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November 11, 2011
 

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Koch: 'I wanted the president to know we were unhappy' By Johanna Ginsberg New Jersey Jewish News Former New York Mayor Ed Koch no longer asks his city, "How'm I doing?" Instead, he tells it like it is, whether the subject is President Obama's per- formance or his secret for living a long life. "I'm 86, I work every day in the law firm Bryan Cave in New York, I write commentary and movie reviews--and I'll send them to you for free if you send me an email. I'm happy," he told the Jewish News in a phone interview from his law office. On Nov. 6, Koch will be speaking and signing his new children's book, "Eddie Shapes Up," at Maplewood's Words Bookstore. In ad- vance of his appearance, Koch, who coauthored the book with his sister, Pat Koch Thaler, spoke with NJJN about the book, growing up in Newark, and his reconciliation with the president. NJJN: Is your new chil- dren's book--about being overweight as a child and trying to change--based on your experiences as a child right here in Newark? Ed Koch: Yes. I lived on Milford Avenue off of Clinton Avenue. I went to Miller and Monmouth elementary schools and South Side High School (now Malcolm X. Shabazz High School). And I went to Oheb Shalom synagogue on High Street. [Oheb Shalom Congregation is now in South Orange.] The incident in the book when the boy is called "fatso" in the schoolyard--that's based on my experience in the schoolyard at Miller Elementary School. NJJN: Is it true you worked as a hat-check boy in a Newark dance hall? Koch: Yes. My father and mother had a hat-check concierge at Krueger Au- ditorium on Belmont Av- enue, and I worked there as a hat-check boy when I was 10 or 11 years old. But they always made me leave before midnight. NJJN: Would you like to send a message to Chris Christie, New Jersey's fa- mously overweight gov- ernor? Koch: I have great ad- miration for the governor. I know he's dealt with this problem as so many of us have. I was a very fat kid as a child and an adoles- cent and I remember being called Fatso. He needs my sympathy; he doesn't need my advice. NJJN: How did a Newark boy like you become such a New Yorker? Koch: I was born in the Bronx, so it's not such a big flight. My parents went to Newark because of the De- Author gd Koch saidhe hopes that his new book will help lads understand they can have a better life by eating healthy food and exercising. pression when I was 7, and they returned to New York, to Brooklyn, when I was 17. I ultimately went to CCNY for college and then to the armed services. When I returned I went to NYU law school. I've lived most of my life in New York, and I'm a proud New Yorker: NJJN: You supported Republican Bob Turner against David Weprin, a Democrat and an Orthodox Jew, in the special election held last spring to fill the congressional seat vacated by Anthony Weiner. You were pretty clear then that you were down on Barack Obama's leadership, es- pecially as it concerned Politics of grief By Rabbi Rachel Esserman The (Vestal, N.Y.) Reporter Who owns a public memo- rial? How should a nation decide which symbol will express its grief?. Should the families of the dead receive special consideration? Does the intent of the artist matter or the work alone? These are only a few of the questions raised in Amy Wald- man's absorbing first novel, "The Submission" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which envisions an America looking to commemorate those killed in a 9Ill-style attack. The memorial selection process is an anonymous one, yet the winner proves controversial: the chosen designwas submit- ted by a Muslim. What need is there for a memorial? The head of the selection committee notes several commercial and po- litical reasons for having a concrete symbol: For example, "the developerwho controlled the site wanted to re-monetize it and needed a memorial to do so, since Americans seemed unlikely to accept the maxi- mization of the office space as the most eloquent rejoinder to terrorism." Yet the emotional needs of the population also had to be taken into consideration as they affect the political climate of the times: "The longer the space stayed clear, the more it became a symbol of defeat, of surrender, some- thing for 'them,' whoever they were, to mock." Something is needed to fill the space so the public-can either heal or, at a minimum, move on. Yet, it's not its discussion of politics that makes "The Submission" such interest- ing reading, but rather the personal perspectives offered by its characters. Waldman creates a group of fascinat- ing, realistic people who are forced to look at their lives and prejudices during the course of avery public and ehaotional debate. Her complex studies show how public opinion can affect people's personal desires and thoughts, leaving