Jewish chaplaincy: I was the only Jewish NYPD chaplain on 9/11

In this series, we highlight articles and other works on Jewish chaplaincy as part of our project Leading Where Life Happens: Mapping and Building the Field of Jewish Chaplaincy, supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation.

I was the NYPD’s only Jewish chaplain at ground zero. Here’s what I learned on 9/11.

By Alvin Kass, as told to Nora Berman. Excerpted from

I headed to St Vincent’s Hospital to check in on injured police officers. When I arrived, I encountered probably the largest officer I had ever seen. Police officers generally have rather impressive physiques, but this guy was more ripped than anyone I’d ever seen before.

He was crying like a baby.

We sat down together, and I told him that I also felt like crying, because this was a terrible, horrible thing that had just happened. I also told him that, as police officers, we’ve got to do our best to keep our own personal impulses under control in order to be able to help other people through it.

After he calmed down, he told me that he had been a member of the last class to graduate into the force just weeks before. Imagine starting a new job and being confronted by an epic event of this nature — it was absolutely overwhelming, a baptism by fire.

Next, I went to an NYU Hospital. As I pulled in front of the emergency room, I saw an amazing sight: countless nurses, laboratory assistants, doctors, and other medical employees stood next to an endless line of gurneys, ready to assist the onslaught of people who they thought were going to be brought in.

Sadly, it turned out that there weren’t that many to help, because not many people were rescued from the unimaginable destruction.