Koch, z”l, former Mayor of New York City, passed away this week. He died as he lived; an in-your-face Jew who wanted to mingle with non-Jewish NY on their own turf, while never letting them forget his Jewishness.
Back in the days of my former adventurous life as the Assistant for Foreign Relations to the Mayor of Jerusalem, I had occasion to meet Mayor Koch. Although I wish it had been under happier circumstances, it was because of the State Funeral of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, z’l. In attendance, were Prime Ministers and Presidents from nations all over the globe….
… and the Governor, Mayor and former Mayor of New York City. Given the city’s self-proclaimed and celebrated Jewishness, I suppose it should come as no surprise. As the assistant to the Mayor, I was not invited to participate in any pomp or circumstance that surrounded Heads of State. The way the system works, even though Jerusalem is the capital, those responsibilities are handled quite strictly by the State Department and not the municipality. Similar to the White House receiving PM Netanyahu and not involving the Mayor of Washington DC or his staff terribly much about it.
In this case, the State Dept. had their hands full with said Heads of State, and was not very interested in doting on “local” politicians. So we were politely told that Governor Pataki, Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Koch were our
That suited me just fine. We had to plan a dinner on the fly to welcome them all to Jerusalem, and of the non-senior staff I was the only one invited to attend. The seating and every detail had to be just right. I was tasked with greeting them as the entered City Hall. As I held the door for them, I said “welcome Mayor Koch” as he entered… right in front of Giuliani. I did not yet know that this is protocol, and that addressing him as Mayor was not only allowed, but expected. At the time I turned several shades of red and hoped dearly that Mayor Giuliani had not heard me.
Alas, at the special, important, intimate dinner I had been allowed to attend, I was carefully seated with…. the security detail. The help with the help, right? In the end, all three politicians were stiff and not themselves since the other two were there, and the cops I sat with regaled me with tales of mob-busting and more. I think I came out ahead. The dinner itself wasn’t interesting, merely a gesture to give “kavod” (honor) to politicians who didn’t seem to understand how their status was any different than the French Prime Minister or the President of Burunda. After all, we are talking about NEW YORK, right?
So I left with David Bar Ilan, z’l, who was being interviewed by international television by satellite. That was definitely more interesting. (His life and how we became friends should be its own post one day.)
I was not to see Mayor Koch again in person, but two years later he became a regular guest on my not-yet-husband’s radio show in Jerusalem. (Does anyone remember RadioWest?)
My favorite memory of him on the show was when he explained that everything in Jerusalem would be better if they would just adopt his NY pooper-scooper law. He didn’t understand how anyone, even a Jew (maybe especially?) could ever leave New York City to live in Israel. I don’t think he could understand how anyone could choose to live anywhere else.
My husband and I both disagreed with almost every position he ever had, but Mayor Koch made for GREAT radio; he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, put you in your place, or even be wrong and go back and say so later.
Rest in peace, Mayor Koch. You and New York City were so much a part of each other, that you brought New York with you wherever you went. Thanks for bringing a little bit to Jerusalem.