What is Teddy Kollek's legacy?

A year after his death, with a looming election, 'In Jerusalem' looks into what makes a legendary mayor.

teddy kollek 88 298 (photo credit: )
teddy kollek 88 298
(photo credit: )
A year ago, news about the death of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek spread like wildfire. More than a decade after his term had ended, thousands of people gathered at his funeral. The fact that among the mourners were so many people who never held any official job or position added to the feeling that Teddy was perhaps the closest thing to a leader, a local journalist wrote at the time. There is no argument that Kollek had a distinctive way of managing the city. The question, however, is whether his legacy is still relevant today, one year after his death and with a looming mayoral election campaign. "I was a member of his list and I didn't hesitate to oppose him when I thought he was wrong, but Teddy was such a great leader that even opposing him was an honor," says Israel Shulderman, who served on Kollek's city council and was known as a fierce oppositionist. "He never considered that his job as mayor of this city could serve him as a springboard for a higher position - that's the first reason for his success," says Rabbi Haim Miller, a former city councilor, and deputy mayor under Ehud Olmert. "Look around and tell me if you can see even one candidate who will take on the task without having in mind benefit, like a higher position as a Knesset member or a minister? I can tell you - there is no such candidate. "That was Teddy's secret power: Once he decided to go for Jerusalem mayorship, nothing else ever interested him. And not that he didn't have alternatives," continues Miller. "He could have been appointed minister, even vice premier, but he always refused because he was really dedicated to Jerusalem." "Today, one year after his death and 15 years after he stepped out of the mayor's chamber, we have enough perspective to reflect on his legacy," says Amos Mar-Haim, Kollek's last deputy mayor, who for a long time was considered a serious potential successor. "I would break it [his legacy] down into three points: First and foremost, Teddy understood that in such a varied city, you have to use a great amount of tolerance. You have to feel and express respect and tolerance for all its different parts. It's not only Arabs and Jews, or Orthodox and secular, it is much much more: It is the multitude of different tribes, communities, cultures and traditions, and in front of all those sectors, you have to act in a way that will respect their different customs and traditions. "People say that we didn't solve sewage issues in east Jerusalem. True, but these people tend to forget that what we did was no less important, perhaps even more important," continues Mar-Haim. "Teddy went to all their [local Arabs] festivals and holidays, visited them and listened to them with full respect. Who cared about that after him? "Teddy understood long before it became a must that community is crucial," he adds. "Jerusalem was the first city in Israel to open youth centers, elderly clubs and libraries, and later we were the first to launch here the model of community centers. "Teddy was the first to understand that you cannot manage a city of hundreds of thousands of residents from City Hall... and that you have to give residents the means to manage their affairs for themselves. "But there is more," adds Mar-Haim. "Teddy understood that development doesn't only cost money, it also brings in more money. So he initiated so many projects - the Jerusalem Theater, the stadium, the Biblical Zoo, Binyenei Ha'uma and all the roads complexes." INDEED, KOLLEK took a city that was more akin to a village and transformed it into a modern metropolis. "Teddy Kollek, who was mayor of Jerusalem for 28 years, is Jerusalem and Jerusalem is Teddy," says Mayor Uri Lupolianski. "Wherever you go in the city, you will see one of his projects, which helped to transform a remote town into a metropolis. He did not consider himself an employee of City Hall - he served Jerusalem with his dedication, initiative, creativity and his devotion to Jerusalem. He showed me and all the city council members the way and set an example as to how a public figure should behave. His legacy is everywhere in this city that has become a center of tourism, the largest in Israel, attractive to young people and new immigrants and an international city of culture." Lupolianski concludes that he and his staff are trying to find an appropriate way to commemorate such a person as Kollek. Kollek was not only concerned with fostering trade and employment, he was also very much aware of Jerusalem's image and would constantly drag ministers and investors to the capital. He was also interested in developing the city's cultural sector. For example, the Jerusalem Cinematheque, which he helped its founder Lia Van Leer realize even before he really understood what it was about. And Mishkenot Sha'ananim's Jerusalem Music Center, created and supported for years by leading musician Isaac Stern and which attracted classical music stars like Pablo Casals and Mstislav Rostropovich - they all came for Kollek. As Stern said on the eve of the