides of the political spectrum, Rivlin thought of Kollek as a close friend. "I loved him and always considered him a friend, and I think he too saw in me first a friend, although we often held opposing views," he said. Fierce opponents of Kollek often pointed to his achievements, for as one of them, the late Prof. Yisrael Eldad, used to say: "After Herod, Kollek was the greatest builder of Jerusalem." Kollek's devotion to his beloved city is exemplified by how he dealt with the Katamonim, one of its worst slums. A comprehensive solution was beyond him, but he decided that he could at least beautify the area by providing a public park. The night after it was completed, it was destroyed by frustrated local residents in an act of vandalism. Kollek wasn't deterred: He ordered the park rebuilt. It was vandalized again. Again, he ordered it rebuilt. This scenario repeated itself several times, until the vandals finally gave up. The park is still there. Environmental activist Shlomo Arad wrote in Haaretz in 2004: "A city cannot only be a political or social symbol, it is a living and breathing organism. Billions have already been invested in Jerusalem, with very few results, but only Teddy Kollek, who fought literally with his fists for the city, succeeded in preserving it a little." "I am not the nostalgic type," one municipal employee who has worked for the city since Kollek's time said. "But I must say that Teddy's death has left me with a terrible feeling, as if even the hope for a better future is gone. As long as he was alive, I had a feeling that something could still change here, bring us back to better days. Not that he would take back the reins but, you know, his spirit. Now that Teddy is gone, what are we left with?" KOLLEK DIDN'T like the haredim, and they paid him back by forming an alliance with Olmert in 1993 that led to his victory and an end to Kollek's 28 years in City Hall. Nevertheless, Rabbi Zalman Druck, a haredi City Council member, was one of his best friends, and he had good relations with the Porush family. Even though he strongly supported the annexation of the Old City, Arab residents remember him fondly. "Our old mukhtar, Hader Dabash, was his close friend," said Amin, a taxi driver from Sur Bahir. "I still remember the many times Kollek used to come and visit him on our festivals. The mukhtar would slaughter a lamb in his honor, and the notables of the village were all invited to share it with him. There are no more people like that today. I am sure that Sheikh Dabash will attend his funeral." Kollek's love affair with Jerusalem began in the mid-1960s, when Ben-Gurion's Mapai Party split and the old leader formed the Rafi list with Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Navon and Kollek. Mapai, with Levi Eshkol as its head, won the Knesset elections and Rafi got only 10 seats. Three weeks later, on November 30, Kollek won the Jerusalem municipal elections. A year and a half later, while Kollek was still learning the needs of the city - a small, poor, mostly religious and remote town stuck at the end of a dead-end road and surrounded on three sides by a border - the Six Day War broke out and changed everything radically. Three weeks before the war, Kollek, in a moment of prophecy, had asked Naomi Shemer to write a special song on Jerusalem to entertain the audience at the annual Independence Day Hebrew song contest. "Jerusalem of Gold" was not even a part of the contest, just a song for the intermezzo. But it connected with the emotions of the country and, when the war erupted, was transformed into a second national anthem. "The question of what drove Kollek to ask for a special song on Jerusalem, at that time the less important city in the country, remains unexplained," Shemer said in various interviews on the birth of her song, but it gives a glimpse of his very special attitude toward the city he called "Urushalayim." "I was the head of the city planning at the municipality when Kollek was elected mayor," recalled Dr. Israel Kimhi, one of his closest former associates, now a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. "We were working on the master plan for Jerusalem, and I remember him as a man of deeds, not of details. He always saw the big picture, long before anybody else saw anything. He was not a city planner, but he had a sense of what was important, although he didn't always succeed in promoting his own ideas. "For example, he was fiercely opposed to the construction of Ramot, he thought it was too much of a peripheral neighborhood, alien to the real Jerusalem, but the Housing Ministry saw it differently and Teddy had to live with their decision." Kimhi added that Kollek's opposition to outlying neighborhoods "was a geographic-urban attitude. He didn't believe Jerusalem should extend so far. It had nothing to do with political implications, Kollek totally approved the annexation of the eastern part of the city." Kimhi worked closely with Kollek for 20 years. He was at his side in dealing with urban issues such as the new location for the Biblical Zoo (Kollek found it quickly) and the creation of green spaces (Kollek didn't hesitate to spend $6 million to buy the plot that became the garden between the King David Hotel and Yemin Moshe). "He was the first to bring statues to Jerusalem and display them in various places in the city, in a kind of European way," Kimhi added. On big projects in the city, Kimhi pointed out, it was often "Kollek against all. When he decided to build the Jerusalem Theater, there was an outcry - it will ruin the city; it is another white elephant; it will be empty or serve only a small group of rich people. Kollek listened to all the complaints, then acted as if he hadn't heard them. He went to Gita Sherover, an old friend of his, convinced her husband Miles to donate the money and the theater was built." According to Kimhi and other people who worked with him, it was the