nypd 5 croppedThere used to be a television series about the New York Police Department that ended with the voiced-over sign-off: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” We’ve been hearing mostly about only one of the religion stories in New York these days, the controversy surrounding the planned Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. On a recent visit to New York, I had the pleasure of hearing a very different type of New York story when I interviewed the NYPD officers who led the unusual interfaith tour of the Holy Land described in my feature here. (Photo: From left – Miller, Nasser, Wein and Reilly at interfaith center in Israel)

I met Sgt. Brian Reilly, Detective Ahmed Nasser and Detective Sam Miller at Reilly’s Lower East Side office and spoke to Detective Larry Wein by phone because he was out investigating a case. The Lower East Side has traditionally been so diverse that it’s almost tailor-made for the kind of interfaith cooperation they highlighted with this trip. “I’ve worked here in the Lower East Side and East Village for 29 years and been exposed to people from all over the world,” said Miller, who is Jewish. “It’s just a melting pot of every race, religion and ethnicity.” The NYPD reflects the city’s diversity, he said:  “This is the most diversified police department in the world. I’m an investigator. When we need a translator, I don’t have to go outside. We have members of the service who can speak any language in the world.”

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Reilly is commanding officer of the NYPD chaplains’ unit (4 Catholics, 2 Protestants, 1 Jewish and 1 Muslim) but these men are not chaplains themselves. Instead, they are leaders in faith-based fraternal organizations for NYPD officers. The Holy Land tour was a completely private initiative. “We weren’t working on somebody’s suggestion,” explained Reilly, a Roman Catholic. “We paid it all ourselves. There was a price for the tour and people decided to go or not. We’re fraternal organizations and we decide how to run our yearly trip.” (Photo: From left – Miller, Nasser and Reilly at NYPD chaplains’ unit office)

After Christians joined the annual Jewish trip to Israel that Miller organized in recent years, the expansion of the group to include Muslim officers was the new element this year. Nasser, the head of the Muslim Officers Society, was enthusiastic despite the fact he and two Palestinian-born officers were held up by Israeli security for two hours on arrival. “It was a very wonderful experience to go there and experience for yourself, to see the Holy Land and be able to share such time with friends,” he said. “It gave me a different way of looking at that region. We focused on what’s common among our members. We’re all brothers in uniform. We wanted to go there and see what’s common in our faiths.”

Nasser said the trip gave rise to conversations about Islam with his non-Muslim colleagues. “When I mentioned some things, like we in Islam say all prophets are the same from Adam to Mohammad, some people looked and said — really? When I said Mary has a chapter for herself in the Koran and Jesus has a chapter for himself, people started to think — oh wow. So they see we have a lot of things in common.”