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Ed Koch & Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

Ed Koch & Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau

“I’m a Holocaust survivor too.”


Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away Friday at the age of 88, understood that all Jews are connected. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, the former chief rabbi of Israel tells the story.

Years ago, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau visited his brother in New York. The two brothers were in Buchenwald together, and miraculously survived while the rest of their family was wiped out. Rabbi Lau, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, became a rabbi, continuing his family’s unbroken chain of 38 generations of rabbis. His brother, Naphtali Lau-Levie, became a noted author and was appointed Israel’s consul general to New York.

Ed Koch, New York City’s brash, outspoken, overtly Jewish leader, asked Naphtali to introduce him to the great Rabbi Lau – then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv – if his illustrious brother was ever in town.

Rabbi Lau visited New York and Naphtali arranged a meeting. When Mr. Koch walked into the room, he announced to a surprised Rabbi Lau, “I’m a Holocaust survivor too.” Rabbi Lau turned to his brother in puzzlement; this was not the information he’d received about the American-born Koch.

Mr. Koch explained. He was born in the Bronx, and grew up an American. He only went to Europe for the first time as a GI.

Years later, though, after he’d been elected mayor, he had the chance to travel to Germany as part of an international delegation of mayors. There he met with officials in Berlin and was shown various artifacts. One piece made the greatest impression on him: a globe that had once belonged to Adolph Hitler.

This globe was special. Hitler asked his assistants to determine the Jewish population in every country on earth, and to write this number under each nation’s name on his globe.

Poland, Hungary, Germany, Austria…. The Jewish population of each country was recorded, waiting – in Hitler’s twisted mind – for extermination. There was even a number 1 written under the city of Tirana in Albania, Ed Koch told Rabbi Lau. That lone Jew in Tirana was offensive to Hitler; even he was worthy of being remembered and targeted by the Nazis.

Ed Koch also saw a number under the “United States.” It was a special number, Mr. Koch remembered: 6,000,000.

“I was recorded in that number,” Ed Koch said to Rabbi Lau. “I was one of Hitler’s intended victims too.”

Ed Koch not only acknowledged and felt their pain; he realized that their pain was his pain too. In his mind, there were no distinctions between him and other Jews.

Rabbi Lau realized that Mr. Koch was right – he was one of Hitler’s intended victims; he was a survivor of the Holocaust too.

Ed Koch wasn’t just an onlooker; he was a survivor. He saw himself as part of history, as a vital member of the ongoing narrative of the Jewish people. One way to honor his memory is to follow his example, to look at our fellow Jews not as foreigners divided by language, religious observance, geography or time. Like Mr. Koch, let’s try to look at other Jews around the world and see ourselves.

Watch Rabbi Lau tell the story in the video below:

February 3, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 24

(12) Anonymous, February 5, 2013 6:35 PM

G-D runs the world

This vignette definately showcases how G-D runs the world. What Hashgacha!

(11) jerry, February 4, 2013 3:19 PM

tombstone says it all

Few public figures have been more supportive of Israel. He was never ashamed of being Jewish or hiding the fact that he was Jewish. He also saved New York City from economic ruin. I think he is having a good time up in Heaven. May his soul rest in peace.

Greg, February 5, 2013 4:20 PM

Well put

He did pull NYC from the brink of economic ruin and his honesty and pride was an inspiration to many.

(10) Lillian Tobin, February 4, 2013 2:25 AM

Rush to Judgment

The Chabad - Lubavitch have it right. We must be more receptive and reach out to every Jewish person without compromising our own position. I met Ed Koch many years ago at a ZOA Dance at the Ocean Pkway Jewish Center. He was smart and ambitious. I find it hard to believe that he would want to be buried in a Christian cemetery Many of his actions are more attributable to a dearth of knowledge about our Jewish heritage (unfortunately very pervasive amongst our people) and his political obligations as Mayor. When confronted with the stark realty of what the Nazis were planning for all of us, he knew at once who he was.

Sonia, February 4, 2013 9:27 AM

The tombstone erected with a Jewish Star and quote inscribed of Daniel Perls last words before he murder at the hands of islamic terrorists

Mayor Ed Koch was hardly ignorant of Jewish history - it does not serve anyone to impose suppositions when the truth in the case of such a public persona is readily available if we do but a little research! While I too object to a Jew being buried in a non-Jewish cemetery, I realized upon seeing his obviously Jewish headstone in the famous Trinity Church near Wall Street which include American Revolution's patriots and other icons of American history gives an important message as to Jewish important contributions as well. His choice to which he has a right whether you or I agree. There are other matters of greater concern as far as I'm concerned in this our day in which the battle for truth is at the core upon which America's survival depends.

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