One Police Plaza

Jews, Hasidic Jews and the NYPD

November 5, 2018

With the fatal Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the increased number of reported anti-Semitic incidents and the upcoming corruption trial of a police inspector with ties to Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, let’s consider the state of anti-Semitism in the NYPD. The good news: at least in the higher ranks, it doesn’t appear to exist.

“Not in my command,” said former police commissioner Bernie Kerik, who served from 2000 to 2001. “I don’t recall anything like that. Maybe there are isolated incidents but no, there is no anti-Semitism in the NYPD.”

“It’s a complete non-issue,” says a person with insider knowledge of the department who asked for anonymity to speak openly about the subject. “There is prejudice against other groups, but not against Jews.” He did not specify to which groups he was referring.

Unlike other cities, he says, “The Jewish community in New York City is very broad and very powerful. The police department understands that and is responsive. A cop learns early on that Jews can be helpful.”

In addition, over the past 40 years, New York has had three Jewish mayors as well as a Jewish police commissioner, Howard Safir. And former mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appointed Safir, has long been a supporter of Jewish causes. Ray Kelly, who under Mayor Michael Bloomberg became the longest serving police commissioner in city history, has shared Passover seder with the department’s longtime chaplain, Rabbi Alvin Kass.

Then there are the Hasidic Jews with their 18th-century dress and old-fashioned ways. Some mainstream Jewish organizations are wary of and embarrassed by them. So much so that after the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which led to the fatal stabbing of a rabbinical student by a black mob, the premier Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League, remained silent for weeks.

 For the department, dealing with the Hasidics can be a double-edged sword. “There’s a split between the upper ranks of captains and above and lieutenants and below,” says a former top cop. “The upper ranks feel they need to get along with them for political reasons because of the perception that this is what City Hall wants. But many lower ranking cops are bitter towards the Hasidics because of their perceived power and privileges.” Because of this, says another former top cop, “Coming up, I heard plenty of ‘fucking Jews’ and ‘Jew bastard’ talk in the locker rooms.”

No incident better reflected the Hasidics’ influence with City Hall than when in 1978 under Mayor Ed Koch hundreds of Hasidic protesters wrecked the 66th Precinct in Borough Park and injured 60 cops. Whether Koch ordered it, or top commanders perceived that’s what he wanted, no arrests were made. Among cops, the precinct became known as Fort Surrender.

Twenty-one years later, after a cop issued a summons to a Hasidic driver, Hasidics again stormed the 66th Precinct No doubt with Fort Surrender in mind, Borough Commander George Brown refused to release the driver. No doubt at Giuliani’s direction, Safir transferred Brown out of Brooklyn to Police Plaza.

The trial of Deputy Inspector James Grant — who is accused of having sex with a prostitute on a private plane, paid for by Hasidic businessman Jeremy Reichberg, who is on trial with him — is to begin this week. Indications are that the trial will lay bare some of the ties between the department and Brooklyn’s Hasidic community. We got a taste of this in last year’s trial of former corrections union president Norman Seabrook, from the government’s chief witness, Jonah Rechnitz. He’s expected to be the government’s chief witness again.


Copyright © 2018 Leonard Levitt