‘A cop is a cop is a cop’
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‘A cop is a cop is a cop’

First responders go to Israel with Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

From left, Lafe Bush, Cathy Madalone, John Devine, Dr. James Pruden, Jacqueline Luthcke, Todd Pearl, Timothy Torell, and Kenneth Ehrenberg stand in a gallery at the Knesset.
From left, Lafe Bush, Cathy Madalone, John Devine, Dr. James Pruden, Jacqueline Luthcke, Todd Pearl, Timothy Torell, and Kenneth Ehrenberg stand in a gallery at the Knesset.

Was Paramus Detective Sgt. John Devine scared about traveling to Israel for the first time?

“Yes. I was scared because I was so excited,” the strapping police detective replied with a grin. “I’m ecstatic to be here,” he added. He was at dinner in Jerusalem with the rest of his co-travelers — a delegation of first responders invited by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to get an up-close look at the Jewish state and its police and emergency services.

Sgt. Devine and Paramus Police Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg said they were interested in learning how Israeli law enforcers deal with constant security threats and what systems they use day to day to protect their infrastructure, schools, and malls.

They noted that Paramus is not only a city of many shopping malls but also of many Jewish residents and institutions, including four synagogues, the federation offices, and most of the Jewish day schools in Bergen County. Chief Ehrenberg was head of the city’s detective division in 2012, when arsonists targeted two Paramus synagogues.

“Certain things we saw here are applicable for us and certain things aren’t,” Chief Ehrenberg said.

For example, all Israeli shopping malls have guards and metal detectors at every entry point. “I hope we never have to raise our mall security to that level,” he said, given that a typical Saturday can bring 40,000 people to the Garden State Plaza alone. At the same time, he acknowledged, in November 2013 “someone came with a fully loaded assault weapon to the Garden State Plaza, and even though by God’s grace nobody was killed, it was an awakening for us.”

Watching their counterparts in action at the Nahariya police station, the Northern District regional police command, and SWAT and anti-terrorism units, the members of the delegation observed more similarities than differences.

“It was pleasant to see that a cop is a cop is a cop, whether in Israel or in the United States,” Chief Ehrenberg said. “We all use the same equipment and procedures.”

Captain Jacqueline Luthcke of the Ridgewood Police Department said she wanted to find out how Israelis secure large public gatherings, with an eye toward enhancing security at such Ridgewood events as the Fourth of July parade and the Memorial Day Run.

At the police academy in Beit Shemesh, an instructor shows Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg a knife. Dr. James Pruden, who is partially hidden, and Captain Jacqueline Luthcke look on.
At the police academy in Beit Shemesh, an instructor shows Chief Kenneth Ehrenberg a knife. Dr. James Pruden, who is partially hidden, and Captain Jacqueline Luthcke look on.

“I’m hoping to learn how to make it safer for our residents,” she said. “But the funny thing I’ve learned so far is how similar the Israelis are to us, and I was not expecting that. Even their procedures are very similar to ours, although some of their technologies are better, like their computer systems.”

Bergenfield Police Chief Cathy Madalone said she was “very surprised at how similar we are to the police here as far as dispatching, answering calls, even the SWAT team procedures. We have the same things they have, but the main difference is that the Israel Police is one big department and we are 70 small departments in Bergen County.”

Chief Madalone said she was happy to be invited on the trip. “I have a very large Jewish population in my town. We are 2.2 square miles and we have three Orthodox synagogues, so I am very, very connected with my Jewish community, and I thought it would be a phenomenal opportunity for me to learn more about Israel. My family had some hesitations about my going, but I didn’t at all. I’m loving every second of it.”

Miriam Allenson, the federation’s director of communications, accompanied the group. She said that the federation’s Partnership2Gether missions for emergency medical, fire, and security personnel are geared toward “influencers, the kinds of people who can change minds and hearts.

“These people go back to their communities as ambassadors for Israel, who can speak to misconceptions about Israel because they understand on a gut level and an intellectual level what Israel is to America,” she said.

The itinerary is designed “to show the real Israel behind the headlines, and the only way to do that is by being here,” she added. “When those people go back and talk about it, it’s like throwing a stone in a pool and watching the rings that ripple out from the stone. This type of mission is an A-Number-One priority for federation.”

Lafe Bush, director of emergency services for the Valley Health System in Ridgewood, said he enjoyed the group’s tour of Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, the federation’s partner city in the Western Galilee. This hospital has treated many victims of the Syrian civil war, and has full underground facilities in case of attack from Lebanon.

“The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services in America and the Joint Commission, an accrediting body for hospitals, are starting to look at emergency management and demands on hospitals’ physical infrastructure and the improvements they can make,” Mr. Bush said.

Members of the first responders delegation stand under the signpost at a Golan Heights police station.
Members of the first responders delegation stand under the signpost at a Golan Heights police station.

“One of the ideas they have talked about is bombproofing the emergency rooms and building underground ERs. I don’t know if it will get to that point because building an underground ER would be a multimillion-dollar task in existing hospitals, although it could potentially be built in a new hospital. So it was very interesting for me to see that Nahariya has already done that. When their regular emergency room was bombed they were able to move underground.”

A trauma surgeon at Galilee Medical Center described mass casualty planning procedures and the checklist the hospital uses to assure that incoming patients with different types of injuries will be processed appropriately.

“I’ve worked on preparedness for the healthcare system, so this was an opportunity for me to see how people who have had frequent exposure to unusual circumstances responded and how they made adjustments in their response, and to see if there is anything we can take home from their experience,” said Dr. James Pruden, an emergency care physician at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson.

“The difference is the real and present threat that exists in Israel, and so their commitment to preparedness is probably at a higher level than at hospitals in the United States,” he said. “What’s similar is the general strategy of rapid triage and assessment, trying to do the most benefit for the most people in the shortest period of time, understanding when you’re overwhelmed and have to reach out to other facilities to help you out, and how to find ways to address the use of limited resources in a mass casualty situation.”

Mr. Bush and Dr. Pruden accompanied a Magen David Adom crew — which included both Jews and Druze — on a mutual aid emergency call from Nahariya to Safed, 40 minutes away. They assisted in caring for an unconscious elderly man apparently having a stroke.

The North Jersey delegation also visited the National Police Academy in Beit Shemesh, the Jerusalem Police Holy Sites Unit, a Golan Heights police station near the Syrian border, an IDF brigade on the northern border with Lebanon, and the Israel Trauma Coalition in Jerusalem, which has devised emotional support programs for first responders.

They lunched at the Knesset with Deputy Speaker Nachman Shai, toured Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and had a guided tour of holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“I am a spiritual person but I am not religious,” Capt. Luthcke said. “But the power that you can feel at the Wall is amazing. I didn’t expect it, yet it was undeniably there.”

Sgt. Devine added, “Because Israel is the center of all religions, now I understand our families better, on my wife’s side and on my side. My wife is Jewish and I’m Irish Catholic, so coming here and seeing the origins of both religions was just amazing.

“I hope my daughters will come on a Birthright trip someday so they can experience this too.”

Detective Capt. Timothy Torell of the Englewood Police Department was looking forward to a reunion with Detective Mordecai Dzikansky, a former member of the New York Police Department’s Torah Task Force, with whom he worked on recovering Torah scrolls and their silver adornments stolen from Englewood’s Temple Emanu-El in 1998. Detective Dzikansky later moved to Israel.

“I never really planned on going to Israel and I was honored to be asked,” Capt. Torell said. “I think all of us here have a realistic attitude as to what is going on in Israel because we deal so closely with the Jewish community, but I was more than surprised to see how normal it is here.”

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