• P.M. Shimon Peres Flanked by Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij and Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek during a Christmas eve cocktail party hosted by Freij in Bethlehem (24/12/1984) | Photo: GPO by Harnik Nati

The Greatest Builder Since Herod

Tal Hartuv - 17 January 2023

Not everyone has a football stadium named after them, but Teddy Kollek does, and deservedly so. Kollek goes down in history as not only the most beloved mayor of Jerusalem (and the longest serving one, at a whopping 28 years), but also one of the most cherished Israelis. Accolades are multiple where Teddy Kollek is concerned. One of the most truthful and affectionate of these, is that he is the greatest Jewish builder and beautifier of Jerusalem since Herod the Great.

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek in Beit Hanassi to mark Abba Eban’s 75th birthday | Photo: GPO

Jerusalem was always dear to Teddy’s heart, right from the days of his life in his native Vienna. Thanks to his parents who had a hunch of a looming disaster, the family managed to leave Austria and come to the Land of Israel just a mere three years before Hitler annexed it to the Reich.

During the Second World War, the 30-year-old Kollek was thrown into areas of daring. Appointed as the Jewish Agency’s deputy head of intelligence, he coordinated with the secret service agencies of the United States and Britain and upon the founding of the State of Israel, the successful acquisition of ammunition for Israel’s fledgling army.

But it was the 1967 Six-Day-War which shaped the Kollek we all love today, because it was Kollek who would build the destroyed Jerusalem into the bustling and united Jerusalem we have today.

After the 1948 war, much of the city was in rubble. Following the armistice accords, the Jordanians had systematically gone round and bombed all the synagogues in the Old City. But this did not deter Teddy Kollek who saw the unification and liberation of the Jewish capital as monumental and historical. Kollek wanted to care for Jerusalem. He wanted to restore it to its former glory, the capital of the Jewish world. Teddy believed that without a united Jerusalem, the State of Israel was like a body without the heart. Empowered by vision and mission, he made his business to be elected as the first mayor in the history of the ancient city.

“Within hours of accepting his role as mayor, he arranged for the provision of milk for Arab children”

Kollek was a pragmatic man who was not oblivious to the suffering of others. He understood full well that although the Arabs had attacked the Jewish state, the former Jordanian Arabs living in the now Jewish Jerusalem, were here to stay. Within hours of accepting his role as mayor, he arranged for the provision of milk for Arab children.

This step was one that would mark his whole long tenure as one of pragmatism and religious tolerance. While he was convinced that Jerusalem must never be divided again, he knew that treating the neighbour with dignity was not only an axiom of Jewish Law, but an attitude that would be for the good of the city and the entire population.

Teddy went on to not only rebuild the Old City, but also expand Jerusalem outside the walls. Keen to promote culture and coexistence, Kollek began his building career which earned him the title of an amiable Herod the Great. He established famous cultural institutions, such as the Jerusalem Theatre, the Biblical Zoo, and his jewel in the crown, the Israel Museum. His 96-years on this earth left an historic impact on the culture, the buildings, the city and the people of Jerusalem itself.

About the Author