Ed Koch was more than just a past New York mayor. He was also one of Judaism’s leading political figures, and a staunch advocate for Israel.
Koch was born December 12, 1924, in the Bronx borough of New York, the city he would devote his life to.
Koch spent decades on the political stage, most famously as New York City mayor from 1978 to 1989. He is noted as helping turn around the city he loved, bringing it through some of its most tumultuous years and paving the way for prosperous cultural years under the likes of successors like Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.
Though a Democrat, Koch worked with both sides of the aisle, and was often a trusted partner in negotiations with the GOP. Of particular concern to Koch were Zionist interests, and he made several trips to Israel in his lifetime. During a 1990 trip, the robust mayor was struck by a rock to the head, spillover from a Palestinian militant during the first intifada.
Koch was unfazed, mopping up his own blood and saying, “I shed a little blood for the people of Israel.”
Even after his tenure as mayor was over, Koch continued to promote Jewish matters. He never hesitated to petition or organize protests over issues he saw as anti-Semitic, or call out fellow politicians who seemed inclined to vote against Israel.
Koch was a bipartisan force in presidential elections, advocating for President George W. Bush in the 2004 election and President Barack Obama in 2008—each time picking the winning candidate.
Koch died February 1, 2013, instigating a massive funeral in Manhattan attended by thousands, including notable leaders. Preceding the funeral, President Obama noted Koch’s “irrepressible character,” calling him a “quintessential New Yorker.”
“He took office at a time when New York was in fiscal crisis, and helped his city achieve economic renewal, expand affordable housing, and extend opportunity to more of its people,” Obama said.
Former President Bill Clinton attended the New York ceremony, saying Koch had “lived and served,” adding, “He had a big brain. But he had a bigger heart.”
Prior to his death, he asked that a Star of David be inscribed on his gravestone, along with the words of one of Judaism’s holiest prayers: “Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”
Famous quotes from Ed Koch:
“It’s a lot more fun being a critic than being the one criticized.”
“The mere process of growing old together will make the slightest acquaintance seem a bosom friend.”
“In action be primitive; in foresight, a strategist.”
“You punch me, I punch back. I do not believe it’s good for one’s self-respect to be a punching bag.”
“The art of creation is older than the art of killing.”
“Tone can be as important as text.”
“When all are wrong, everyone is right.”