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More recently, at age 83, after Koch picked out his burial place and had a large tombstone pre-engraved, he said he wanted another five years of life (he got them). For his graveside monument, Koch chose the last words of Daniel Pearl, the journalist who was beheaded by Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan in 2002: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”
Yet how could a man who oscillated between purple blasphemy and restless confidence in the Lord, a man with a rudimentary Hebrew school education, with that penchant for half-quoting and misquoting snippets from Torah and Talmud (he regretted having learned so little Hebrew, and not attending synagogue), seriously pretend to have such intimacy with Him?
Perhaps an answer to this riddle can be found in Koch’s own brand of what I as a psychoanalytic thinker might call “delicious” narcissism. The delight that Koch took in his own utterances, statements and actions was so contagious, so full of life, it may have reached the heavens, as well. Somehow, sometimes artfully, sometimes sloppily, but always adorably, no matter what was happening on the great big stage around him — war in Iraq; the intifada; subway strikes; snowstorms; shameless, king-sized, state-sinking corruption scandals around him — he always brought it back to himself: “How’m I doing?”
He was like a big Baby Huey, an ugly duckling thrust onto the world stage, a wobbling yet sturdy potpourri of competence, crass humor and delectable arrogance. “I don’t get ulcers, I give them,” he said. Koch infused the arid and bleached parts of politics with id. No mincing of words for him. “Andrew Cuomo is a pompous ass,” he said. What would have been phony and polite political discussion, he filled with life.
But still, do we have any sign from heaven of the former mayor? Is there even the slightest indication that the Almighty has received him, as he had hoped?
This is hard to know with certainty, of course, but God did keep most of his deals with Koch. It should be noted that Hizzoner was taken quickly and without pain, as was purportedly agreed. Also, he got the extra five years of life he wanted, and now, as if it were a divine nod, Koch improbably shares a yahrzeit with Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter he so respected.
But then again, we may not need celestial signs. Of course Koch is going to heaven, why shouldn’t he? He was, after all, Ed Koch.
Simon Yisrael Feuerman, a psychotherapist in New Jersey, is the director of the New Center for Advanced Psychotherapy Studies.