Ed Koch, former mayor of New York, now rests on a hill in the Trinity Cemetery near the corner of 153rd Street and Amsterdam. Not far from his gravestone is a gate with a sign on it that reads “The Jewish Gate.” While the gate has been there for many years the sign was installed in 2008 when Mayor Koch purchased the plot.
“I was having dinner with Ed and my wife,” said Carl Weisbrod, who was head of Trinity Real Estate at the time. “I happened to mention that Trinity ran and operated the only active cemetery in Manhattan. He said he had always wanted to be buried in Manhattan because he loved New York City.”
In order to be buried in Trinity’s cemetery, Mayor Koch was advised by his Rabbi to request that Trinity create a Jewish Gate. The sign on the gate and a low railing were installed around the plot to demarcate a Jewish section of the cemetery. This practice has a long tradition, and symbolizes the different traditions in caring for the deceased.
“A Jewish community, before it builds a synagogue, before it does anything, builds a Jewish cemetery,” said Stephanie Garry, Director of Community Relations at the Plaza Jewish Community Center. “Caring for the dead is one of the most sacred mitzvahs, good deeds, that we do.”
“We give thanks for his life and career and his deep love of New York,” said the Rev. Dr. James Cooper, Rector of Trinity Wall Street, who also helped Mayor Koch make arrangements in 2008.
"As you know, Ed will be buried at Trinity Cemetery in Upper Manhattan,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg told WNYC. “Just think about it: a Polish Jew in an Episcopal graveyard in a largely Dominican neighborhood. What could be more New York - or even more Ed Koch?"
Mayor Koch is one of four mayors known to be buried in the Trinity cemetery. The other three are Fernando Wood, Abraham Oakey Hall, and Cadwalladar D. Colden.
The inscription on his Mayor Koch’s headstone, which he wrote, reads, “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."
Also on the tombstone are the Jewish Prayer, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” as well as the last words of Daniel Pearl. “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish."
Next to his headstone is a bench with his name inscribed on it.
“He was particularly happy to have a bench where others could sit,” said Weisbrod. The plot is on a hill, with a view of the cemetery.
Weisbrod worked with the Mayor on many projects, including the redevelopment of Times Square, and remembers him fondly.
“Everyone is quite aware of his extraordinary energy, commitment to the city, his feisty personality, and his sense of humor,” he said.
“He loved a good argument and he encouraged people he worked with to disagree with him. But if he embraced your decision and it turned out you were wrong and he was right he still supported you. I had a good relationship with him. I thought he was an outstanding mayor. I think the outpouring of affection demonstrates that people feel that as well.”
Jeremy Sierra is Managing Editor for Trinity Wall Street