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Ed Koch on His Life and His Judaism

The Hizzoner spoke to Tablet back in 2011

Adam Chandler
February 01, 2013
Ed Koch(NYDN)

Ed Koch(NYDN)

Back in 2011, Andrew Marantz had a fascinating chat with Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away earlier this morning. In it, Koch talked about his love for the New York he ruled over, his love of Israel, and his Judaism. Here’s a small excerpt.

Edward Irving Koch was born in the Bronx and raised in Newark, New Jersey, as a Conservative Jew. He represented New York City in Congress from 1969 to 1977 and served as its mayor from 1978 to 1989. Now 86, he is a partner at the law firm Bryan Cave, where the windowsill of his office, overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is decorated with a silver-colored Hanukkiah and dozens of pictures of himself shaking hands with celebrities. Koch is vague about what he does there, beyond building buzz. He has never been married and has no children, and he neither confirms nor denies persistent rumors of homosexuality. “What do I care?” he told New York magazine 13 years ago. “I find it fascinating that people are interested in my sex life at age 73. It’s rather complimentary! But as I say in my book, my answer to questions on this subject is simply: Fuck off.”

When I asked Koch about the importance of Judaism in his life, he called out to his secretary. “Jody! Bring him the tombstone!” She handed me a copy of Koch’s pre-written epitaph: “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved the people of the City of New York.” The headstone also quotes Daniel Pearl’s last words—“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish”—and notes that these words were spoken “immediately before his beheading by an Islamic terrorist.” Koch believes in God but describes himself as secular.

Enjoy the rest here. We’ll have more on Koch today.

Related: Hizzoner [Tablet]

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.