Former longtime Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat died early Wednesday at the age of 86.
He served as head of city hall for 19 years, from 1974 to 1993, and oversaw its cultural development, investing in art and educational projects such as public concerts and festivals. He oversaw the construction of the beach-side promenade, which bears his name.
Lahat, who suffered from Alzheimer’s later in life, died at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center.
“For me he was an exceptional husband,” Lahat’s wife, Ziva, told Ynet. “We were supposed to celebrate our 59th anniversary. He was a wonderful husband and he had an interesting life, a big, generous and gracious heart.
“He changed the face of [Tel Aviv], particularly its cultural institutions, and established community centers and sports facilities across town,” she said. Lahat also oversaw the rehabilitation and revitalization of older Tel Aviv neighborhoods and the construction of its opera building.
The former mayor, better known as “Chich,” was born in 1927 in Germany and moved to Israel when he was six. He served in a variety of senior positions in the pre-state Palmach underground and later in the IDF, rising to the rank of brigadier general before resigning in 1973 and going into politics.
He served as mayor during the 1991 Gulf War, when Tel Aviv came under fire by Iraqi Scud missiles, and defiantly remained in the city, saying he was a “Tel Aviv patriot,” in an apparent reference to the American-made anti-missile batteries deployed around the city.
Lahat organized the 1995 rally at which prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and introduced Rabin to address the throng that night. Lahat said subsequently that “I haven’t forgiven myself to this day” for arranging the event and inviting Rabin. He said the state of Israel had “deterioriated” ever since the murder.
President Reuven Rivlin called Lahat “Tel Aviv’s Herod,” referring to the semi-mythical Jewish king whose epic construction projects, including the Temple Mount, Masada and Caesarea, remain standing 2,000 years after his death.
“In all his years, Chich contributed to the people and the land the leadership and management abilities with which he was blessed, as an IDF commander, as a politician, as a man,” Rivlin said. “I have no doubt that Israeli society will miss him.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said that “with his death Tel Aviv lost not only one of it’s most beloved, but one of the people who made it into what it is today: a center of culture, art and international business.” With Lahat’s passing, Huldai said he lost “the man who was ‘my mayor’ throughout the years.”
Lahat’s immediate successor as Tel Aviv mayor, Roni Milo, eulogized him, saying he was “a giant of a mayor who turned Tel Aviv into a city that never sleeps. He turned the city into the cultural center of Israel.”
“Chich developed the city in a dramatic fashion, united Tel Aviv and Jaffa and developed the promenade,” he said. “I named the promenade after him when I was mayor because it was he who built it and said that it was the highlight of the physical work he did in the city.”