A century ago, the New York Police Department hired its first Jewish chaplain to help provide spiritual guidance to a small group of officers.
Now, the nation’s largest department has officers from 90 countries who speak 60 languages – and a chaplain’s unit that includes representatives of protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish faiths. In a ceremony that touted religious diversity at the NYPD, the department marked the anniversary Wednesday of the first Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Abraham Blum, appointed in 1911.
The Chaplains Unit, made up of seven members, teaches ethics at the Police Academy, responds to emergencies, offers last rites, spiritual counseling and guidance for the nearly 36,000 officers.
“They are embedded in police work,” said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. “It makes them more effective.”
The NYPD also honored its current head chaplain, Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass, first hired in 1966. Kelly and others praised Kass’ intellect, courage and passion to help see police officers through challenging times. “He is a scholar and a counselor,” Kelly said.
Kass, who was a Chaplain in the U.S. Air Force and got the job at the NYPD out of nearly 40 other candidates, said the most challenging part of his job has been coping with the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Kass spent countless hours at ground zero, providing support to first responders, and also counseled the families of the 23 officers who were killed.
“Those first few months after 9/11, that’s really all we did, I spent time trying to comfort everyone who suffered loss. And it was a terribly agonizing and anguished experience.”
Members of Blum’s family attended the ceremony as well as family for Isidore Frank, who served between Blum and Kass.