Ed Koch, Fiercely Secular Jew, Takes Unique New York Style to Grave

Letter From Temple Emanu-El

Stately Send-Off: The funeral for Ed Koch at Temple Emanu-El felt like a most Episcopalian kind of Jewish funeral. He probably would’ve reveled in the contradictions on display.
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Stately Send-Off: The funeral for Ed Koch at Temple Emanu-El felt like a most Episcopalian kind of Jewish funeral. He probably would’ve reveled in the contradictions on display.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published February 04, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
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Ed Koch was a shellfish-eating guy from the Bronx. In the hospital, he once carried a picture of Cardinal John O’Connor so that if his back pain somehow disappeared it would count as a miracle on O’Connor’s path to sainthood.

And yet Koch, the New York City mayor who died last week at 88, stubbornly insisted on his own Jewishness, building a contradiction that followed him quite literally to his grave Monday.

A funeral at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side was the mayor’s last stop before burial in a Christian cemetery in Washington Heights under a tombstone that says the word “Jewish” four times.

“A Polish Jew in an Episcopal graveyard in a largely Dominican neighborhood,” Mayor Bloomberg said at the service. “What could be more New York, or even more Ed Koch?”

Bill Clinton chats with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Ed Koch’s funeral.
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Bill Clinton chats with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Ed Koch’s funeral.

A sweet multicultural sentiment, maybe, but one that is more Michael Bloomberg than Ed Koch. Koch’s epitaphs, which he picked himself, are parochial enough to make one wonder whether Episcopal mourners visiting their own dead will be made uncomfortable.

“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish,” reads the first, quoting slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The second epitaph is the Sh’ma, the third a paragraph that begins: “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith.”

Israeli consul general Ido Aharoni, who spoke after Bill Clinton at the funeral, essentially called Koch an Israeli.


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