center's inauguration: "You cannot refuse Teddy's invitation, you just don't." The Israel Museum was another important recipient of Kollek's help and support, as was the Bible Lands Museum and the Bloomfield Science Museum. And the list goes on. "The creation of the Jerusalem Foundation was the starter for all these huge projects," explains Mar-Haim. "It was a wonderful tool and Teddy, and the actual president of the foundation, Ruth Cheshin, worked hand in hand to reach all these achievements with the help of donors from abroad, something even he could never obtain on a City Hall budget alone - and that was his genius. "The development of the city through the Jerusalem Foundation not only brought wonderful things to the city, but also enlarged the circle of Jerusalem supporters around the world," adds Mar-Haim. "That's what helped to create the special status of this city in those days." "Besides this, Teddy was also very concerned with residents' needs in terms of job opportunities, and that's why, for instance, he didn't hesitate to ask then-minister of industry, trade and labor, Moshe Nissim, to declare Jerusalem a National Priority Zone A, paving the way for hi-tech and pharmaceutical industries to move in," he continues. "In so doing, he obtained special status for the city so that any science or business conference would always take place here. "Look at what's happening today: ECI Telecom Ltd., which we managed to bring here from the center of Israel, is closing and leaving Jerusalem - and nobody utters a word," says Mar-Haim. "Last week, an international hi-tech conference organized by the same Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry took place - where? In Haifa! And what about Jerusalem? Not a word from here! "Anything that Teddy did was in the framework of the status and the benefit of Jerusalem," he adds. "He thought about the residents in terms of actual needs, but he always bore in mind that this city deserved a special status, a special international status. He brought prime ministers, presidents, kings, princes and anyone who was somebody, and explained time and again the meaning and importance of Jerusalem - first to the State of Israel and then to the whole world. "And he knew another thing: A city sunk in garbage can't pretend to have important international status. So he invested in flowers and gardens, and yes, he would wake at dawn and take with him the heads of the municipal departments to check if the city was clean," says Mar-Haim. "That's how you do things; there is no other way to do it seriously." When asked if there is anyone he can see fill Teddy's shoes, Mar-Haim smiles sadly. "His legacy is, I believe, deeply rooted in Jerusalem's residents. I believe it is not lost," he says. "After all, let's not forget that Jerusalem is built on a rock and it has the patience to wait for change. Jerusalem is also located high on a mountain, which gives it a broad view." Miller disagrees. "I am not optimistic," he says. "We live in an era where personal achievements come long before public interests. The kind of person that Teddy was, someone dedicated to his duty, who not only didn't seek personal advancement but even refused it when it was duly proposed to him - that kind of leader doesn't exist anymore, I'm afraid. "Everywhere I look, there are only gimmicks and public relations and personal interest - nothing more," continues Miller. "Teddy was not interested in promoting his personal status, he had no interest at all in his own status, period. That's why he was able at 5 a.m. to check that the streets were clean, and to travel to the end of the world to get a donation to buy more flowers for the city's gardens. "Nothing was too small of an issue for him and this is a legacy when you want to be a real leader," he says. "From that attitude, Teddy drew his strength to do these kinds of things for almost three decades. It's not a secret, it's rather simple: Teddy made a choice, he knew what he wanted to achieve - the best for Jerusalem, not for himself." Still, Miller says he has not lost hope for the city. "There will come a day, and I believe it is not far away, when the residents of this city will wake up and understand that the way this city is led now cannot go on, it simply cannot go on that way. We all deserve more." Miller also locates Kollek's leadership strength in his intrepid commitment to protecting Jerusalem's interests. "He could fight with no mercy against the ministers, his party and even the prime minister if he was convinced it was for the best of Jerusalem," says Miller. "I cannot think of anyone today who could be so bold and courageous. "I don't see anyone around who is up to Teddy's legacy, but I believe that his true successors are hiding among us. We still don't know who they are, but I am sure they are already here." "OF COURSE there is such a thing as Teddy's legacy," says veteran social activist Dede Ben-Shitrit, a former city councilor in Kollek's party. "I'll tell you what is Teddy's legacy: Tolerance and respect for others regardless of their origin or faith. "Teddy was the leader who made all the others look like puppets, that's the difference," says Ben-Shitrit. "Can you imagine Kollek accepting orders from his own party if