Alvin Kass, 87, Chief Chaplain of the New York City Police Department


Rabbi Alvin Kass, 87, the chief chaplain of the New York City Police Department, is the longest serving chaplain in the history of the NYPD. In his 57 years as a chaplain, he has counseled law enforcement officers of all faiths and won the right for Jewish police officers to observe various tenets of their religion, including not working on Shabbat and major Jewish holidays. He is also spiritual director of the Shomrim Society, a fraternal organization for Jewish police officers. In April, he received New York University’s Eugene J. Keogh Award for Distinguished Public Service. Kass lives in Manhattan.

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How does one become a police chaplain? 

I began my career as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, following my schooling at Columbia University where I received a BA and MA, a Ph.D. from NYU and rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. I also hold a Doctor of Divinity degree from JTS. I am currently adjunct professor of philosophy at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I am the rabbi emeritus of the East Midwood Jewish Center in Brooklyn, where I served as senior rabbi for 36 years. My first pulpit in NY was at the Astoria Center of Israel in Long Island City.

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Tell us about one of your proudest accomplishments.

I was among the first to respond after 9/11 and comforted the families of the 23 police officers who lost their lives on that occasion. I also conducted High Holy Day services at LaGuardia Airport for emergency workers who had come from all over the country to assist after the terrorist attacks.

Who is your New York Jewish hero?

Rabbi Robert Gordis, the late professor emeritus of bible and philosophy at JTS.

What’s a fun/surprising fact about you?

I am an avid jogger and swimmer.

How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

I feel that one of my principal responsibilities is to strive for Jewish unity as well as the unity of all peoples. The Bible says that all humanity began with a single person. That means all human beings are brothers and sisters. The main responsibility for a spiritual leader is to bring all people closer together, including those of your own faith. I feel particularly proud that the Shomrim Society embraces Jews of all backgrounds and points of view. The organization is a paragon of the unity that ought to bind all Jews together.

Was there a formative Jewish experience that influenced your life path?

The summers I spent as a teenager at Camp Ramah filled me with the drive to impart the beauty and profundity of Judaism to all people.

Do you have a favorite inspiring quote?

“If you only know one religion, you don’t know any.” — Ari Goldman

What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?

Jerusalem Steak House in Brooklyn.

What is your favorite book about New York?

“The Chief” by Albert Seedman.

In one sentence, what was your best experience as a Jewish New Yorker?

Joining in the Shomrim Society’s distribution of food packages to poor Jews on the Lower East Side.

What are three spots in NYC that all Jewish New Yorkers should visit?

1. The Museum of Jewish Heritage
2. Jewish Children’s Museum
3. Center for Jewish History

Anything else you’d like us and our readers to know about you?

I am a proud father of three and grandfather of three. Until her death in 2017, I was married for 54 years to Miryom Kass, who taught music and mathematics at the Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School in Brooklyn. Additionally, I am an avid Yankees fan.

How can people follow you online?

NYPD Chaplains Unit (@NYPDchaplains)

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