In the years since I have served in my current role at The Algemeiner, I can’t say that I had come to know Ed Koch well, however, I did have the opportunity to discuss fundamental matters and pose probing questions to the beloved former New York Mayor, who died today, at pivotal moments.
“Yiedel Itzak” was his Jewish name, he proudly proclaimed to The Algemeiner in an interview. He explained that “the sense of justice that Judaism teaches” was the reason he elected to have the words “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith,” etched on the gravestone he prepared for himself (left.)
Recently, some wrote him off as a senile old fool, especially over his criticism, then praise and then final criticism of President Obama’s Israel policies. I always found him to be mentally sharp, displaying what the New York Times describes as “shrewd political instincts.”
He was always courteous and respectful in our conversations and was most gracious when I needed to reschedule an interview with him that turned out to coincide with the birth of my son.
He held The Algemeiner in high esteem and when I asked him if he planned to express his opposition to the appointment of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary to President Obama, he responded: “I’m not reaching out, I don’t do that [...] you are putting it in your paper, he reads The Algemeiner.”
I greatly respected Koch, despite our political disagreements, specifically for his courage to admit when he was wrong, and to cross party lines at pivotal moments. “The Jewish community currently is taken for granted by the Democratic party,” he told me. “I believe it’s harmful for a community to be exclusively for one party. I think it’s a big, big mistake.”
It was only three weeks ago when he told me in an interview that he felt President Obama had betrayed Israel with his nomination of Chuck Hagel. “Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when he would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” Koch said, adding, “it comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”
We published Koch’s articles nearly every week, and it was clear to me, just by the sheer volume of those which focused on Israel, that the Jewish State, and his Jewishness for that matter, were topics that were very close to his heart.
“Why would you expect Israel to cooperate in its intended lynching?” he asked recently in a passionate letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron. He viciously defended Israel’s right to self defense and called out those who displayed hypocrisy in their dealings with Israel on a regular basis.
“I’m of the belief that the leaders of the Jewish community have to do more to make Jews aware, young Jews aware, of the importance of Israel,” he told me in another interview late last year.
It is therefore noteworthy and fitting to point out that besides the ‘Hear o Israel’ prayer, the only other quote that Koch has engraved on his tombstone is the final statement of Daniel Pearl, the Jewish journalist who was kidnapped and beheaded while in Pakistan investigating Al Qaeda back in 2002.
“My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish,” reads the defiant etching, “(Daniel Pearl 2002, just before he was beheaded by a Muslim terrorist.)”
How befitting that the day of his passing, Feb 1st 2013 comes 11 years to the day after the brutal murder of Daniel Pearl, that icon of Jewish pride.
They will forever share a yahrzeit, and in many ways a legacy.