Shomrim, Hebrew for Guardian

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Shomrim, Hebrew for GuardianThe holidays are for family, friends, and the kids.  But for those of us in the law enforcement profession, the holiday season offers another opportunity to serve the community.  Stories abound about toy drives for tots on Christmas and Jewish cops have traditionally assisted their Christian brothers in those endeavors.  But is there something “Jewish” that Jewish LEOs can do?

 The national fraternal and charitable organization of Jewish LEOs is called Shomrim, the Hebrew word for guardian.  In Turkish and British Palestine, the Jewish farmers would take turns patrolling around the kibbutz at night to protect their community.  Today’s Jewish cops honor their memory by using their name.  About twenty-five major cities in the U.S. have Shomrim chapters.  What do they do on the Jewish holidays? The same as their fellow LEOs, they assist the community in celebrating the holiday.

Chanukah celebrates the Hebrew victory over the Seleucid Greeks in 165 BCE.  The Greeks who wanted to end the practice of Judaism in their empire.  We light candles for 8 days to commemorate the finding of a small vial of consecrated oil in the destroyed temple in Jerusalem.  This oil miraculously burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared.

Children are given gifts to help enjoy the holiday.  Shomrim chapters across the nation hold Chanukah parties at their meeting halls or other places and the Jewish children are taught their traditions.  Potato pancakes (latkes) are a big favorite, as they are cooked in oil.  Wives or parents of members teach the kids about the holiday.

The first Shomrim Society was established in the New York City Police Department in 1924. Capt. Jacob Kaminsky was its president. It is rumored that a comment made to a young Jewish officer going on patrol was the spark that started Shomrim. It was suggested that he might feel more at home with a salami, rather than a nightstick, under his arm. Well, he kept his salami, his heritage, and his police status. At that time, only 1% of the department was Jewish. The rest, as they say, is history.  By the mid 1960’s there were Jews in every rank, up to the chief inspector.  Why this great influx?

In 1939 33,000 people took the NYPD entrance exam.  Only 1440 passed and one third of them were Jews. Most of them were college graduates, out of work teachers, lawyers, accountants and even two doctors. By the mid 1960s this “class of 1940” had filled such positions as Chief Inspector (the highest uniformed rank), a female Deputy Chief Inspector, the Chief of Detectives, Chief of the Organized Crime Bureau and Chief of the Narcotics Division; in effect, it was the class “the stars” fell on.

Those of us blessed with good jobs consider it a “mitzvah” (a commandment, obligation or good deed) to assist others.  Another big Shomrim event is the Passover Food Distribution Program. Money is raised thru local charities, food is bought, and packages are delivered to needy Jewish families in the community. I was very active in South Florida Shomrim for many years, helped deliver packages to new Russian immigrants and other needy, homebound Jews, so they too could celebrate the holiday.  We were helped by the Hispanic Police Officers Association.  We in turn helped deliver Thanksgiving dinners to needy Cuban refugees in Miami. If we can all put our lives in danger backing up a cop on patrol, why not join together and help in these wonderful endeavors?

There is no greater mitzvah than to protect the community. Let us all find ways to do it.

Learn more about this article here:

Welcome to The NYPD Shomrim Society

David Waksman, J.D. was a member of the NYPD for six years before attending law school.  He then served 35 years in the Dade County (Miami), Florida, State Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor.  In 2003 he was National Shomrim President.  

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