An Israeli envoy, a former US president and New York’s current mayor all paid tribute to Ed Koch at his funeral Monday morning, hailing the former New York mayor for his Jewishness, Zionism and commitment to the Big Apple.
“Ed Koch was one of us,” Israel’s consul general in New York Ido Aharoni told gathered mourners Monday at Temple Emanu-El on the city’s Upper East Side. “We, the Israelis, owe Ed Koch a great debt of gratitude for his long standing support, friendship, unconditional love and commitment to the Zionist movement and to the Jewish homeland,” the envoy said.
Koch, who steered the city from 1978 to 1989, passed away from heart failure Friday in New York at age 88. An outspoken New Yorker’s New Yorker, Koch was an avowed Zionist who wore his Jewish pride on his sleeve and his gravestone.
Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg were also among the eulogizers at the funeral. After the ceremony, Koch’s casket was carried out of the synagogue to the strains of “New York, New York,” and taken to Trinity Church Cemetery in Manhattan to be buried.
Aharoni told a packed gathering that Israel was mourning the loss of Koch, who also served as a congressman. He recalled the relationship between former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek and Koch, “lifelong friends.”
Aharoni said that Koch, who “bled for Israel” after taking a rock to the head while on a visit to Israel during the first Intifada, called Kollek the “mayor of all mayors.”
He added: “The bond that Ed shared with Teddy, between two mayors, two leaders, is the one New York and Jerusalem share, is the one Israel and the United States share.”
“Ed Koch was one of a kind,” Aharoni said. “Before he died, he let it be known that he wanted his gravestone engraved with the most famous prayer in Judaism — Shema. It is a declaration of faith. A pledge of allegiance to one God and to the nation of Israel…
“Israel hears you loud and clear,” the consul concluded. “May your memory be blessed and may you rest in peace, dear friend.”
Koch’s gravestone also features a quote from slain journalist Daniel Pearl in the moments before he was killed by Islamists: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” As it turned out, the two men died on the same day, February 1, 11 years apart.
Recalling Koch as “brash and irreverent,” Bloomberg said the man who governed the city during the late 1970s and 1980s must be “beaming” from all the attention created by his death.
“No mayor, I think, has ever embodied the spirit of New York City like he did,” continued Bloomberg.
Bloomberg noted that the funeral was being held near “a certain East River span” — referring to the 59th Street bridge, which was renamed the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge in 2011.
Describing the bridge dedication ceremony, Bloomberg drew laughter from the crowd as he recalled how Koch stood there for 20 minutes, yelling: “Welcome to my bridge!”
Noah Thayer, Koch’s grand-nephew, praised him as a “doting grandfather” who was devoted to his family. Thayer recalled fond memories of Koch attending elementary-school soccer games and getting a manicure with his 11-year-old grand-niece.
“While he knew he was often portrayed as a lonely bachelor, it didn’t matter,” Thayer said. “He saw in his family only perfection.”
Former president Clinton, who served as a representative of President Barack Obama at the funeral, said the world was a better place because Koch had “lived and served.”
“He had a big brain,” Clinton said. “But he had a bigger heart.”
Six uniformed officers from the NYPD and the fire department were standing alongside his wooden coffin as part of Koch’s honor guard.
Koch was a friend of both Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and was helpful during her successful campaign for the US Senate from New York, according to Koch spokesman George Arzt. Koch also backed Hillary Clinton in her presidential run.
The funeral was held at one of the nation’s most prominent synagogues, a Reform Jewish congregation on Fifth Avenue. Bloomberg is a member, as are comedienne Joan Rivers and former New York governor Eliot Spitzer.
“I don’t want to leave Manhattan, even when I’m gone,” Koch told The Associated Press in 2008 after purchasing a burial plot in the Trinity Church Cemetery, at the time the only graveyard in Manhattan that still had space. “This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”
Koch led his city for 12 years, with a brash, humor-tinged style that came to personify the New York of the 1980s.
The Democratic mayor is credited with helping save New York from its economic crisis in the 1970s and leading it to financial rebirth. But during his three terms as mayor, he also faced racial tensions and corruption among political allies, as well as the AIDS epidemic, homelessness and urban crime.
In his weekly radio address, Bloomberg called Koch “our most tireless, fearless, and guileless civic crusader.”
The mayor said his predecessor’s “tough, determined leadership and responsible fiscal stewardship… helped lift the city out of its darkest days and set it on course for an incredible comeback.”
He added, “When someone needed a good kick in the rear, he gave it to them.”
Koch lost the Democratic nomination for mayor in 1989 to David Dinkins, who succeeded him.
Koch said he was defeated “because of longevity.” In his words, “people get tired of you.”
But as the votes were coming in, he said he told himself, “I’m free at last.”
Also Monday, US Rep. Carolyn Maloney will make a recommendation to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to rename a Manhattan subway station in Koch’s honor.
She will propose that the subway station at East 77th Street and Lexington Avenue be called “Mayor Ed Koch subway station.” She will also announce renaming the street corner there to “Mayor Edward I. Koch.”
City officials have introduced legislation to officially rename the station.