Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Former Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek, credited with building the modern city of Jerusalem and championing Jewish-Arab co-existence here, died on Tuesday at the age of 95.
First elected mayor of the city in 1965 -- before it was reunited under Israeli rule -- Kollek oversaw the development of what is now Israel's most populous city.
He served as Jerusalem mayor for 28 years until 1993 when he lost the election to current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"Teddy Kollek was one of the builders of the New Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War," Olmert said in a statement.
"When he was elected mayor, Jerusalem was a divided city with a status unworthy of itself. When he left the mayor's office in 1993, Jerusalem was a great, modern and united city," Olmert said.
"He decisively influenced the city's way of life, culture, vistas, institutions as well as the relationships of its residents. His name will always be an inseparable part of Jerusalem's glory," he said.
To fund the building of Jerusalem, Kollek founded the nonpolitical Jerusalem Foundation 40 years ago. It raised more than $1 billion in donations for thousands of projects in the city, said Alan Freedman, vice president of the Jerusalem Foundation.
Freedman, who worked with Kollek since coming to the Foundation in 1978, described him as a man who was totally committed to the city.
While other politicians see the position of mayor of the city as the gateway to the prime minister's office, Kollek did not, Freedman told Cybercast News Service. He repeatedly told his employees that there is "no promotion beyond Jerusalem," said Freedman.
"He cared deeply about the city and cared deeply about the people here," said Freedman, noting that Kollek used to walk through the Old City of Jerusalem without any bodyguards.
Kollek understood the international importance of Jerusalem, which is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians want to see the eastern side of the city become the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Kollek always tried to keep Jerusalem on the "front burner," and for good reason, Freedman said.
He understood that Jerusalem would be a key to peace, said Freedman.
At least 10 years before former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put Jerusalem on the table in negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit in 2000, Kollek had set up a team to examine various Israeli positions on the city.
And while Kollek was not viewed as a political figure, he was involved in every issue from high-level decision-making to making sure that the neighborhood garden was in good shape for the local children, said Freedman. He was interested in getting things done for the city and for the people of the city, he said.
His success seemed to stem from the fact that he cared about all the residents of the city, whether Arab or Jew, Christian or Muslim.
Born in Vienna in 1911, Kollek came with his family to what was then British Mandatory Palestine in 1934, just a few years before German dictator Adolph Hitler seized Austria in mid-1930s.
During World War II, Kollek helped European Jews escape the Nazi regime and immigrate to pre-State Israel. After the war he helped secure weapons shipments for the fighting forces in nascent Israel.
Later, he became director general of the office of the first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.
Former Israeli President Yitzhak Navon, who worked with Kollek during those days, described him as a "unique person, a charmer."
Kollek used his charm as his only weapon, said Navon in a radio interview ,and no one could resist it, he said. "There was no contradiction between...what he felt in his heart and what he said with his mouth."
Navon credited Kollek with having established the first section to deal with the affairs of Israeli Arabs in the prime minister's office, and the first to suggest that Israel had tourism potential.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, who was elected after Olmert left the post for the national political arena, said that "Teddy was Jerusalem and Jerusalem was Teddy.
"With his spirit and personality he symbolized the true unified Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. The city of Jerusalem and the entire state are indebted to Teddy for his tremendous contribution to the people of Israel, the state and its capital," Lupolianski said.
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