Former New York mayor Ed Koch, who died early Friday morning, decided a few years ago to have his headstone engraved with the last words of American-Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl who was slain by Islamic militants in Pakistan: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”
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And in a coincidence that can only be described as startling, Koch passed away at New York’s Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia on the very same date that Pearl, who had dual American and Israeli citizenship, was beheaded 11 years ago near Karachi.
Koch’s funeral will take place on Monday at New York’s Temple Emanuel – but he will be buried at a cemetery belonging to Manhattan’s Episcopalian Trinity Church. Koch’s headstone, which also boasts a Magen David and the Shma prayer in Hebrew and English, was placed in the cemetery, which is located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, three years ago.
Koch paid $20,000 for the cemetery plot five years ago, saying that he had chosen it because it was the only cemetery in Manhattan that was still active. "I don't want to leave Manhattan, even when I'm gone," Koch told The Associated Press. "This is my home. The thought of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me."
Koch told the New York Times in 2008 that he had consulted with rabbis about his plan to be buried in a church cemetery. “I called a number of rabbis to see if this was doable,” he said. “I was going to do it anyway, but it would be nice if it were doable traditionally.” He said he had been advised to request that the gate nearest his plot be inscribed as “the gate for the Jews,” and the cemetery agreed. He also built rails around his plot, as instructed.
Koch was born in 1924 in the Bronx to parents who had come to New York as refugees from Poland. In his autobiography, Koch wrote “My parents would never be like the assimilated German Jews who looked down on us. Neither of my parents was very religious, but being Jewish was very important to them.”
So it was to Koch, who was often the victim of anti-Semitic bullies in Newark, where he grew up. Asked once about his proud attachment to - and uninhibited exhibition of - his Judaism”, Koch once said: "Jews have always thought that having someone elevated with his head above the grass was not good for the Jews. I never felt that way. I believe that you have to stand up."
On his headstone he also had the following epitaph inscribed: "He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II."
A documentary about Koch’s life, entitled "koch" opened on Friday in New York theaters, on the very day that the colorful three term mayor passed away. Even in death, Koch retained the trait that is critical for any showman of his stature: impeccable timing.