them wondering what path they should follow. Among the many charac- ters are:. Paul Rubin, the grandson of a Russian Jewish immigrant. The retired banker sees his chairmanship of the memo- riai committee as a first step into a life of public service., Mohammad (Mo) Khan, a non-practicing Muslim archi- tect who refuses to defend or disguise his heritage. Claire Burwelt, who be- came a single parent when her husband, Cal, died in the attack. At first a defender of the memorial, she starts to second-guess her decision when Khan refuses to explain his design choices. Sean Gallagher, whose brother died in the attack and who looks to redeem himself in his parents' eyes by oppos- ing the memorial. Asma Haque, an illegal im- migrant whose husband also died in the attack and who seeks to remain in the U.S. for the sake of her infant son. Alyssa Spier, a reporter who is always looking for the big story, whether or not its revelations will destroy other people's lives. All of these people find themselves being forced to view the world in shades of gray, even as they search for black-and-white answers, those easy answers that no longer exist in contemporary times. "The Submission" also looks at how the process of assimila- tion intoAmerican culture has changed. One conversationbe- tween Rubin and Khan shows the shift in thought between generations. Rubin notes that "'my grandfather--he was Rubinsky, then my grandfa- ther comes to America and suddenly he's Rubin. What's in a name?Nothing, everything. We all self-improve, change with the times." Khan, on the other hand, feels he should be accepted as is, suggesting that "not everyone is prepared to re- make themselves to rise in America." Do people need to change and assimilate in order to be accepted? While many of those who arrived in the U.S. dUring the 20th century did so without thought, the Muslims in Waldman's novel feel they can be fully American and fully Muslim at the same time. Waldman's greatest success is making readers understand the thought processes of all her characters. She does this by showing their strengths and their weaknesses in a way that makes it easy to empathize with them. Readers may find themselves agreeing with first one point of view and then another as each side of the debate is eloquently portrayed. "The Submission" is an impressive work, offering readers a view of an America searching to define itself in the 21st century. Rabbi Rachel Esserman is the executive editor of The Reporter Group. She can be reached at rachel@thereport- ergroup.org. Israel. And yet, at the end of September, you announced you were endorsing Obama. What changed--or did we misunderstand what you were doing in supporting Turner? Koch: I wanted to send the president a message not to take Jews for granted. Jews vote overwhelmingly for one party. It's crazy to put all our eggs in one basket, as we used to say. Jews are the group giv- ing President Obama the largest vote aside from the black population--in 2008, 78 percent of Jews voted for him. I thought he did not deserve it. He was very bad on the issue of Israel and I wanted to send him a message.., tin] the ninth congressional district, the one with the largest Jew- ish constituency of any congressional districtwith 300,000 Jews--I wanted the president to know we were unhappy. He now knows. He's changed his position. NJJN: What positions has he changed? Koch: When Obama gave his speech in Egypt [in 2009] I thought he was throwing Israel under the bus. And he didn't even go to Israel on that trip, which is so customary. But I think he changed his po- sition and delivered a very powerful speech in favor of Israel at the U.N. recently. [The speech, delivered in September, opposed a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.] I com- mended him. We met and he convinced me he is sup- portive of the State of Israel, and I said I would support him. If things progress as they are progressing, I will go to Florida and seek to build Jewish support for him in that key state. On the other hand, if he does not do what he says, then he can't count on me. NJJN: What do you want to see from the president? Koch: Most important at this particular moment is to have him state that any attack by Iran on Saudi Arabia or on Israel will be perceived as an attack on the United States. And if Iran uses conventional weapons, we will respond with conventional weapons. If Iran uses nuclear weap- ons, we will respond with nuclear weapons. NJJN: You are very proud of continuing to. work and being productive at 86. What's your secret? Koch: Orange juice. I love orange juice. I drink it all day long. I just hope I don't get diabetes. Who knows, really? It's all in your DNA. NJJNi What do you hope local youngsters will take from your book, "Eddie Shapes Up," and from your experiences? Koch: I hope they un- derstand that we love them whether they are