Ed Koch Returns to Israel and Receives Hero’s Welcome
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Ed Koch Returns to Israel and Receives Hero’s Welcome

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Ed Koch may no longer be mayor of New York, but he nevertheless received a red-carpet welcome from the country’s top officials last week.

Koch, here on a private five-day visit, spent one day in Jerusalem, where he met with President Ezer Weizman, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Mayor Teddy Kollek, a personal friend of his from their years as contemporary leaders of two very Jewish cities.

Though he has been out of public office since 1989, Koch, an unabashedly pro-Israel Jew who served as New York’s mayor for three terms, remains a popular figure among Israelis, who greeted him at every turn.

During his tour of the winding alleyways of the Old City, dozens of people, including many transplanted New Yorkers, recognized the charismatic former mayor and rushed to shake his hand.

In Tel Aviv, Koch and Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat strolled, without bodyguards, down the city’s boardwalk, where milling crowds took in balmy weather and a series of free concerts.

Climbing onto a concert stage, Lahat interrupted a noisy rock session to introduce his “good friend from New York, Ed Koch.”

The teens cheered when Koch shouted, “Am Yisrael chai” — the Jewish people lives.

For Koch, who had visited Israel five times previously, the trip’s high point came last Thursday, when the Tel Aviv municipality unveiled a street sign bearing his name.

The street, in a working-class neighborhood of Jaffa, borders a green oasis called Davidoff Park. About 100 guests, including as U.S. Ambassador William Brown and Israeli Chief Ashkenazic Rabbi Yisrael Lau, attended the ceremony.

“All of us like you very, very much,” said Lau. “Ed Koch is Am Yisrael. We are proud to have you as one of the magnificent sons of the Jewish people.”

Lahat equally effusive. “Throughout your years in Congress and as the mayor of New York, you never hesitated to support Israel. When presidential candidates sought your support, you made it contingent on their loyalty to Israel. We can never entirely repay the debt we owe you.”

Koch, who blinked away a tear or two, seemed a bit overwhelmed by the accolades.

“No one has ever said such nice things about me before,” he said.

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