He hated nudniks, but was listed in the phone book
Teddy Kollek once returned home very late, as he often did, and found a note from his wife, Tamar: A woman rang the doorbell at 1 A.M. to complain that there is a hole in the sidewalk near her house and that the city has done nothing about it for a month. Kollek's home phone number was listed in the telephone book; people could call him at home, and some abused the privilege. It was 3:30 A.M., and Kollek promptly called the woman back. "This is Teddy," he said. "I just wanted to tell you that tomorrow morning, first thing, I'll deal with the matter."
Kollek broadcast authenticity and apolitical credibility. He had a basic fairness, a big heart and a fatherly sense of humor. And among Israel's founding fathers, he was exceptional: He enjoyed his work.
Kollek tended to view the Zionist dream as a huge construction project. The centerpiece of his approach to building the state was action. Beyond ideology and politics, beyond ambition and personal intrigues, he was devoted to activism.
In 1966, a year after he became Jerusalem's mayor, the papers expressed disappointment. "Teddy Kollek's smiles will not solve Jerusalem's cleanliness problem," wrote one. Kollek was frustrated. Divided Jerusalem was too small for him. The routine of administration bored him; he loathed bureaucracy, legal restrictions, paperwork, speeches and nudniks. He wanted momentum and international prestige.
The occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 turned the city into an enterprise that challenged him, and Kollek suddenly became "Mr. Jerusalem." He became known worldwide.
Kollek knew how to impress people, charm them and win their trust. Hungry for life and appreciative of quality, he enjoyed a good meal, with good wine and good cigars, in the company of beautiful women and famous artists, writers and musicians. He thought in Viennese German and American English: His world was London, Paris, New York or anywhere else where he could raise money. In this field, he had no equal: The Jerusalem Foundation that he established raised some $700 million, and the city was like a sleeping beauty that woke up.
He made no special effort to adopt a new Hebrew identity. Unlike other Zionist leaders, he refused to change his name, and he never stopped making errors in Hebrew. He could not even pronounce Jerusalem properly: It was always "Urushalayim" rather than "Yerushalayim."
His basic attitude toward the city's Arabs was similar to that of Ben-Gurion toward the country's Arabs: He would have been happy not to have them there. If it were only possible to get rid of them, he once said. But as a realist, he knew that this was impossible. Therefore, he tried to neutralize sources of tension in the city. A liberal and pragmatist, a product of the multicultural atmosphere of post-World War I Vienna, Kollek adopted Moshe Dayan's principle of "enlightened occupation" and nurtured the idea that Jerusalem was developing a new model of Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. It seems doubtful that he believed this himself. But either way, occupation never turned into unity, and today, Jerusalem looks like one of the Zionist Movement's greatest failures. From a historic perspective, Kollek's days at Jerusalem's helm therefore deserve to be remembered as the story of an illusion more than the story of a success.