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February 05, 2013

Not “Too Jewish”: The Washington Post’s Ed Koch Obituary

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In his one-man Broadway show “The World According to Me,” comedian Jackie Mason got laughs relating that after performances, Gentiles would congratulate him but some Jews would complain, “it’s too Jewish.”

The Washington Post’s obituary on Ed Koch (“Edward I. Koch, 88: Three-term mayor was as colorful as the city he led; He revived New York when it was seen as a symbol of dysfunction,” February 2) reflects that latter spirit—not “too Jewish.”

The 1,304-word article by Post reporter Paul Schwartzman notes that the former congressman and mayor was “the son of a Jewish immigrant furrier” and that he campaigned “alongside Bess Myerson, the first Jewish woman to win the Miss America title.” The obituary also says that “during the 1988 presidential campaign, he [Koch] caused a kerfuffle when he said Jews would be ‘crazy’ to vote for the Rev. Jesse Jackson because Jackson had voiced support for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.”

But it omits Koch’s epitaph, which other obituaries and appreciations noted. The former mayor chose the last words of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl before he was beheaded by al-Qaeda terrorists: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

Rabbi Benjamin Blech of Aish HaTorah recalled Koch's “What’s on My Tombstone and Why,” posted at his Huffington Post blog two years ago. “So strongly did he feel about the importance of this recognition for every Jew,” Blech noted, that the former mayor added “I believe these words should be part of the annual services on the Jewish High Holiday of Yom Kippur, and should be repeated by the congregants.”

The Washington Post’s obit leaves out more of the same, which helped define Koch. For example, as The New York Sun highlighted, he worked for free Soviet Jewish emigration, was honored by the Jerusalem City Council as a guardian of the city—a memento he displayed on his office wall—and closed one of his several memoirs by writing “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.”

When Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor and then chief rabbi of Tel Aviv (later chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel) visited New York, Koch arranged to meet him. Again, according to, the mayor told Lau of visiting Berlin and being shown Adolph Hitler’s personal globe. The Jewish population, from one for Albania to six million for the United States, was marked on each country. Koch told the rabbi he
believed “I’m a Holocaust survivor too.”

And according to an obit at Commentary online, Koch once informed the magazine Vanity Fair that the one living person he despised most was Jimmy Carter. The ex-president’s anti-Israel animus has been well documented by CAMERA, for example. In commentaries in recent years the former mayor decried the international resurgence of antisemitism and warned against diplomacy, including by the United States, that might isolate Israel.

The Post acknowledged Koch’s “unbridled candor and unyielding chutzpah ….” Chutzpah of course, being untranslatable Yiddish but approximated by audacity, effrontery, guts and gall in various combinations, which the obituary lacked in conveying the Jewish intensity of Ed Koch.

Posted by ER at February 5, 2013 12:06 PM


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