Who has been ever mindful of the prophetic tradition and the words of Nehemiah, “With one hand we build and with one hand we protect.” Who has labored, in defiance of obstacles and difficulties, to establish Jerusalem as a home of peace and harmony in the hearts of all people.
At an age when most people are well into their retirement, and until his death at 95, Teddy Kollek could be found working for his beloved city, Jerusalem. With an enthusiastic and unwavering belief that Jerusalem could be a modern city full of culture and beauty, Kollek was once called “the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod.”
Teddy Kollek was born near Budapest in 1911 and raised in Vienna. Named for Zionist Theodor Herzl, Kollek came to Zionism at an early age. Although he didn’t encounter much anti-Semitism as a young adult, he could see what was happening as the Nazis rose to power in the 1930s. He began to help Jews immigrate to Palestine, and moved there himself in 1934. After the Second World War broke out, Kollek worked overseas in England and Vienna to move Jews out of Europe and away from the persecution of the Nazis. Ironically, at one point he worked with a seemingly typical Nazi office worker to free 3,000 Jewish children from concentration camps; this man was Adolf Eichmann, whose plan to exterminate thousands of Jews in one fell swoop in Budapest as part of Hitler’s Final Solution was very nearly implemented.
Kollek continued to represent Jewish interests in Britain and America and to bring Jews to Palestine. In 1948, Palestine was split, and the creation of the Jewish State of Israel was realized. He worked in America after the war but returned to Israel in 1952 to run then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s office. Ben-Gurion encouraged him to run for mayor of Jerusalem, and in 1965 Kollek won the office he would hold until 1993.
As mayor, as well as before, Teddy Kollek was determined to make Jerusalem a modern city. He believed that Jerusalem needed to attract tourists to improve the economy; at the same time, he was a practical man who worked to improve and upgrade education, utilities, and public transit. When Israeli forces took over East Jerusalem in 1967, unifying the city, Kollek ensured that supplies for Arab children were delivered within hours of the takeover. He formed an Arab liaison office to address any concerns arising from the newly annexed part of the city, and continually tried to bridge the gap between the Jewish and Arab residents.
Kollek was indefatigable in his efforts to rebuild and modernize the city, and that included adding cultural centers as well. He was the force behind building the Israel Museum, feeling every important capital city needed a national museum. He also established the Jerusalem Theater and helped raise the money to expand the city’s zoo. He was a very successful fundraiser, establishing the Jerusalem Foundation to continue the cultural development of the city. Under his guidance, Jerusalem grew to be the city we know today.
Teddy Kollek spent his life and career working for Jerusalem. In Kollek’s own words:
“When the city was united, I saw this as an historic occasion. To take care of it and show better care than anyone else ever has is a full life purpose. I think Jerusalem is the one essential element in Jewish history. A body can live without an arm or a leg, not without the heart. This is the heart and soul of it.”