Teddy Kollek served six terms as mayor of Jerusalem, from 1965 to 1993, and somewhere along the way became an icon of the city. He was called a "visionary" and "the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod," yet he himself would say he came to the job "by accident." JIIS marked a century since his birth (he died in 2007, aged 95) with a seminar at which all the speakers worked closely with Teddy, as he was widely known, sharing their experiences and nostalgic moments. Amos Kollek and Osnat Kollek Sachs, Teddy and his wife Tamar's children, also attended the event.
JIIS head Prof. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov opened the program by citing Teddy's enormously long list of positions, from Jewish Agency liaison with the British Mandate MI5 to director-general of the Prime Minister's Office under David Ben-Gurion to his many achievements as mayor, including the founding of the Israel Museum, the Jerusalem Theatre, the Jerusalem Foundation the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens (Biblical Zoo), the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School – and JIIS – as well as many other civic and cultural projects.
Alan Freeman, Vice President of the Jerusalem Foundation, added that Teddy saw Jerusalem as, "at the very least, equal to the great cities – London, Rome, Berlin." And this was reflected in his friendships with the world's leaders in all fields – whether emperors, generals or politicians, musicians, artists or film stars. "He raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Jerusalem," adding that some 20 percent came from non-Jewish sources. "Just as an example, 400 parks were built around the city during his tenure, each one with its own incredible story. There are 70 sculptures and other objects of art dotted around the city." Adding to his description of Teddy he noted that, after 1967, when Jerusalem came under Israeli control, the mayor toured the neglected area of the Tower of David and foresaw its potential – and ordered the removal of about 100 cubic meters of earth to be able to erect the museum that occupies the citadel area today.
Director Emeritus of the Israel Museum Dr. Martin Weyl, currently director of the Beracha Foundation, told the audience how Teddy, as well as being the driving spirit behind the museum, actually saw the whole city as a museum. "We live in a mosaic," he quoted the mayor as saying, "everyone in his own life but all of us together" creating a whole picture.
He had “lots of courage, and vision,” said Ora Ahimeir, Founding Director of JIIS. Before 1978, when JIIS was established, “there were no think tanks in Jerusalem. There was an idea to create some kind of institute that could combine the practical with the historical and cultural, to celebrate Jerusalem’s uniqueness. Teddy was the first one to say that ‘data equals power – we should set up a data bank.’" And indeed today the Jerusalem Institute is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, reliable and continuously updated data base on the city's ever-changing facts, figures and trends.
“He saw Jerusalem as the mission of his life,” added Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who was a member of the municipal council in the late 1970s. Though the two did not share political beliefs, Rivlin recalled with some reverence how Teddy invested in infrastructure and other areas on both the west and the east of the city – the Jewish side and the Arab side – following the Six Day War. Teddy did not do that because the two peoples were “destined” to live together, he said, but because he sincerely wanted to see Jerusalem become a unified city. He thought there could be a confederation system. As a result of his investments, thousands of Arabs voted for him, repeatedly. “Did he really believe Arabs would see themselves as true citizens? I doubt it. But he believed in an occupation that could be good for all, without the need for repression or expulsion – and he was the right person to represent that.”
His daughter added to that that Teddy would say “it’s true that the Arabs see us as occupiers, but that’s how they saw the Ottomans and the Jordanian Bedouins before us too.”
Dr. Tom Segev, a journalist at Haaretz and a historian, was Teddy’s personal advisor for some years. He called Teddy a special kind of Jerusalem patriot. “He knew he was regarded as everybody’s ‘dad.’ His home phone number was listed in the phone book and if people rang him to make a complaint he always returned their calls personally – often at 3 in the morning, when his own work day came to an end. He managed to give the impression that he was not a political animal – but he absolutely was. He did though really strive for an ‘enlightened occupation.’ He would say, ‘I know the Arabs don’t like me and I don’t like them. But here we all are.”
“I don’t think Jerusalem would have been the place that it is without him,” said Rivlin – and all seemed to concur on this fact. This larger-than-life figure – even a century after his birth – was re-elected to lead the city five times, in 1969, 1973, 1978, 1983 and 1989, before, at the age of 82, losing to Ehud Olmert in 1993.