In today’s NYT, in the New York Region section, a charming, funny, affectionate piece about Ed Koch: “Services to Reflect Koch: Proudly Jewish on His Own Terms” by Sharon Otterman. Much to admire in this piece, but as a linguist I was especially taken by Koch’s views on God’s preferred languages.
The final resting place of Edward I. Koch, the former New York City mayor, is, in many ways, very Jewish. A Jewish star tops his monument’s headstone. Its inscription, which he wrote, includes an epitaph proclaiming he was “fiercely proud of his Jewish faith.”
But the burial site is also classic Koch, contradictory and iconoclastic. Though his longtime Orthodox rabbi, Arthur Schneier, had taken him to see “a beautiful plot” at a Jewish cemetery in Queens, it would not do: he wanted to be buried in his beloved home borough, Manhattan. When the rabbi suggested that perhaps room could be found for him at an old Jewish cemetery downtown, Mr. Koch rejected that suggestion, saying he wanted to be buried in a “bustling cemetery.” So he selected Trinity Church Cemetery, an Episcopal burial ground open to all in Washington Heights.
… Upon Mr. Koch’s death, his Jewishness loomed large in the remembrances of many — his advocacy for Israel, his attention to Soviet Jewry, his passion for Catholic-Jewish relations and his obvious pride in his heritage. “He was the proudest of Jews,” the columnist Jeffrey Goldberg wrote for Bloomberg View. “He was just saturated with ethnic feeling, and rambunctious in his pride.”
His beliefs could be quirky, a mix of traditional Jewish thought and what he had picked up along the way, his friends recalled.
“He has his own rules on religion,” said George Arzt, one of his closest friends and advisers. “He’s Jewish, but he attended Mass. He believes that God hears prayers if they are in Greek, Latin or Hebrew,” which he felt were God’s preferred languages. “His Jewishness is mixed with a deep, abiding respect for Catholicism.”
What, no Aramaic?
in part because he knew how important Jewish voters were to his success, he did try not to offend. In 1981, after he choked on food at a Chinese restaurant, he told the press the offending object was watercress, but “it was pork,” Mr. Arzt said.
Even though he did not keep kosher, he wrote in 1989 that he “would never engage in a public display of eating pork products.”
Ah, the famous Chinese Exception to the Jewish dietary restrictions: pork and shellfish don’t count in Chinese restaurants.