Saturday, January 6, 2007

Recalling Teddy Kollek

http://israel-like-this-as-if.blogspot.com/2007/01/recalling-teddy-kollek.html

Originally posted at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000552.htm.

Here are a few personal recollections of Teddy Kollek, the Vienna-born ex-kibbutznik who served as Jerusalem's mayor from 1965 until Ehud Olmert defeated him in 1993. Kollek died today (January 2, 2007) at 95.

In the 1970s, Kollek spoke at a breakfast meeting of journalists visiting from the United States. The organizers asked me to chair the program and introduce Kollek.

He arrived late, alone.

As I rose to make the introduction, he cut me off.

"So, what are your questions?" were his first words to the group. He took it from there. Everyone, Kollek included, knew he needed no introduction.

Some years later, Kollek gave a guided tour of his city to visitors attending an international conference on local government in Israel. I was there as a member of the conference staff. As before, Kollek came alone, without the typical entourage of aides who accompany mayors of important cities.

He walked briskly along a hillside, and not everyone in the group was keeping up. I saw a chance to speak privately with him and ask for an appointment to interview him for a book I was researching. He could shed light on Haganah activities in New York in 1947-48, before Israel's war of independence. He had headed the no-longer-secret Haganah mission.

"I'll give you five minutes," he said and kept striding toward a point overlooking his city.

I protested. He took a moment to explain. Speaking slower and with less impatience, almost like an exasperated parent, he explained that he wasn't going to devote more than five minutes to talking about the past. What mattered now was the present and the future, he said, and he was prepared to make time to discuss that.

Another time, when he was pushing 80 years of age, I ran into Kollek at the arrivals terminal at New York's JFK international airport. He was alone, and no security guards were in evidence. He was standing at a baggage carousel, waiting for his luggage. He stood there with no sign of impatience, and with no VIP treatment. He said hello, and when his luggage arrived he wrestled it off the carousel by himself and walked off alone. He was still the mayor of Jerusalem then, but he wasn't flaunting it.

Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv
January 2, 2007

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