NEW YORK – In the 25 years that Mordecai Dzikansky worked as a homicide detective and intelligence officer for the New York Police Department, he risked his life every day to keep others safe.
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Dzikansky, who became a cop in 1983 and retired recently, was among the few Orthodox Jews ever on the force.
The son of a rabbi from Brooklyn, he eventually rose through the ranks to become an expert in global terrorism and the NYPD’s representative in Israel.
Dzikansky is also the author of a new book about his experience, Terrorist Cop: The NYPD Jewish Cop Who Traveled the World to Stop Terrorists
Jewish Jack Bauer anyone?
“I am in awe of the comparison, but I don’t consider myself to be the
Jewish Jack Bauer,” Dzikansky says. “We both are counter-terror
officers, but that’s about it.”
Dzikansky, 48, says he felt compelled to write the book after
discovering in his retirement that stories of his unusual service
dominated every conversation with people he’d meet.
Until the attacks of September 11, 2001, Dzikansky was a homicide
detective known in New York’s Jewish community for his role on the NYPD
Torah Task Force, which recovered stolen Torahs in the New York area.
But after the terrorist attacks, his job took a radical turn.
Given the multiple intelligence and security failures before and on
9/11, the NYPD decided in 2002 that it could not rely solely on federal
agencies to prevent terror attacks in the city. So Police Commissioner
Raymond Kelly created a counter-terrorism office within the police.
At first the work was an "uphill climb, if only because almost all of
the NYPD's resources until then had been utilized to deal with
conventional crime,” Dzikansky writes in his book.
The new NYPD Counter Terrorism Bureau deployed several officers in
overseas hot spots to gather intelligence about developing terrorist
threats. Dzikansky was assigned to Israel, which was experiencing a wave
of terrorist attacks in the early days of the second intifada. A fluent
Hebrew speaker with a background in intelligence, he joined Israeli
police officers in their counter-terrorism work, including investigating
the sites of terrorist attacks.
Dzikansky helped his colleagues at the Counter Terrorism Bureau find
leads to help prevent potential attacks on U.S. soil, considering
possible connections and observing terrorist patterns.
Becoming accustomed to a new country and workplace -- not to mention
going to the sites of countless bloody bombings -- wasn't easy. Even
harder, Dzikansky says, was keeping the calm in his household; he
brought his wife and three young children with him to Israel.
While his Israeli colleagues could regain their composure shortly after
the attacks, it took time for Dzikansky to adjust this character trait
of Israeli resilience. The gruesome scenes of terrorism he witnessed
would leave an indelible mark on his psyche -- Dzikansky developed PTSD,
or post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s a common phenomenon among security officers with similar roles.
“It screwed me up,” Dzikansky says. “The Israelis are used to it. Terror is a word in their vocabulary.”
Still, he quickly became an expert on terrorism. Dzikansky visited the
sites of terrorist attacks all over the world, from Moscow and Madrid to
the bombing of an Egyptian resort at Sharm el-Sheik. In the Sharm case,
he went disguised as a tourist so as to not arouse suspicion among
In Israel, by examining the Arab-Israeli conflict firsthand, Dzikansky
was able to provide better intelligence for related terror threats in
New York and create a comprehensive manual for the NYPD about dealing
The goal of the manual, Dzikansky writes in his book, is to give
individuals and institutions “the resources and the knowledge that will
allow them to function under emergency situations, with specific
reference to suicide bombings."
Despite his work in counter-terrorism, Dzikansky says his greatest
accomplishments came in his days in New York on the Torah Task Force.
In the early 1990s, he was a part of an NYPD team charged with tracking
down and ending a Torah theft epidemic that hit New York synagogues.
Fifteen Torah scrolls and silver ornaments, valued at more than
$200,000, had been stolen.
The police decided to treat the case as if it were investigating a
murder. As an Orthodox Jew, Dzikansky says he felt a religious
obligation to solve the case, which had upset many in the Jewish
During a routine interrogation of a suspect in a separate silver theft
case, Dzikansky was able to find the person responsible for stealing the
Torahs. The young cop became a hero in the Jewish community.
Dzikansky waves off the credit.
“My honest belief is that God made it happen,” he told JTA. “I was just
the vehicle. I see it as pure bashert” -- Yiddish for destiny. “Someone
had to find those Torahs, and I happened to be the one. I believe that
destiny led me to Israel, too.”
In his book, Dzikansky not only recounts his experiences, he also offers a counter-terrorism manual for ordinary Americans.
“People have to take responsibility for their own protection,” he says.
“We can’t always rely on the police. If you see anything suspicious, you
must report it.”
One of the major changes in the NYPD in the quarter-century since
Dzikansky began working there is a growing number of Orthodox cops.
Dzikansky, who estimates that there are 40 to 50 such cops now on the
force, says it doesn’t surprise him.
“The NYPD is an organization that is not anti-anything, except maybe anti-slackers,” he deadpans.
After his retirement, Dzikansky decided to stay in Israel.
“I do miss New York, but I am just too happy to have my kids growing up in the Holy Land,” he says.
As for Israel's terrorism outlook, Dzikansky is cautiously optimistic.
“Although the threat exists and is constantly changing, I think Israel
is in great shape,” he says. “In other words, I know where my bomb
shelter is, but I have no intention of going there.”