STEINHARDT ’76 | PhD in Philosophy
Ministering to Heroes of all Faiths
By Lindsy Van Gelder
Portrait by Emil Cohen
“I don’t even remember playing cops and robbers as a kid,” says Rabbi Alvin Kass, chief chaplain of the New York Police Department. “My career as a cop came as a surprise to me.” Following his ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1962 and two years as an Air Force chaplain, Kass applied to be one of New York’s Finest; now 87, he’s the longest-serving chaplain and also the longest-serving member of the entire NYPD. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to touch the lives of very brave and courageous people who put their lives on the line,” he says.
Kass’ wish to explore the differing beliefs of Jewish and non-Jewish officers in part led him to pursue his doctorate at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
Probably his most enduring memory during his time on the force is from September 11, 2001, when he was rushed to Ground Zero. He saw exhausted, traumatized police and firefighters. At St. Vincent’s Hospital, he encountered an officer, “a giant of a man, crying like a baby,” Kass recalls. “I said, ‘I would like to sit down and cry along.’ ” Rosh Hashanah fell a few days later, and Kass hastily arranged services for emergency workers at LaGuardia Airport. “It was,” he says, “the most meaningful religious service in my career.”
Kass won the 2023 Eugene J. Keogh Award for Distinguished Public Service. Read about the other NYUAA Award honorees in this issue.