Teddy Kollek, Legendary Jerusalem Mayor, Passes Away

Long-time Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek passed away this morning at the age of 95.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:50

Teddy Kollek, the long-time mayor of Jerusalem before, during and after the unification of Jerusalem, passed away in a Jerusalem home this morning at the age of 95.

Praise for his tremendous contribution to the building of modern Jerusalem was lavished from all quarters. "Never since Herod has there been someone who brought about such building and thriving as him," said former Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin about Kollek.

Born near Budapest in 1911, he immigrated with his family to Palestine - the Holy Land - in 1934. Shortly afterwards, he helped found Kibbutz Ein Gev on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee, with his young wife Tamar. The couple had two children, Amos (later a film director and writer) and Osnat.

Kollek worked for a decade in and out of the Holy Land to help the growing Jewish community there develop into a state.

In l939, he was able to persuade Adolf Eichmann in Vienna to release 3,000 Jewish youths from concentration camps in Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and allow them to leave for England. Details of this chapter are sketchy.

The Encyclopedia of Zionism and Israel states, "In the late 1930s he carried out rescue missions in Austria and Germany and was engaged in Zionist political work in England. In 1942 he joined the Political Department of the Jewish Agency and served as liaison officer with the British military intelligence and with Jewish underground groups in Europe, operating out of Jerusalem, Cairo, and Istanbul. In 1947-48 he directed the illegal arms puchasing operations for the Hagana in the United States."

By his own admission, according to Nicholas Bethell's The Palestine Triangle, Haganah member Kollek worked "sporadically" with the British and against the Irgun and Lechi, saying, 'We detained Jewish dissidents, interrogated them, then either released them or handed them over to the CID [British Intelligence].'" Irgun and Lechi members caught by the British were often deported, sometimes tortured, and occasionally killed.

The Haganah is the forerunner of today's Labor Party, believing in cooperation with the British and restraint against Arab attacks, while the Irgun and Lechi were more right-wing and pro-active in their attempts to oust the British from Palestine and thus hasten the birth of the independent Jewish State. Former Haganah members headed the state until 1977, when Menachem Begin, who had headed the Irgun, was elected Prime Minister.

After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Kollek remained in Washington as Israel's ambassador, returning to Israel in 1952 to head Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's office - a post he held until 1964. The next year, Kollek was elected mayor of Jerusalem, serving in that office for the next 28 years until he was unseated by Ehud Olmert.

Presiding over the unification of the city from 1967 and onwards, Kollek made overtures towards the city's various minorities. He oversaw the great expansion of Jerusalem, including new neighborhoods, parks, community centers, and cultural and religious centers such as the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Theater, the rebuilding of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, the Teddy Stadium, the Cinematek, Safra Square where the municipal officers are located, and more. He specialized in raising funds for Jerusalem, even after he left office, and established the Jerusalem Foundation for this purpose. In 1988, Kollek was awarded the Israel Prize for his special contribution to the country.

Kollek will be brought to rest on Thursday in the Greats of the Nation area of the Mt. Herzl Cemetery. His coffin will lie in Safra Square from Thursday morning until 11AM, and flags there have already been lowered to half-mast.

Reactions to Kollek's passing:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who defeated Kollek in 1993 to become mayor of Jerusalem: "When he was first elected mayor, Jerusalem was a divided city that was not accorded the status it deserved. When he left office in 1993, Jerusalem was a large, modern, united and populous city. He made Jerusalem's glory known throughout the world. He had a decisive influence on the city's way of life, and its culture, its social fabric; he designed its horizons and built its institutions."

MK Collete Avital (Labor): "A giant has left us, the last of a great generation. He was a man who gave his all, with no restraints of time, circumstances, or other, to the city he loved more than anything else in the world - Jerusalem."

MK Gideon Saar (Likud): "Teddy Kollek will be remembered in history as the great modern builder of Jerusalem, and as the architect of its unification. He was one of the giants of the execution of the revival of Israel."