skinny or fat or in be- tween. But we want to help them have a better, happier life, and they can do that by eating healthy food and exercising. And their parents have to take responsibility to make healthy food interesting and appetizing and incul- cate the knowledge that the best life, the happy life comes from eating intel- ligently-no diets, just eating intelligently. And that's "Eddie Shapes Up." Johanna Ginsberg is a staff writer for the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was re- printed by permission. WRJ From page 1A ing tons of needed supplies through the Union's Jacobs' Ladder project. "Maria has served the URJ with great distinction, in both the social justice and development areas," said UPO President Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie. "While we are sorry to see her leave her current position, we are delighted that she will be working with WRJ and will continue to devote her efforts to leadership of the Reform movement." "WlU is poised to celebrate its centennia l, and I know that Maria's experience and expertise as a rabbi, lawyer, and certified fundraising pro- fessional will serve us well as we move toward a bright and strong future together," said WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar. "i'm very excited to be join- ing the team at WRJ," said Feldman. "This is a transfor- mative moment in the life of the American Jewish com- munity, and Jewish women's organizations are a microcosm of that.As baby boomers retire, there istremendous potential to engage many more women in the historic work of WRJ. At the same time, we are just beginning to discover the interests and priorities of youngerwomen, who will help us move WRJ into the future. Reform Jewish women have a significant place in Jewish life around the world and I am confident that our voice will continue to inspire and enrich our community and the world at large." "My tenure as Associate Rabbi at CILI (then CLJ) was a transformative time in my life that helped shape my career," Feldman told the Heritage. "I was very involved in commu- nal activities during that time. Through the social action committee we started a cold- night shelter, adopted families from the former Soviet Union and fought anti-abortion leg- islation in the state legislature. Along with other faith leaders, I helped create the Hope and Help Center to support people with HIV/AIDS at a time when fear prevented people from seeking assistance. The social action work I was able to do in the congregation and the community led me to get a law degree in order to meld my Jewish commitment with my passion for justice. As the director of Women of Reform Judaism, I will be able to continue to serve the Jewish community and help improve the world in which we live. My time at CLJ helped set me on this path." Rabbi Feldman received her J.D. from the University of Florida in 1993 and is a member of the Florida Bar. She was ordained at the He- brew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1985 and received her Master's of Hebrew Literature from HUC-JIR in 1983. She received a certificate in fund- raising from the NYU Heyman Center in 2010 and received her bachelor's degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Feldman has represented the Union in coalitions and served on numerous non-profit boards, including the Save Dar- fur Coalition, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbis for Human Rights North America, the Jewish Coalition for Disas- ter Relief, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, and the interfaith advisory boards of Cover the Uninsured Week and the National HIV/AIDS Partnership. Before joining the staff of the Union, Rabbi Feldman worked in the Jewish commu- nity relations field, servingthe Detroitand Delaware commu- nities. She taught as adjunct faculty at the University of Detroit-Mercy and the Widener University College of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. Prior to obtaining her law degree, Rabbi Feldman served a con- gregation in Sarasota, Florida, in addition to her tenure at CRJ. Rabbi Feldman is the author of Reform Movement action manuals, including "Speak Truth to Power," "K'hilat Tze- dek: Creating Communities of Justice" and "From Tzedek to, Tzedakah: Social and Eco- nomic Issues of Concern for Women and Children." Her ar- ticles have appeared in Jewish publications and newspapers throughout the country. In her spare time, Rabbi Feldman writes modern midrash, which have been published in the Journal of Reform Judaism and in several collections. Women of Reform Judaism an affiliate of the Union for Re- form Judaism, is the collective voice and presence of women in congregational life: "Stronger together, we support the ide- als and enhance the quality of Jewish living to ensure the future of progressive Judaism in North America, Israel, and around the world."