he thought it was not for the good of the city and its residents? They didn't even bother to try, they knew it wouldn't work. "He was a real leader," he adds. "He was a king in Jerusalem. He had no fear of his party - even of the prime minister himself - and no respect for all the little people behind the party mechanism. He was a true and faithful Labor member, but Jerusalem and its residents always came first, no doubt about it. "I think that with Teddy's death notions of tolerance, respect and solidarity died too... We are in a new era in which Teddy's legacy cannot survive." "I don't think there is a legacy, per se," says Amir Heshin, Kollek's adviser for east Jerusalem affairs. "I believe there was and still is a myth around Teddy's personality and deeds, and that myth gave birth to a sense of legacy. "Of course, there is no doubt he did a lot," Heshin continues. "He wanted the best for Jerusalem and he did anything he could - I would say almost in an obsessive way. "His career, if he even thought in these terms, was completely intertwined with Jerusalem and nothing else. Not even the best jobs available - which by the way were more than once proposed to him - ever interested him from the moment he became mayor," adds Heshin. "It was that job [mayor] or nothing else, and in fact, after he lost to Olmert, but was still the head of the list to the city council, he resigned after one session: He couldn't find any interest in being there and not being in charge." Kollek even searched for a successor, recalls Heshin. "He did think it would be wise to prepare someone to take over after him. After all, he himself said that even he wouldn't vote for such an old man - a declaration that Olmert swiftly used for his benefit," he says. "But the truth is that no one could live up to him... there were a few who tried, but no one could fit into his big shoes, they couldn't even fit into his slippers. "I know that after Olmert was elected, the press and Olmert of course, published the figures from Teddy's days as compared to Olmert's in terms of municipal funds allocated to east Jerusalem," recalls Heshin. "I know that the numbers rose under Olmert, although we shouldn't get carried away: in both cases we're talking about very small sums. "But it's true, from three percent to 4% of the municipal budget, it climbed to 7% to 8%. But I don't think that Olmert ever asked his assistants or himself like Teddy did: 'What else can I do for east Jerusalem that won't cost me money?'" Heshin admits that under Kollek, municipal funds and projects were not equally allocated to Arab residents. "But Teddy did something else," says Heshin. "For instance, he would not hesitate to dine with officials of the Old City. I remember one particular case, when after a dinner with one of the richest merchants in east Jerusalem, the host accompanied Teddy back to his car and mentioned a sidewalk that needed some urgent care. Teddy immediately asked one of us to write down the details and that same evening called the guy responsible at City Hall to fix the problem. "The gesture didn't make a dent in the municipal budget, but for Kollek's dinner partner the immediate and personalized problem solving was astonishing... This is the kind of thing that built Teddy's myth and I don't think it is something that someone else could realize today." That his position as adviser of east Jerusalem affairs was created, says Heshin, reflects Kollek's concern for the city's non-Jewish population and their needs - "In the framework of his budget capacities, which were not enough, no doubt," he says. "I agree that it [the budget] was even less effective than aspirin for treating a cancer, but at least it was out of sheer concern," he adds. "Today the budgets are larger, but if you check closely, you will find that most of the money goes toward projects for Jews who live in east Jerusalem and not the Arab residents." Kollek didn't really obey the rules of the political game as we know them today, says Shulderman. "There were a few political opponents in the city council, but they had such respect for what he did that they didn't really create an opposition," he explains. "It was clear that the residents of Jerusalem, who are traditionally right wing, couldn't resist Teddy. "It is not for nothing that even Olmert's slogan was 'We love Teddy but we vote Olmert.' Olmert knew that he couldn't just brush him off like any other opponent." As for a legacy? "I would rather call it a vocation," says Shulderman. "Teddy belonged to a generation that conceived political activity in this framework, not in terms of personal benefit or advancement. "We need a candidate whose life will be transparent to the public," explains Shulderman. "One thing is for sure: Teddy would have rather sat with the people in the stadium that took his name than enjoy the VIP gallery." Is there anyone around who could take on Kollek's legacy? "Not really, not among the known candidates. I would say, and forgive me for the rudeness, that all the actual candidates would sink if they dared to step into his shoes. I would welcome anyone, including people whose political positions are far from mine, as long as they represented what Teddy symbolized: honesty, integrity and modesty."