Two men of the Levant

Two giant figures of the contemporary Middle East recently died within days of each other. One was a great murderer, a man who mailed the body parts of his shredded victims to their families, which perhaps explains why he never slept in the same place two nights in a row. The other was a great builder, a mayor who kept his home phone number listed in his city’s telephone directory. One destroyed the very possibility of “politics” in his country, which was why, in the end, he had to be destroyed. The other was a consummate politician, who wheeled-and-dealed with the best of them, in order to make the world’s most bitterly contested city a place worthy of its name.

One, of course, was Saddam Hussein, executed in Baghdad on December 30. The other was Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem for almost three decades, who died on January 2.

Babylonians, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, Persians, Romans, Saracens, and Seleucids each ruled Jerusalem, in their turn, as conquerors. From 1965 until 1993, Teddy Kollek governed Jerusalem as a trustee. Living at the epicenter of a region caught in the cruel web of violence, Teddy embodied civility, decency, and tolerance.

He was a proud Israeli, who in his youth had run guns and done intelligence work for David Ben-Gurion; as Mayor of Jerusalem, he conducted himself as a servant of people of all faiths, determined to maintain free access to the city’s holy places for all who wished to worship there. His critics, perhaps resentful of his success, called him “the last pasha,” the last Ottoman in style if not ethnicity. And it’s true that Teddy was, at the same time, politician, statesman, impresario, urban planner, gardener, judge, host, construction-gang boss, and world-class shnorrer (fundraiser). But perhaps in a region where the politics of consensus and compromise are planted in rocky soil, it takes a pasha — in this case, a thoroughly democratic pasha — to make things happen. And Teddy Kollek made things happen.

The original U.N. partition plan for mandatory Palestine envisaged Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, an international enclave not part of any state. That was an idea going nowhere; so in 1948 the city was divided by barbed wire, between Israel and Jordan, and remained that way until its reunification in 1967 during the Six-Day War (which Israel’s leaders had begged Jordan’s King Hussein not to enter). Teddy, in response to renewed calls for some sort of international oversight, created a non-governmental body: the Jerusalem Committee, an eclectic gathering of lawyers, statesmen, academics, theologians, and architects from all over the world — all dedicated to religious freedom, all committed to an open and undivided Jerusalem, and all invited by Teddy to “congratulate us when we get it right, and correct us when we get it wrong,” as Teddy said in inviting me to join the Committee (as the most junior of subalterns, I should confess) in 1990.

We did both. Long before my brief service on it, the Committee helped Teddy prevent the city from getting overbuilt. In fact, the Jerusalem Committee encouraged and supported some of the greatest exercises in urban design of the late twentieth century. I also remember Teddy’s intense interest, at our 1990 meeting, in the Sheikh Jarrah health clinic he had built for poor Palestinian children, even as he took in hand the Committee criticism for the municipality’s failure to entice the local Palestinian population into municipal politics (which, in truth, wasn’t Teddy’s fault, but the first intifada’s).

Jerusalem is hardly an oasis of tranquillity today. But it is a far more tranquil place — and a far more beautiful place, and a far more open place — than it would have been absent the tough love lavished on it for decades by Teddy Kollek. This great and good man, who was the human antithesis of the brute who died seventy-two hours before him, embodied the promise that Jerusalem might one day be in reality what it has long been inspiration: the city of peace. Gathered to the fathers, may he rest in peace.

COMING UP: Care for Her Act: A common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies

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The pro-life community is often accused of only being pro-birth; however, a congressman from Nebraska is seeking to not only bring more visibility to the countless organizations which provide care for women experiencing crisis pregnancies through birth and beyond, but to also imitate that care at the federal level and enshrine it into law.

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who serves the first congressional district in Nebraska, is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill that’s been in the works since last year. The overall goal of the bill is to “[commit] to care for that journey of life through a complementary set of services whereby the government makes a decided choice on behalf of the life of the unborn child and meeting the needs of the expectant mother,” Rep. Fortenberry told the Denver Catholic.

The Care For Act seeks to accomplish this through four basic provisions: A $3,600 tax credit for unborn children which would apply retroactively after the child is born, in addition to the existing tax credit for children; a comprehensive assessment and cataloguing of the programs and resources that are available to expectant mothers; providing federal grants to advance maternal housing, job training mentorships and other educational opportunities for expectant mothers; and lastly, offering financial incentives to communities that improve maternal and child health outcomes.

The Biden Administration recently indicated that they’ll be removing the Hyde Amendment in next year’s budget, which has historically been in place to prohibit pubic funds from going to abortions. The Care for Her Act would circumvent this to some degree, and it would also test whether Rep. Fortenberry’s dissenting colleagues who have in the past expressed that women should be cared for throughout their pregnancies and beyond are willing to stand by their words.

While the conversation around pregnancy and women’s health often centers around abortion, Rep. Fortenberry intentionally crafted the Care for Her Act to not be against abortion, per se, but rather for women and their babies.

“Abortion has caused such a deep wound in the soul of America,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “However, the flip side of this is not only what we are against, because it is so harmful, but what are we for? So many wonderful people throughout this country carry the burden of trying to be with women in that vulnerable moment where there is an unexpected pregnancy and show them the gift of what is possible for that child and for that woman. Let’s do that with government policy as well.”

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R) of Nebraska is expected to introduce the Care for Her Act to Congress soon, a bill which seeks to provide a community of care for women facing an unexpected pregnancy. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives)

Even The Washington Post has taken notice of the Care for Her Act. Earlier this year, Rep. Fortenberry introduced the idea to his constituents, and as to be expected, he received mixed feedback. Those who are pro-life were supportive of the idea, while those who support abortions were more apprehensive. Still others shared consternation about what the government ought to or ought not to do, expressing concern about what the Care for Her Act seeks to do.

“My response is, if we’re going to spend money, what is the most important thing? And in my mind, this is it,” Rep. Fortenberry said.

However, he was very encouraged by one response in particular, which for him really illustrates why this bill is so important and needed.

“One woman wrote me and said, ‘Jeff, I had an abortion when I was young. But if I had this complement of services and commitment of community around me, I would have made another decision,'” Rep. Fortenberry recalled. “And I said ‘yes.’ That’s why we are doing this. For her.”

So far, Rep. Fortenberry has been able to usher support from a number of women representatives on his side of the aisle. He is hopeful, though, that support could come from all sides of the political spectrum.

“Is it possible this could be bipartisan? I would certainly hope so, because it should transcend a political divide,” he explained. “We, of course, stand against abortion because it is so detrimental to women and obviously the unborn child. At the same time though, I think that others could join us who maybe don’t have the fullness of our perspective, who want to see the government actually make a choice on behalf of protecting that unborn life.”

Amidst the politically polarizing discussions about pregnancy and unborn life, the Care for Her act is a common-sense approach to caring for women and their babies. It offers women facing an unexpected pregnancy the chance to experience hope in a seemingly hopeless situation and make a life-giving decision for both herself and her child.

“I’m excited by this,” Rep. Fortenberry said. “I think it opens a whole new set of imaginative possibilities for America, a transformative ideal that again makes this moment of vulnerability when there is an unexpected pregnancy, our chance, our commitment as a community of care.”