Jerusalemites will tell you that three individuals will be remembered as builders of Jerusalem, and they are King David, King Herod and Teddy Kollek.
When I heard of Kollek’s death this morning it brought back many memories of growing up in Jerusalem. I moved to Jerusalem with my family in 1971 and lived there for 25 years. When I first met my wife Shiri, a native of Haifa, she was studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I told her “If you marry me, you are going to marry Jerusalem. I love this city so much, and I will never leave.” But life events can be stronger than statements, and here I am thousands of miles away, missing Jerusalem and thinking about Teddy Kollek.
Jerusalem in the seventies was a small, intimate and friendly town. Not much of a nightlife, no beautiful beaches or entertainment, but a lot of atmosphere and beauty.
In those days Jerusalem kids traveled all over the city feeling very safe and secure. I remember that as a young 12 year old I would take bus # 4 from my home in Ramat Eshkol, to the synagogue on Agron street, when I was preparing for my bar mitzvah. We used to wander up and down King George Street, eat falafel at “King of the Falafel” kiosk, and then go for soft ice cream at the Allenby Café.
A few years later, as teenagers, we would ride our bikes all through the town, including the Old City where we would buy used jeans and other chachkes in the Arab market. After we received our driving licenses, the most popular hangout place was just outside Damascus gate, where you could buy a fresh Arab Beigaleh (The big sesame seed coated round soft bagel), and a cup of sachlab (a warm dairy drink with an orchid flavor). I recall returning home for the weekend from the army just in time for a quick shower and rushing to the Friday afternoon 2 pm movie in the Jerusalem Theater, without even knowing what was showing – just to meet all the guys (and girls). In those pre-intifada days Jerusalem was so safe; we would walk through Salach-a-Din street in East Jerusalem, traverse the Arab market of the old city, and than return via the Arab bus headed to Ramallah, and get off near French hill and walk back home….
We were (and still are until this day) enthusiastic supporters of Beitar Yerushalaim, the fanatic, crazy soccer team who played in the old muddy stadium behind the YMCA building. Games there were an anthropologist experience. Fans that couldn’t or wouldn’t buy a ticket would climb on the stadium walls and sit in trees. Fans would sing and yell for 90 minutes and more. I loved my team so much (and still do) that when we adopted a kitten, I called him Uri, after my favorite Beitar player – Uri Malmilian.
This brings us to one of Teddy Kollek’s greatest achievements as Mayor of Jerusalem, and this was the building of the only soccer stadium in Jerusalem and the second largest stadium in Israel. When the stadium was dedicated in 1992, it was decided to name it after Teddy Kollek, although he was still alive and still Mayor. Today, when you say “Teddy” in Jerusalem, people will know that you are referring to the stadium. Phrases such as: “will you be at Teddy on Sunday?” are heard every day at the Machaneh Yehuda market, and all over the town….
Teddy , as he was known all around the world, was mayor for 28 years. He was Mr. Jerusalem, and responsible for the way the town behaved and acted for three decades. The issues were always tense and on the edge, but Teddy somehow knew how to bridge the differences and compromise. I realize today, that Teddy had a great influence over the way I think and feel until this day. Living in Jerusalem you learn that co-existence with all groups and streams is essential and inevitable. Attending an integrative high school you meet the lower income families of the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood, walking through Sanhedria you meet the ultra orthodox, studying in the Hebrew university you meet the Jerusalem Israeli Arabs, and attending the conservative synagogue in French hill, you meet the Anglos. Jerusalem is about living together, even though everyone is very different. Teddy was the master of coexistence, and did anything possible for this delicate goal to be met.
Mr. Kollek, Thanks for a wonderful childhood in Jerusalem, and thank you for teaching me how to accept and tolerate those who are different from myself.