same with all the other big projects: the Israel Museum, the various promenades, the rehabilitation of the Khan Theater, the Cinematheque, the Mishkenot Sha'ananim music center, all results of the creation of the Jerusalem Foundation, another of Kollek's ideas. He knew the right people, and they were all eager to help. He established close ties with people like Isaac Stern and Kirk Douglas, and he always knew how to make them feel they needed to do something for Jerusalem. Kollek never acted "by the book," Kimhi said. Once he had an idea, he would go for it. Critics, hesitations, second thoughts - none of them prevented him from doing what he believed he had to do. As an example he cited Kollek's last run for mayor. "He knew it was a mistake; he said himself a few months before that he wouldn't vote for an 82-year-old candidate. But once the party decided he should do it, he just went on, without questioning, and although he was deeply hurt by the results, he never complained, because for him, it was just another thing to do for Jerusalem. Jerusalem was really above everything else for him." Kimhi added that Kollek could also be very tough. "He knew how to attract people to him and to mobilize them for the cause of Jerusalem, but if he didn't need them anymore - well, that was it. Take the case of Meron Benvenisti, who was his deputy, but had to leave once he didn't fit in anymore. But that was never the case with municipality employees of lower rank. He would fight for their rights and he always cared about them." Kollek never opposed the annexation of east Jerusalem or the government's actions to enhance Israel's presence in the Old City. The rehabilitation of the Jewish Quarter was his initiative; he always believed in the vision of a united city that would never again be divided. "When immediately after the war we came to ask him what to do," recalled Kimhi, "his instructions were clear and simple: He told us to create back a continuity between the two parts of the city, and it was rather simple, because it had previously been one city. All the infrastructure was there - the roads, the sewage, everything. And also we were there before the city was cut in two; we knew it, we always believed that one day the separation walls would come down. So we just reconnected everything and he was very happy about it." But Kollek soon realized that the dream of one reunited city was far from being realized on the ground. "He created projects for the eastern part," Kimhi said, "but even he couldn't ignore the differences in economics, budgets, infrastructure and the general situation of the Arab citizens." IN THE early 1970s, Kollek decided to order a survey to find out why so many people were leaving Jerusalem. The results were the high cost of housing and a lack of employment opportunities. "These are exactly the same reasons invoked today by those who choose to leave the city, whether they are religious or not," Kimhi said. "I think that although this problem was on Kollek's mind - he ordered the survey - he was so busy building up the city and promoting it around the world that he didn't, or maybe couldn't, do anything about it." Kollek's famous temper sometimes caused his mouth to run away with him. Kimhi noted that "he once compared haredim to a cancer eating away at the heart of the nation." And his reaction to a demonstration by Mizrahi activists from the poor neighborhoods of Musrara and the Katamonim - the so-called Black Panthers - during which they trampled the flowers outside City Hall also tarnished his image. "He yelled at them in a terrible way,accusing them of being barbarians who destroy flowers," Kimhi recalled. "At that moment, he didn't care about the reasons for this outburst of rage and frustration, he only saw that they stepped on the flowers and he blew his top." But then Avner Amiel, a municipal social worker and one of the few who immediately understood the real problems of the people who destroyed the flowers, went to Kollek and convinced him to let him try to help them. With a tiny budget, Amiel worked with the families in Musrara and the youth and succeeded in saving quite a few of them. "But Teddy basically thought like Golda Meir," Kimhi said. "He couldn't understand or accept that people would demonstrate instead of working hard to get themselves out of those terrible conditions. I don't think he ever changed his mind on that issue. He just belonged to another generation. But he was not totally closed-minded. Not long after that he decided to establish what was then the best school of the city, the Denmark school, in the Katamonim, or later he decided to put the only olympic-size pool in the city in Neveh Ya'acov." What made Kollek so special, Kimhi said, "was probably a mixture of a few things. He could yell at people in public - he did it with me more than once - but you knew it was just out of keen concern for the important things, not for his pride or personal interests. He was totally dedicated to the city, and people perceived it. He could have easily become a Knesset member or a minister, but he never cared to; for him Jerusalem was the most important thing. "ALL THE stories told about Teddy Kollek touring the city early in the morning to check if everything was in order, they're not just nostalgic stories, it's true, I participated in those tours. Every morning, between 5:30 and 7:30, he would go with a group of high-ranking municipal employees to check the city. If there was a pothole in a street, a broken sidewalk, a garbage bin not emptied, anything, we would write a report and on the same day things would be fixed. "There was no need for gimmicks or a PR campaign, we just did the job. I feel very sorry that things are not the same anymore. For the last years, the least I can say is that things have not exactly been going the way Teddy would have wanted, and it's making me, and many others I know of, very very sad."