When Orson Hyde dedicated Palestine in 1841 for the gathering of the Jews, his act was a catalyst that reached forward through time and helped establish a connection between the modern Church and Jerusalem.
Much of that connection in recent years has been fostered through the good graces of Jerusalem's mayor from 1965-93, Teddy Kollek, who has had a long association with the Church. Mr. Kollek came to Utah Aug. 14-18 and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for Public Service from Brigham Young University. (See graduation story above.)"I feel very honored to be given an honorary doctorate by BYU," he said in a Church News interview Aug. 16. "I personally have high regard for the Mormons because of several of their principles," which he said included the Mormon practice of serving without remuneraton, of paying tithing, of being devoted to their own group, and the practical application of LDS theology, which is similar in this respect to Judaism.
"All those are qualifications that we highly appreciate. They are well-developed with the Mormons. . . ."
He expressed appreciation for a luncheon held in his honor in the Church Administration Building Aug. 16, which was attended by the First Presidency and members of the Quorum of the Twelve. "I had a feeling of great awe," Mr. Kollek said of the event.
Asked about comparing the landscape in Israel with that of Utah, he commented, "Excuse me, but the main similarity between the landscape here and in Israel is in the names that you have given to them - the Jordan River, Zion and all of this. This is so astonishing.
"You have a Great Salt Lake, with not as much salt in it as our Dead Sea. In our Dead Sea, the salt concentration is so high that you can sit in the water and read a newspaper, and you can't sink. And I saw a little snow on top of your mountains. We see Mount Hermon, which has some snow all the year round. And the idea that you are living here in Zion is a very attractive idea."
The former mayor said his association with the Church began early in his mayorship as he and other city officials worked to add greenery to the grayness of the historic city. As they looked for sponsors for a park, he recalled:
"One of the first things I learned
about the LDS ChurchT that intrigued me was the story of this first missionary, Orson Hyde." Mayor Kollek wondered about "asking the Mormons if they would be interested in having a park in the name Orson Hyde."
He said the Church agreed to do the project, which began a long series of meetings and associations. When the park was to be completed and dedicated, "about 2,000 Mormons came to Jerusalem for a great festivity. Some came by boat and some by plane; it was a great, great number. At that time we had many fewer tourists than we have today. It was an unbelievable affair. We planted the Orson Hyde Park. Everyone who came planted a tree. It was a very uplifting, and, at the same time, jolly affair. I remember that as my very first contact with the Mormons."
He said that after the park was completed, associations continued as members maintained their involvement in Jerusalem. Some stayed at kibbutzim; others began sending in study groups.
"But at that time, I also learned that it was a proselytizing Church, and this was a problem for us. On occasion, we had conversations about everything, including our objection to proselytization. We, in our lifetime, lost 6 million people, and we don't have proselytizing in Israel.
Church leadersT came and said they would like to build for themselves a permanent home
which became the BYU Jerusalem CenterT. They asked my assistance on this, and we had some discussions about where to locate it. They had chosen a location in the very center of town, in a place we had set aside for a park. I objected to that site, and I suggested the site we are now on. This piece of land was state domain; it belonged to the government."
He said the minister of education and the minister of foreign affairs made inquiries about BYU and and found that it "was a very responsible and good educational institution."
The permissions to build were given, he said, although there was little enthusiasm for the project among the Christian community in Jerusalem. Later, objections began to be raised, but "this happened after . . . a plan had been made and the plan accepted by various committees. This created a legal situation where you would have had to retroactively change the planning laws, a very complicated business."
As opposition mounted, "suddenly all the people who had been for it disappeared into various mouse holes, but I insisted on keeping our promise, not so much as a favor to the Mormons, although they see it that way. All the time I tried to explain that wasn't favoritism, but that it was an act of principle for freedom of access, for freedom of religion, freedom of prayer and expression.
"We had to stick up for this for the Mormons or somebody else," he said. He added that his standing for these principles when the Church was involved led some people to overestimate his "Mormon motivation."
"My motivation went further than that. It was for freedom of thought and freedom of religion. The Mormons are an excellent example and that helped me. In this case the issue came about because of them, but this was a general principle. I was left alone. All the various cabinet ministers who had been for it suddenly kept mum and didn't say anything. There were pickets and there were demonstrations against it, particularly by ultra-religious groups.
"I had pickets outside my office, and I had pickets in the evenings outside my house, telephone calls and all kinds of things."
He said, however, as he explained his position to various groups, he gained support. "It was a difficult situation, but we pulled through. The issue was appealed to the high court - that's like the supreme court here - and the high court decided in favor of the building license that had been issued. The building went up, and the benefit is that it is a very, very beautiful building, certainly among the two or three best buildings that have been built
in JerusalemT over the last two or three decades.
"We had a conversation today and
Church leadersT said how much happier they are that the center was built at its present site and not at the place where they first suggested.
"Since then, we've made friends with the people who were stationed there for a period of time. We learned more about their devotion and about their principle of giving service and paying tithes. All these things were inspiring. They had undertaken not to do any proselytizing in Jerusalem and Israel, and they kept their promises. There has been not a single case of proselytizing. And we have many other benefits. The choir came to Jerusalem and was enthusiastically received."
The former mayor explained that after he lost his last re-election bid, he founded the Jerusalem Foundation. He continues to be active in the private organization that helps rebuild holy sites of all denominations "to support a very poor city. The major occupation of people in Jerusalem is for either government, city or religious institutions. We have 40 different Christian churches. In the whole, these are people who earn little money."
He said more than 60 Jewish holy sites, plus mosques and other churches, were in need of restoration in 1948.
"We Jews always have the feeling that we are blamed for everything. Even though we have nothing to do with a church or mosque or any holy place, we can't afford that any place should be in disrepair."
He told of repairing a place of worship for the Chaldeans, a minority Christian group from Iraq that had been decimated by persecution.
"There are only 200-300 Chaldean families in Jerusalem. Their building had collapsed, the one thing they had to keep their society together. We couldn't suffer that. We decided to help them. We repaired the church and club at a cost of more than $1 million. We also rebuilt synagogues and mosques. We rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and schools and kindergartens. Jerusalem has friends all over the world. Some are very pleased that they can help rebuild Jerusalem."
Mr. Kollek and his wife, Tamar, are parents of three children and have four grandchildren. Mrs. Kollek helps raise funds for education of handicapped children in Israel.