It’s an only-in-New York cop story.
A rabbi’s son transfers from Touro College to the New York Police Academy, works his way up the ranks, and finishes his career 20 years later on the NYPD payroll in an office in Israel, where he still lives today.
It’s a story that Mordechai Dzikansky loves to tell. He told it in his 2010 book “Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists,” and he’ll be telling it at the upcoming meeting of the Bergen County chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women. (See box.)
Mr. Dzikansky grew up in an Orthodox family in Brooklyn. His father was a rabbi. So was his grandfather.
But when Mr. Dzikansky saw the recruitment advertisements the New York Police Department ran in 1983 targeting Orthodox Jews — promising a first-ever not-on-Saturday opportunity for taking the Police Academy exam — he found his own calling.
So in his junior year at Touro, he transferred to the Police Academy and became the third yarmulke-wearing cop on the force.
“It was great,” Mr. Dzikansky said. “I went in as a 20-year-old who understood that to be successful in that career you had to take on all the responsibilities of being a police officer. The only difference between me and the other cops was that I wore a yarmulke. And on Friday night and Saturday they did their best to make allowances for Shabbes.”
“It was a very natural adjustment. There was no anti-Semitism,” Mr. Dzikansky said of the police department. It helped that although he had gone to yeshivas rather than public school, “I had grown up in the projects. I was very acclimated with the ways of the world, which benefited me tremendously.”
After they spent six months in the academy, for six months recruits would be placed in a “neighborhood stabilization group with other rookie police officers. It gives you a sense of a cross section of different communities and neighborhoods.”
From there, Mr. Dzikansky worked his way up in the force, from beat cop to narcotics detective to robbery detective. Along the way, he occasionally was tapped for his insider’s expertise on the Jewish community. In the 1990s, he spent time working with the NYPD’s Torah Task Force, which investigated thefts of Torah scrolls in New York City — and beyond. In 1998 the Englewood police department and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office asked for help from the Torah Task Force after two Torah scrolls were stolen from Temple Emanu-El. When word reached the investigators that someone was trying to sell Torah scrolls he claimed he bought in an estate sale, Mr. Dzikansky posed as a rabbi to close the deal. The thief was arrested.
“The key to this investigation was the unique talents of Detective Dzikansky,” Kevin P. Farrell, the chief of Manhattan detectives, said at the time.
And then, 9/11 changed everything.
“The day after 9/11, the police department went through a massive transformation,” Mr. Dzikansky said. “We realized we had to take a much more active role in the prevention of terrorism. Our mindset truly changed from being a first responder to hopefully becoming a first preventer.”
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought back Raymond Kelly to be police commissioner in 2002, one of Kelly’s first decisions “was to send detectives overseas. The number one location they wanted someone to be stationed at was in Israel, which at the time” — during the Second Intifada — “was in the midst of experiencing day-to-day terrorism in an urban environment very similar to New York City.”
Who better to be NYPD cop on the Israel beat than Mr. Dzikansky?
So in 2002, he, his wife, their 3-year-old, and their seven-month-old twins moved to Israel. Mr. Dzikansky was set up with an office in the Israeli national police. His assignment: Learn what he can about terrorism and how Israel fights it.
“I became a first responder,” he said. “During that period, suicide bombings were the number one method of terror attacks. I would go to the suicide bombings. My responsibility was to learn about the tactics of the bombers, the tactics of the first responders, the tactics of civilians, the tactics of private security, to learn the best methods of prevention and mitigation, interdiction and response.”
He said that what New York City learned from Israel helped tremendously in stopping terrorist attempts from becoming terrorist killings.
“There’s fortification of potential targets,” he said. “We’ve raised awareness — ‘if you see something, say something.’ We’ve involved private security — they’re a tremendous partner in prevention here now, as they are in Israel. And we’re working much better with our federal partners in prevention and knowing who is planning on doing this.
“It’s day-to-day work that doesn’t stop. It keeps going.”
He’s interested in telling more than just his own story, however.
“Post 9/11, the Jewish community as a whole realized we had to take on much more responsibility for both our personal safety and for our institutional safety. I’ll be reminding people of that, and sharing a few tricks of the trade that will keep people and our institutions safe,” he said.
“We have to take our heads out of our cellphones. Something as simple as that, as knowing what’s in our surroundings, makes a difference. We’re all in this together and it takes every one of us to keep us safe.”
Who: Mordecai Dzikansky, former lead investigator on New York’s Torah Task Force and the first NYPD liaison to the Israel National Police
What: National Council of Jewish Women Bergen County Section’s general meeting
When: Tuesday, March 19, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Temple Emeth,1666 Windsor Road, Teaneck.
How much: Free for members, $10 for non-members.