Mayor Ed Koch: pugnacious New Yorker and passionate Jew

Ed Koch was remembered as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people by a cast of political luminaries at the former New York City mayor’s funeral on Feb. 4.

At a service that filled the cavernous sanctuary of Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan (the crowd included former President Bill Clinton, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo), Koch was compared to Moses.

“In his own way, Ed was our Moses, just with a little less hair,” Bloomberg said, noting that this week’s Torah portion describes Moses’ leadership in taking the Israelites from bondage in Egypt.

Ed Koch in 2012 Obama video photo/jta-obama campaign/youtube

Koch, who died Feb. 1 at 88 of congestive heart failure, is credited with leading New York City out of a debilitating financial crisis in the late 1970s. His death came on the same day as “Koch,” a documentary about his life, opened in theaters nationwide.

Israel’s consul general in New York, Ido Aharoni, recalled in his eulogy that the combative Koch literally “bled” for Israel, retelling a famous story about how the mayor was hit on the head with a rock thrown by a Palestinian while on a trip to Israel in 1990.

Koch, who never married, held twin passions he guarded ferociously: the Jewish people and New York.

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx on Dec. 12, 1924 to Jewish immigrants from Poland.  He served in World War II as an infantryman and went to law school at New York University.

As mayor, Koch presided over some of the city’s most difficult years, from 1978 to 1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

After losing his bid for election to a fourth term in 1989, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish Yoda, blessing or cursing political figures as he saw fit.

In his later years, Koch seemed to swing like a pendulum between Democrats and Republicans, and his political imprimatur was eagerly sought by both sides.

Koch stumped hard for George W. Bush’s presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel’s back, Koch said. Four years later, Koch threw in with Barack Obama.

Koch was buried Feb. 4 in a non-denominational churchyard uptown — selected because he could not imagine spending eternity outside Manhattan.