Two years ago, Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, chaplain of the Port Authority Police of NY and NJ, was asked to give the invocation to many hundreds of officers about to set off on a 250-mile bicycle ride to the National Law Enforcement Officers Museum and Memorial in Washington, D.C. They were heading there as part of the annual Police Unity Tour to honor comrades killed in the line of duty and to raise money for the museum.
After offering the prayer at New York City’s Freedom Tower, he was approached by a group of officers who spoke Hebrew. They were from the Israeli police force and wanted to know why he was involved, according to Carlebach, who is also administrator at Rutgers Chabad and director of the Chabad of North and South Brunswick. Both are affiliated with Chabad of Central NJ.
“I explained my role as chaplain,” he said. “They were very happy to hear there was a rabbi in such a prominent role.”
When told their first stop along the way would be in New Brunswick, where they would spend the night, he immediately invited them for dinner at Rutgers Chabad House.
So began an annual tradition and relationship in which the Israelis on the unity tour stop at Chabad on the first leg of their ride. This year, on May 9, 15 Israeli officers were joined by local law enforcement and community members, including Joseph Occhipinti, executive director of the National Police Defense Foundation.
Nava Dihi, a police officer in Beersheva and spokesperson for the group, said each rider keeps a photo of a fallen officer on the bike and wears three bracelets with the deceased’s name on them, two of which are later given to the officer’s family.
Israel is the only delegation from outside the United States participating in the six-day ride that concluded on May 14, according to delegation
head Moshe Braket, major general and commander in the Judea/Samaria District of the Israeli National Police.
“We are here to memorialize our brothers and sisters who died in the line of duty and who made the ultimate sacrifice in order to save other lives,” Braket told NJJN.
Carlebach said the arrangements and fund-raising efforts for the Israeli delegation’s visit are made by Michael Safris, chief of the deputy division of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. Safris also organizes and helps fund-raise for N.J. police officers’ annual visit to Israel.
While the Israeli delegation was in the District of Columbia, Carlebach said he arranged to have them meet on May 13 with the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger — the body’s chief law enforcement and executive officer. The group also toured the U.S. Park Police’s helicopters and aviation department, and spent Shabbat at the Chabad of Anne Arundel County in Annapolis, Md.
“We’ve developed a beautiful relationship,” said Carlebach, so much so that after the rabbi’s wife’s grandfather passed away last year and was buried on the Mount of Olives, he called one of the contacts he made from the ride to help him locate the gravesite. The police located the grave and sent an officer to meet the couple.
“We were given an escort and my wife was able to pray at her grandfather’s grave,” said Carlebach.