Hundreds of people, including several ministers and President Reuven Rivlin, attended the funeral of former Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat on Friday.
Lahat, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, was buried in Tel Aviv’s Trumpeldor Cemetery.
“You need a man who never stops to make a city that never stops, and I loved him,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the funeral.
Lahat, a reserves major general in the Israel Defense Forces, served as mayor for 19 years until 1993. He led extensive renovations and restoration projects in the city, facilitated the opening of businesses on Shabbat and directed generous funding for the city’s art scene.
“He turned Tel Aviv from a dormant city into a lively, zesty one,” Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Labor Party and the head of the opposition, said in his eulogy for Lahat.
Lahat, who was also known by the nickname of Chich, was a member of the Likud party but advocated for territorial concessions under Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in 1995 in Tel Aviv at a peace rally that Lahat helped organize.
In 2000, he wrote an open letter to the late Rabin that was published on Ynet, in which he said he blamed himself for Rabin’s death. Rabin, Lahat wrote, did not want to attend the rally but Lahat pushed him to agree.
“Your friends and family tell me I am not to blame, but I feel guilty and I don’t forgive myself and never will because what happened here was my responsibility,” Lahat wrote.
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.
Lahat 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 a reference to the American-made anti-missile batteries deployed around the city.
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.”
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