Mayor Koch wrote in His Eminence and Hizzoner, the book he collaborated with his good friend, John Cardinal O’Connor, on:
My religion means a lot to me. I’ve described myself as being “fiercely proud of my Jewish faith.” I’ve even said that I want those words as part of my epitaph. I say I’m “fiercely proud” of being Jewish. But there is a “shtetl” mentality among some Jews. That means, don’t stick your head above the grass because if you do, some non-Jews will almost certainly come along and chop it off. If they chop off your head, they’ll chop off others and soon all Jews will suffer. That’s why some Jews like to keep a low profile.
As everyone must know, I’ve never held to the shtetl view and I’m certainly not known for my low profile. I personally believe that if you glory in and are fiercely proud of what you are and, specifically, what you are in relation to your faith, you help your faith grow and flourish. When he first heard of my “fierce” epitaph, Bishop Edward M. Egan, vicar for education at the New York Archdiocese, wrote that he was pleased the Mayor of New York has a “willingness to be fierce about the things in life which truly count.” Not surprisingly, I was “fiercely” pleased with Bishop Egan’s comment.
I think people respect the dedication, zeal and pride I bring to my faith, my job, and the way I look at life. They know I’ll stand up, speak my mind and not be afraid to face the tough issues or make the tough decisions. After so many years in public life, I think that’s what the vast majority of people want. And it’s certainly what they deserve in a democratic society. There are those who say it’s best to downplay or, at least, not emphasize being Jewish. I always reply it’s better to flaunt being Jewish. That’s what I am and I’m proud of it. Why downplay it?