Tag Archives: Chanukah

Jew of the Week: Ed Koch

The Man Who Made New York Great Again

Ed Koch

Edward Irving Koch (1924-2013) was born to poor Polish-Jewish immigrants in The Bronx. He was drafted to the US Army in 1943 and sent to Europe as an infantryman, earning three medals of distinction. Because he could speak German, he remained in Europe after the war to help dismantle the Nazi government. Returning to New York, Koch studied at City College, then got his law degree from NYU. He worked as a lawyer for the next two decades, and during that time became an influential member of the Democratic Party. In 1967 he was appointed to the New York City Council, and two years later was elected to the US House of Representatives. Though he was originally “just a plan liberal”, he soon became a “liberal with sanity” (in his own words), realizing that at times liberal ideology was illogical and harms the very people it aims to help. He was renowned for his human rights efforts, as well as for combating communism and dictatorships. This drew the ire of various foreign governments (including Uruguay and Chile, who unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate him). Koch served in Congress until 1977, resigning only to take the post of New York City’s mayor under a platform of restoring “law and order”. He fulfilled his campaign promises, among them hiring 3500 new police officers to make New York safer. He ended the riots, and saved New York from its deep economic crisis. Koch was a beloved mayor, easily winning re-election in 1981 with 75% of the vote, and again in 1985 with 78% of the vote. When Chabad wanted to put up a public menorah for Chanukah, he readily agreed, and made sure it would be “the world’s largest”. In fact, he paved the way for other cities to do the same. (Amazingly, a lighting ceremony in Manhattan one Friday afternoon went behind schedule, so Koch summoned a helicopter to transport the rabbi back home to Brooklyn in time for Shabbat!) Despite a stroke in 1987, Koch recovered and continued faithfully serving his city. A year later, he took a strong stand against Jesse Jackson’s run for president (citing Jackson’s anti-Semitic comments). This lost him the support of most black voters, and Koch narrowly missed re-election in 1989. He returned to practicing law, and also became a professor at NYU. He spent more time writing, publishing a children’s book and contributing to a number of newspapers. Back in 1984 he had already published a memoir, Mayor, which became a bestseller and was later turned into a hit Broadway musical. Koch was a big movie buff, and his film reviews became legendary. Koch himself appeared in over 60 films and TV shows. He continued lecturing and going on speaking tours, often in support of human rights, and always in support of Israel. New York’s Queensboro Bridge was renamed after him, and there is a street named after him in Tel-Aviv, too. Koch’s funeral was attended by thousands, with the NYPD doing a fly-over, and eulogies by Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. He asked his tombstone to simply state the Shema, along with the final words of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by terrorists: “My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

Where in the Torah is Chanukah?

Words of the Week

A small hole in the body is a big hole in the soul.
– Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch (1704-1772)

American-Israeli astronaut Jessica Meir tweets her Chanukah wishes from the International Space Station, with a photo of her Chanukah socks.

Jew of the Week: Judith

Heroine of Chanukah

Judith displaying the head of Holofernes

Judith displaying the head of Holofernes

Yehudit bat Merari (c. 2nd century BCE) was a Jewish woman who lived in the town of Bethulia in Israel. Her husband, Menashe, fought and died with the Maccabees during the Chanukah wars against the Syrian-Greeks. When a massive Greek legion led by General Holofernes invaded her village, the local men were too frightened to fight back. Taking matters into her own hands, the young widow (together with her maid) crossed enemy lines and pretended to be a Greek spy. Slowly, she got closer to the Greek authorities and eventually made it to the tent of Holofernes. One night, Judith plied him with wine and fed him cheese until he was asleep. She then decapitated him with his own sword. Judith brought the head back to the fearful Israelites and roused them to attack the Greeks. Her inspirational words and wise military counsel led to a monumental Jewish victory. Jewish texts credit this event as the turning point of the war, leading to the recapture and re-dedication of the Holy Temple, the preservation of Judaism, and the ultimate collapse of the Syrian-Greek empire. Judith is often listed as one of the genuine prophetesses of Israel, and a great heroine like Esther, Deborah, Yael, and many others before her. (She was even canonized as a saint in Catholicism!) In honour of her feat, it is customary to eat dairy products during the 8-day festival of Chanukah, and for women to abstain from any work while the Chanukah lights are burning. Judith continued to lead the nation until her passing at the age of 105.

Chanukah Begins Saturday Night! Chag Sameach!

Words of the Week

The darkest time of the night is just before dawn.
Midrash Tehillim, Chapter 22