Published May 2020
Let There Be Peace
Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the State of Israel, once said: “No one ever hands you a state on a silver platter.” He was referring, of course, to the tremendous courage and hard work required to create the modern State of Israel. The original pioneers had to drain swamps and fertilize deserts. The following generations built on that foundation. The strength and success of Israel today flows from the fact that its citizens and its supporters understand the need to have courage and faith in the face of seemingly insufferable difficulties.
We in law enforcement today need a similar faith and courage. We are members of a profession whose importance and indispensability are evident in the biblical mandate: “And you shall appoint police officers in your gates.” (Deuteronomy 19). It is a way of life which requires courage, faith, and self-sacrifice of the highest order. Police officers are mandated to put their lives on the line every day, 24 hours a day, to protect total strangers. They and their families at the beginning of each tour live with the anxiety of not returning alive and well at the end of the tour to loved ones.
As a rabbi, I feel extraordinarily privileged to have spent most of my career ministering to these amazingly brave and prodigiously devoted men and women. The multitudinous line of duty funerals in which I have participated over the years testify to palpable and ever-present perils and dangers they experience all the time.
Granted that police officers are not perfect and there are people in the profession that don’t belong there. Such individuals should be uncovered and removed from this divinely sanctioned calling. What’s more, we have a duty to treat all people, regardless of race, religion, color or creed, fairly, equally, humanely, compassionately, and justly. We also have a duty to join all of our fellow citizens in the long overdue challenge of extirpating racism from this country and this world.
At the same time, it’s not fair to tar this entire profession because of the wrongdoing of a few. I know firsthand that most police officers are decent and fair minded men and women who believe in Jefferson’s credo that all human beings are created equal and should be treated as such. We also happen to work in the greatest Police Department in the world. No other law enforcement agency has gone to greater lengths to achieve diversity in its ranks and leadership. No other entity in this universe has more safeguards to protect the well-being of every member of our society.
With all of the current tumult and controversy we dare not forget the nobility and significance of our profession. We must also join in the effort to establish a social order free of all prejudice and discrimination. Most important, we must never lose faith in our capacity to establish a community permeated by harmony and tranquility. Shalom, peace, is the value for which all people should strive. That is why the pivotal kaddish prayer ends with the words: “May He who makes peace in His high places bring peace to all of us here.”
If we hang on to our courage and faith, we shall create through our work the values which will make mankind noble.
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD