THE SPINE JANUARY 2, 2007
Teddy Kollek, who served as the mayor of Jerusalem for nearly three decades, died early this morning in the city that he loved and revived. I had written about him quite often over the years because his life touched mine, and in a significant way: Largely because it meant working with him, I accepted a post as chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the United States. My God, I served in that position for perhaps a dozen years, during which time I quarreled with many of his underlings but never with him. If anything gets me passed the gates of judgment it will be my labors in his vineyard. And was he a drinker of wine, but only good wine! Also a gourmet and a gourmand. Plus a smoker of Cuban cigars. Nothing but Havanas.
Everything else in his life, I surmise, he did for the Jewish people and for Israel. His wife, long suffering, protected him from his own bad habits. His children (I know the son better than the daughter, but not really well) lived and struggled like the offspring of any titanic father.
And what did he not do for the Jews and for their State! He became a Zionist as a teenager in Vienna, and then emigrated to Palestine. But his early Zionism was a mixture of idealism, historical foresight and resentment at not being allowed into an echt Austrian dueling society. Once in Palestine, he helped found a kibbutz on the Sea of
Galilee. He entered socialist politics, being a chaver (a comrade) of Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and the most formidable of that generation Yigal Allon, who died quite young. (Anita Shapira is publishing her biography of Allon in English later this year, I think.) Kollek and Golda Meir disdained each other, for reasons that are understandable but too much shul politik to go into here. But Kollek was the favorite of David Ben-Gurion who was the leader of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine (in contrast to Chaim Weizmann and Louis Brandeis who led European and American Zionism abroad.) Ben Gurion was the first prime minister of the restored Jewish sovereign polity. Kollek represented B.G. on many missions, both public and, more important, furtive. He was at once brusque and suave. Teddy also liked rich people. He was never really a socialist. He was inured to those illusions, even on the kibbutz where he was a fisherman.
If you read his obituaries you will know what a transformational mayor he was in the Holy City, sensitive for sure to the Muslim Arabs who feel for Jerusalem only when it is in the care of Jews or Christians. That's why, over 14 centuries and more, it was a backwater. To Teddy, Jerusalem was David's city. And here is something Christians might keep in mind: if this city was not Jewish, the whole story of Jesus and the foundations of Christianity are bogus. Kollek has an edifice complex, and the physical evidence of his custodianship rivals that of Herod. But Kollek was a man of culture and taste. He was a Jew from Vienna, after all.
He was also a smuggler, a smuggler of weapons during the state's gestation period and directly afterwards. He was the Jewish defense army's man in New York, the representative of the Haganah, headquartered in Hotel 14 on East 60th Street where the Copacabana was housed. I don't know whether it is there that Teddy met Frank Sinatra. But, someplace, he (and Frank's lawyer Mickey Rudin, but that's another story I'll tell you sometime) lured Sinatra into the illegal gun running racket to Palestine and then to Israel. Italian mafiosi, bound to the longshoremen in Hoboken, ran the contraband. The FBI was tapping everyone's phones. So Sinatra became their ongoing live cross-Hudson contact to shun the feds. He was a faithful friend of Zion till the end. Many years later, I presided at a Jerusalem Foundation dinner at which Sinatra was presented with a medal for his dangerous work. After all, he could have gone to jail. We gave him a renaissance map with the four spheres of the earth converging with Jerusalem at the apex, the center of the world. Here's what the presentation said, "From Jerusalem, city of David, sweet singer of Israel. To Frank Sinatra, sweet singer of America."
And another story. This was told to me by James Jesus Angleton, the Yalie who was one of the higher-up in the OSS and the CIA. He was a poet, a raiser of orchids, a fisherman and also a lover of Israel. Oh, but please don't let me forget: a paranoid about Soviet moles, but a paranoid who turned out to be right. (He also cut the corners of the law, about how the Agency was not allowed to tail Americans in America. He was fired by Gerald Ford for doing exactly that. Another story.) Teddy was the minister of information in the Washington embassy of the new State of Israel. (There's also an interesting tale about the embassy building