How I learned about changing course when building in stone

Uzi Wexler z”l passed away last night. Most of Jerusalem’s residents are not familiar with the powerhouse known in the Jerusalem development circles as the man who could move stones and did. Technology parks, the new Municipality, the Jerusalem Zoo, and numerous parks and public centers were built during his tenure as head of the Jerusalem Development Authority. Uzi had boundless energy for creating, designing, planning and execution of new ideas for the city. Nothing was too big. Nothing was impossible. He was modest and bold – all at the same time.

I know this because in the early 1990’s, shortly after moving to Israel, I found myself working for the newly created Jerusalem Development Authority. It was a dynamic time and I was inspired to take my management experience from the Jewish Agency in New York to my new home. Marketing the city of Jerusalem in the early 90’s was exciting and Uzi made it seem so achievable that we were willing (and because of him) able to bring over 70 technology companies to the city (each of which he personally greeted!). We had an attractive welcome package for companies choosing to relocate, technology parks were being built in multiple locations, and the power and energy of the dynamic Uzi Wexler, Erel Margalit and Teddy Kollek team were making it happen.

Our offices of the municipality on Yaffo Street were literally sitting in mud during these years. Old buildings were undergoing renovation and new buildings being erected as part of the new municipal complex. The initial plan called for this new complex to donated by the Reichman family in Canada. A plan that was soon to change.

The change started one early morning. As a new immigrant I was ambitious in my personal goals of finding my way in my new home and was eager to succeed in my new position. I would arrive to work at least an hour early in order to get a head start on the day. Uzi Wexler was always in his office having arrived well before me with the same goal in mind, to get a jump on the day before everyone else arrived.

One morning as I walked in I heard his voice raised high in an emotional conversation. This was unusual given the early hour and so my ears perked and I put my Hebrew ulpan studies into action. I quickly figured out that the commotion was over the Reichman family notifying that they were not going to fund the new municipal complex. The cornerstone had already been laid and the building was well underway (alas the mud we were sitting in!) so this news was both surprising and upsetting. Millions of dollars and a project already in its building stage.

In a very short time (a matter of days) Uzi managed to bring in a new donor, the Safra Family, to support the project. His ability for getting the job done, his way of bringing people into his vision and energy, his contagious smile and the trust he instilled in those he worked with all served to more than just save the day. Uzi was inspiring.

Oh the things we learned from you Uzi. Stones can be moved. Mountains can be built (even where you think there is no room for a mountain), limits can be pushed, and a sheepish smile and love your ideas can go very far. He taught us to never give up on dreams even if the road changes and stones need to be moved along the way.

We will miss you Uzi. You can be sure that every day we here in the city of Jerusalem are enjoying the fruits of your labor and continuing the building you so inspired us to dream of.

About the Author
Lisa Barkan, originally from New Jersey, has been living in Jerusalem since her aliyah 28 years ago. An Israel lover since her first trip in 1983, Lisa has over 30 years of experience in high tech and non-profit marketing and project development/management. She created Jerusalem Village in July 2010 after recognizing that young Jewish adults arriving to the city needed opportunities to meet and engage with their Israeli peers.