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 one of us,” said Israeli consul general. Koch was “one of the most important and influential American Zionists of our time.”

Perhaps sensing the vulnerability of his claim, Aharoni bolstered it with a story, about a time in 1990 when the mayor was hit in the head by a rock during a walk with Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek. At the time, the AP reported that Koch “used a handkerchief to stem slight bleeding.”

To Aharoni, what took a handkerchief and two band aids to fix twenty years ago is an enduring symbol of the mayor’s allegiance to Israel. Ed Koch “literally bled for the Jewish state,” Aharoni said, earnestly.

If the Israelis felt Koch belonged to Israel, New York’s political class knew otherwise. “Ed Koch would have loved this crowd,” said Diane Coffey, Koch’s former aide and longtime friend, looking out at the filled 2,500-seat sanctuary.

Every official ever elected in New York seemed to be there. Former mayor David Dinkins chatted with former senator Alfonse D’Amato. Both governors Cuomo, father and son, sat near the front of the room massive room.

Koch’s sister’s family had the pews nears the center of the front row, with hundreds of Koch administration alumni filling the seats directly behind them.

Spotlighted on center stage was Koch’s coffin, a relatively plain oak box with a Jewish star on top.

As Jewish funerals go, this one felt rather Episcopalian.


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