Monday, September 15, 2014 Elul 20, 5774

Teddy: The Man Who Rebuilt Jerusalem

January 4, 2007
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The death of former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek at the age of 95 is an occasion for friends of Israel to ponder not only the achievements of a great man but the current state of Israel's capital.

Kollek and Jerusalem are linked in people's minds for good reason. He was its mayor from 1965 to 1993, a period that encompassed its unification and its rebuilding following the Six Day War. More than any other person, he embodied the struggle to make the capital a united and thriving city.

The man known to the world as simply "Teddy" had had a long career furthering the interests of Zionism even before he was elected mayor. He was involved in much that was vital to the Jewish people during the pre-state era when he worked for the Labor movement and then the Haganah. Later he became a key aide to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, during which he again played a key role in an astounding number of important events in the country's history.

But it is his long service to Jerusalem for which he will always be best remembered. Though few recall it today, the divided city that elected him to his first term as mayor in 1965 was an embattled dead end. It had yet to recover from the trauma of the 1948 battles during the War of Independence which had seen a besieged city riven by Arab armies that seized the Old City and sacked its Jewish Quarter.

But under Kollek's inspired leadership, the reunited city became a place of growth and hope. His goal of keeping it as a "beautiful mosaic" of peoples was ultimately trumped by the spirit of Palestinian nationalism that viewed any accommodation with Israel as anathema. But there is no question that his stewardship of the holy places of all faiths, and his dedication to fairness for Muslims, Christians and Jews, justified Israel's rightful claim that only under its rule has the city been open and free to all peoples and faiths.

Kollek sought to remake a place that had suffered from many centuries of conflict and Arab neglect. If Israel's capital is today as beautiful as Jewish scripture traditionally described it, it is only because of his singular dedication to making it so. The phrase characterizing him as the greatest builder of Jerusalem since King Herod was no idle boast. The many parks, gardens, museums and other cultural amenities that adorn it today are there primarily due to his iron will and an uncanny ability to get celebrities and the wealthy to donate their time and money to Jerusalem.

But even as we celebrate the man who remade Jerusalem, those who love the place worry about its future.

The character of the city has changed over the last few decades as its Jewish population has become increasingly ultra-Orthodox; but the struggles between secular and religious Jews over the nature of life there still pales before the Arab struggle to divide it.

Even before Kollek was defeated for re-election in 1993 by current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the first intifada had taken a toll on his campaign to make it truly one city. Today, Arab neighborhoods are booming, but the Jewish majority and the Arab minority live separate lives, and the push to redivide Jerusalem so as to satisfy the Palestinians continues. The city remains on the frontline of Israel's battle for survival, as the shooting at the southern neighborhood of Gilo from nearby Arab towns during the second intifada proved.

So as we commemorate Kollek's achievements this week, we should also rededicate ourselves to the cause that animated his life: the unity of a place that is the unique and eternal capital of the Jewish people. May his memory be for a blessing and may it help inspire all of us to never forget Jerusalem. 

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