Theodore “Teddy” Kollek died at the age of 95, after spending decades in service as the Mayor of Jerusalem. Kollek came to the post in 1965, just two years before reunification, seeing the city through some of its most transformative and prosperous years.
Kollek was born just outside of Budapest in 1911, named for Theodor Herzl. He moved with his family to Vienna, where he spent his childhood, coming to adopt his father’s Zionist beliefs.
In 1935, the family immigrated to British Mandate Palestine, three years before the Nazis gained power over Austria. Kollek helped found the Kibbutz Ein Gev in 1937, marrying his wife Tamar that same year. The couple would have two children—a son and a daughter.
During World War II, Kollek returned to Europe, committed to saving as many Jewish lives as possible. Working with the Jewish Agency, he represented Jewish interests, appealing to the British government to take in fleeing Jewish immigrants. He acted as a point person for the purchase of scads of ships and boats, bought to carry out thousands of Jewish Europeans who would have likely perished in the death camps.
Kollek continued his work with the Jewish Agency after the war, operating as a contact person for British Mandate intelligence. He provided much needed information to combat underground right-wing Jewish groups Irgun and Lehi, known as the Stern Gang. That work earned him the post of deputy intelligence head for the Jewish Agency in 1942.
In 1945, Kollek’s work brought him to Jerusalem, where he functioned as the Jewish Agency’s chief external liaison officer.
In 1947, Kollek acted as representative in Washington for the Haganah, the precursor to Israel’s IDF, to generate ammunition for the Jewish state’s new military. In 1954, Kollek accepted a job as director general for the office of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.
In 1965, Kollek became the Mayor of Israel, a post he would hold for 28 years. On the streets of the city, he was called simply Teddy, his name chanted by both old and young alike. During his tenure, Jerusalem bloomed into a modern city, successful both economically and culturally. He was reelected five times, ultimately conceding to Ehud Barak in 1993 at the age of 82.
Kollek was known for his religious tolerance, making him an ideal mayor for the tumultuous period after the Six Day War. The esteem the people held for him extends even today, as his name adorns the Terry Stadium in Jerusalem as well as a beloved elephant, Teddy, at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. In 2005, he was voted the 88th greatest Israeli of all time by Ynet readers.
That remembrance acts as a testament to a man who once said of his treasured city, “I think Jerusalem is the one essential element in Jewish history. A body can live without an arm or a leg, not without the heart. This is the heart and soul of it.”