Ed Koch, New York’s most colorful mayor (1978-89), was always a step ahead of his admirers. When Koch was recovering from a stroke in 1987, Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue came to see how he’s doin’.
“Say this Hebrew prayer after me,” the rabbi said.
Later came John Cardinal O’Connor. “Ed, if you like, I will pray for you in Hebrew.”
“Reverend,” Koch said, “I took care of the Hebrew. Can you say something in Latin?”
Koch, who died on Feb. 1 of congestive heart failure at age 88, was always a staunch supporter of Israel and Jews in distress.
At a dinner of the America-Israel Friendship League last year, Koch was especially animated on the rise of anti-Semitism. “Of course, you can criticize Israel,” he said, “but I believe the attacks on Israel are anti-Semitic. You think you can count on the French? They can’t count on themselves. They voted in favor of the Palestinian Authority in Unesco. And that 81-year-old lady on the flotilla who wanted to break the Gaza blockade – why doesn’t she go to Syria if she wants to help persecuted Arabs?”
He was ever mindful of the Holocaust. In 1989, as he was recognized for his support of the proposed Museum of Jewish Heritage (which opened eight years later in downtown New York), he insisted that “we must create that museum that will keep the memory alive.”
At an Israel Bonds event at the New York Hilton he declared, “It is important never to forget who we are. Never to forget that if we don’t speak out, no one will speak out for us.
“Every single night somewhere there are Jews in danger. There is only one country that will take them in. Our own country, and President Roosevelt, turned its back on Jews who sought refuge. That’s why every Jew has to have the prime responsibility to keep Israel strong.”
During his 12 years at the helm of the world’s greatest city, Koch was feisty and outspoken, especially about his Jewish people. “We are a unique people,” he observed in 2004 at a dinner of the National Jewish Outreach Program in the Waldorf. “We’ve never been more than 1 percent of the world’s population, yet we’ve produced some of the greatest people in history. We’re 13 million in the world and produced 116 Nobel Prie winners.”
How did he do? You tell me.