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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Temple Emanu-El, the massive, 2,500 seat Reform synagogue on 65th Street and 5th Avenue, was built to look like an cathedral, with stained class windows and ceilings that reach unbelievable heights. There were few yarmulkes. The rabbi, black-suited and bald, read a Hebrew prayer in the scholarly mode of the old-school Reform rabbis.

After the speeches and a short prayer, a six-cop honor guard lifted the coffin into the crowd. The pallbearers were enveloped in the throng and, from an aisle away, it looked like the oak coffin was hovering above mourners. The organ played “New York, New York,” and giggles of recognition were subsumed by waves of applause for the departing mayor.

Afterwards, Bruce Ratner, the mega-developer behind the Barclays Center, skipped out through a side door.

So did most of the New York notables and Koch administration alumni. The politicians, however, were stuck. They wanted to leave through the main exit, where they would pass in front of the flatbed NYPD truck packed with photographers. The civilians swept out and the elected officials waited behind, so it was largely notables who jammed in the bottleneck in the synagogue’s foyer.

City Council speaker Christine Quinn and former MTA chairman Joe Lhota, who might face each other in the New York City mayor’s race in November, waited near each other to walk through the front doors. New York City Comptroller John Liu, another mayoral hopeful, wasn’t far behind. City Councilman David Yassky, who Liu beat in the 2009 Comptroller race, was on the other side of the room. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who will likely run for governor someday, stood in the same pack as George Pataki, who has already held that post.

Today, Ed Koch wasn’t playing politics. Everyone would get one last endorsement.


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