Jerusalem mayor was frequent visitor to city

WAY BACK WHEN

Teddy Kollek forged important bonds with the Jewish community

back story

January 27, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Theodor Herzel Kollek -- better known to the world as Teddy Kollek -- died this month. The popular five-time mayor of Jerusalem and one-time aide to David Ben-Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, had been a frequent visitor to Baltimore through the years.

The amiable, cigar-smoking Kollek, who was credited with developing Jerusalem into Israel's capital and was the architect and chief promoter of Arab-Israeli coexistence, was 95 at his death.

Born in a rural village near Budapest, he was raised in Vienna, where his father, a banker, represented Rothschild interests in Austria.

Kollek was a passionate Zionist by the time he turned 11, and with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, he established an underground organization that helped smuggle Jewish refuges into British-mandated Palestine, eventually immigrating there himself in 1935.

"He literally grew up with the new Jewish state, first as a kibbutz farmer, later as a clandestine materiel procurer for the fledgling nation, and eventually as director-general of the prime minister's office for the nation's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion," reported The Sun in a 1983 profile.

After World War II, Kollek went to New York City, where he embarked on a career raising funds to arm Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization. Another important aspect of this work allowed him to forge bonds with American Jewish leaders who later became important benefactors of Jerusalem.

"In fact, there seem to be more buildings and institutions in Jerusalem named after Baltimore philanthropist Joseph Meyerhoff than there are in Baltimore," reported The Sun in 1983.

After Israel gained statehood in 1948, Kollek headed the new country's American desk in the foreign ministry.

"But for all the hard work and excitement in his early life, the most important dates for Mr. Kollek today must be 1965, the year he was elected mayor of Jewish Jerusalem, and 1967, the year Israel captured the eastern part of the city from Jordan and the dividing walls were torn down," the Sun profile said.

Kollek who lost re-election for mayor in 1993, had been known for his 18-hour workdays, and like his Baltimore counterpart, William Donald Schaefer, could be found wandering all over his city checking for potential problems.

His obituary in The New York Times reported that unlike most public officials, Kollek had his home phone number listed in the directory.

"He would often return home to a pile of messages taken by his wife, Tamar. Sometimes he would return calls, even at 3 a.m., telling people that he would get their problems fixed," reported the Times.

Oddly enough, Kollek never aspired to higher elected office.

"There is no higher office," he told The Sun in 1983. "From Jerusalem there is no promotion."

While serving as minister in Israel's Washington embassy, he first began visiting Baltimore in the early 1950s, becoming acquainted with many of the city's prominent Jewish leaders.

At a 1966 luncheon at the Center Club, Kollek was feted by a number of members of the Jewish community, including Meyerhoff, Jerold Hoffberger and Jacob Blaustein.

Mayor Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, whom Kollek had visited at City Hall earlier that day, also attended the luncheon with his successor, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, who became mayor in 1967.

Kollek was visiting the city in conjunction with Baltimore's State of Israel Bond Drive. The bonds were "the central source of investment capital for the country's program of economic development," said The Sun at the time.

Kollek and McKeldin were old friends, and as a token of their friendship, Baltimore's mayor gave him a key to the city.

"I gave him a wooden key made from the wood of the Constellation," McKeldin told The Sun.

"He gave me a gavel with his name on it. Two Theodores," he added. "Theodore means `gift of God' in Greek. He's a splendid person, young, full of life and pep, and very friendly."

Other Baltimore friends of Kollek's were Hugo and Helen Dalsheimer who financially assisted in the building of a new Young Men's Hebrew Association building in Jerusalem.

In 1972, Kollek came to Baltimore to speak at the 80th birthday celebration for Irving J. Taylor, whom he called Maryland's "Mr. Israel."

Taylor, an Ellicott City furniture dealer and philanthropist, was also president of Taylor Manor Hospital.

Before a gathering of 600 of Baltimore's business, political and religious leaders, Kollek said he had returned to the city because of a "rash promise" he had made three years earlier to Mr. Taylor to help him mark his 80th birthday.

"He singled out Mr. Taylor, a longtime Zionist leader in Baltimore, for special praise, telling of Jerusalem's first community center, built through Mr. Taylor's efforts," reported The Sun.

Taylor also endowed the windows in the Kennedy Memorial in Jerusalem, a youth hostel in Masada and a community center in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood in Jerusalem, among many other projects.

In a 1998 interview with The Sun, Dr. Bruce T. Taylor spoke of his grandfather's relationship with the Jerusalem mayor.

"Teddy Kollek would call him and ask for something every now and then, and my grandfather would say, `Let me see what I can do,'" the grandson said. "It was wonderful because they enjoyed each other and knew they were working together to do something for Israel."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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