As Israel's representatives in New York, we were all saddened to hear of the passing of the city's former mayor, Ed Koch, a dear friend and a great leader. Many will no doubt be taking this opportunity to refresh their memories about his myriad accomplishments and all that he was able to achieve for this great city during a critical time in its history. The outspoken, Bronx-born Jew was full of charm and chutzpah. Undoubtedly, he took an active role in shaping the image of the quintessential 'New Yorker'.
As mayor, Koch left behind him a distinct legacy for the advancement and promotion of New York. He was a major catalyst in what later became known as the "branding of New York" as the capital of the free world, as an object of eclectic urban fascination for the entire globe to celebrate and experience. During his tenure, as well as during his two very active decades as former mayor, he was an icon and a champion in turning the "Big Apple" into the strongest brand name in modern urban history.
That's the New York City he left the world. But he left something very special for Israel. When I first came to New York as Consul in 2001, it was already the post-Koch era, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to be one of the most important and influential American Zionists of our time. He never shied away from showing his unwavering support and love for Israel.
Since 2010 when I arrived as Consul General in New York, I had the privilege of working with Ed many times. But I was not the first to have such a close relationship with him. Koch was close to many Israeli leaders over the years, up to the very end. Our offices are decorated with pictures of Koch throughout the years, with Israeli presidents and prime ministers – and Israeli consul generals. His love for Israel was constant and withstood the test of time.
In 1990, when he visited Israel following his third and last term, Koch literally "bled for the Jewish state": He was hit in the head by a rock during the first Intifada. It made headlines at the time, but the real story is what followed: he joked to the man next to him that 'the stone was meant for you.' Standing next to him was Jerusalem's mythological mayor Teddy Kollek – the two had become lifelong friends, with Koch calling Kollek "the mayor of all mayors." He might have gotten a little more than he bargained for but it was his warm heart, not his battle scars, that defined his relationship with Israel. His historical role provides a clear answer to his trade mark inquiry: "How'm I doing"? To which we Israelis can reply wholeheartedly: "You did very well, Mayor Koch".
Ido Aharoni is the Consul General of Israel in New York.
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