The Ascension of Ed Koch

Is Hizzoner in Heaven? You Better Believe It!

Not Forgotten: Ed Koch chats with Hillary Clinton during her run for U.S. Senate.
getty images
Not Forgotten: Ed Koch chats with Hillary Clinton during her run for U.S. Senate.

By Simon Yisrael Feuerman

Published February 08, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Much has been and will be written about former New York City mayor Ed Koch, who died February 1 at the age of 88. He was such a New Yorker, and such a Jew. My contemporaries who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s will no doubt remember his nasal voice, his Yiddishisms, his exasperated and overheated sense of peculiarly “Jewish” states of being — like chutzpah, menschlichkeit, schmo.

“If you are caught with a gun in NYC, you’re gonna go to jayle,” he said in his distinctive whinelike lilt. Or during the water shortage of 1989, when, with a kind of haimish crassness, he adjured New Yorkers on their toilet habits: “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down!”

That sing-song way of saying things had to have wafted up through the heders of the Old Country and the Talmud Torahs of the Newark of Koch’s youth, of immigrants and their children in Depression-era America. But while Koch will be remembered for his voice and manner, what fascinated me most was his relationship with God.

Yes, Koch quoted God dozens and dozens of times. In fact, he was on intimate terms with the Holy One, Blessed Be He — so much so that he felt the freedom to disagree with the Creator all the time. And in Koch’s own words, more or less, God was very much the sport about it.

“We all die,” Koch told The New York Times a few years ago, “Whenever He or She wants me, I’ll go.” Nevertheless, Koch being Koch, he outlined some conditions to the Master of the Universe: “I had a conversation with God: ‘Take me totally, or don’t take me. No salami tactics.’”

One might be tempted to see this as Tevye-like talk, the sort of jest one might expect from an aging, grandiose Jewish man who is also sentimental about his Yiddishkeit. But Koch earnestly believed in his Jewish God, and he made numerous promises and deals with Him throughout his long life; however, he didn’t keep them all.

For example, prior to his failed gubernatorial bid in 1982, he had made a promise at the Western Wall that he would not seek office above mayor. Later, he explained his loss to Mario Cuomo by saying he had broken his word with God and had been suitably punished.

One time, on Koch’s WABC radio show, abortion was the topic. A Catholic caller from Brooklyn claimed that although he is pro-choice, like the mayor himself, “I’m Catholic, and the Pope considers abortion to be murder.” Koch answered as only he could: “You, my friend, have a problem because you are Catholic and you are going to purgatory. I don’t have that problem. I am Jewish. And I am going straight to heaven!”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.