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Rabbi addresses spiritual needs of police
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Rabbi addresses spiritual needs of police

Rabbi Cary Friedman has copies of hundreds of suicide notes left by police officers, FBI agents, and other law enforcement personnel.

“They all read something like this: ‘I just can’t go on anymore. I have so much pain, and I just can’t confront a world that is so dark and hopeless. I thought I could make a difference, but now I see it is hopeless.’”

Friedman, a consultant to the FBI and other law enforcement groups throughout the world, spoke at the Orthodox Forum of Edison/Highland Park on his efforts to address the spiritual needs of law enforcement officials.

Friedman, author of Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement, said law enforcement personnel have one of the highest rates of suicide among any profession, exhibit ”tragic” rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, and suffer from medical ailments caused by the frustration, stress, and sadness they must cope with.

The problem, Friedman told the audience Nov. 9 at Congregation Etz Ahaim in Highland Park, is that the officers have lost touch with the spirituality and desire to help others that led them to careers in law enforcement in the first place.

“If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a thousand times: ‘I was going to be a priest, but I liked girls too much,’” said Friedman, adding it is not uncommon to find clergy members and law enforcement in the same family. “They enter law enforcement to serve mankind and lose that spiritual connection” and only later realize “the darkness has claimed them,” and that it “wreaks havoc on them.”

Friedman said he came to his relationship with law enforcement by chance in 2001 while serving as rabbi at Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden, where he was religious leader from 1999 to 2006. He was speaking at a community event, when a man approached him and identified himself as chief of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico, Va. The unit develops profiling and crime scene processing techniques used by police throughout the world.

He invited Friedman to develop a course on spiritual health.

Friedman said he took on the project out of a sense of “hakarat hatov” (deep gratitude) for how the United States provided a haven for his mother, a Holocaust survivor.

“It’s the least we can do for this country,” he said.

Friedman, a Passaic resident, said he developed the course based on Torah concepts for the FBI Academy. He immersed himself in police culture and crime scenes over the next several years, until, he said, he felt himself becoming desensitized.

“It’s not like Colombo or Barney Miller,” he explained. “I could feel the dark spots on my own neshama [soul].”

Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement has been translated into a number of languages, including Russian, and is often handed to new police officers at their graduations. Friedman has been invited to speak to law enforcement groups all over the world, including the International Conference of Police Chaplains, and he has appeared on the History Channel.

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