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Tour de Force

Sara Miriam Gross

Son and grandson of rabbis, retired detective Mordecai Dzikansky says his lineage is his bullet-proof vest. Not bad protection for a homicide detective who spent 20 years on the streets of New York, breaking up crime rings and establishing himself as an international expert on terrorism, community crime, and Torah scroll theft.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

face and bars of flamesThe steely-eyed, stern-faced policeman who appears on the cover of the book Terrorist Cop was certainly not the man who showed up for our interview. But the pleasant and approachable fellow who did appear made good on all his alter ego’s promises. Son and grandson of rabbis, Mordecai Dzikansky (pronounced Jekansky) is both one of our own and one of the law enforcement team proudly nicknamed “New York’s Finest.”

Twenty years on the streets of New York — as a homicide detective and organized crime and terror-related investigator, tracking down drug dealers and busting crime rings, and heading a task force on stolen sifrei Torah, plus five years as the counterterrorism liaison of the New York Police Department in Israel — have turned the 49-year-old Brooklyn native into an international expert on global security, intelligence gathering, and keeping communities safe.

“My yichus has kept me safe. It’s been my bulletproof vest,” the toweringly tall, salt-and-pepper-haired Dzikansky avows from behind his no-nonsense, black-rimmed glasses. Dzikansky’s grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Mordechai Zev Dzikansky ztz”l was rosh yeshivah of Ohr HaChaim in Slabodka and then came to America in 1935, and he spent his last years as rosh yeshivah of MTJ on the Lower East Side, where the family settled.

His father, Rabbi Jekuthiel Dzikansky, a student of Telshe in Europe who made it to the US in 1939, became a student of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik ztz”l and continued the family mission of community service in the development department of Yeshiva University for over 45 years.

“I felt an obligation to the community,” Dzikansky explains. But how did a rosh yeshivah’s grandson and a rabbi’s son become a cop? Was he always the “defend-the-underdog-from-bullies” type as a kid? Did he have a passion for justice?

“Neh,” Dzikansky says with a shake of his head. “Basketball was my thing.” His sporty diver’s watch, two-tone navy windbreaker, and six-foot-three height all conspire to support the claim. “Give me a basketball and I was always a happy camper. I was a basketball junkie, as are all my kids now. If you had asked me what my dream was then, it would have been to be the first frum person in the NBA [National Basketball Association]. There was a regular game every Sunday at the Jewish Community House in Bensonhurst. Once after a game, as I was on my way out, I stopped to look at the flyers they had on the desk. The Shomrim Society of the NYPD had put some recruitment flyers there, I followed up on it, and that was it.”

Dzikansky’s father had been hoping for a doctor, or at least an accountant, but it was not meant to be. “I was 19 years old and in my last year of college at the time — I did it on a fast track. I was an accounting major but didn’t think it would be my chosen career.” Police work was the unexpected solution for the athletic and adventure-seeking young man, although he had no prior experience with this branch of civil service. “The police had been an enigma to me. I wasn’t a kid who was looking for trouble and I wasn’t running from trouble either, so I didn’t grow up knowing they were there. That Sunday changed everything.”

Dzikansky was one of 50,000 applicants vying for 2,000 positions. But that was only one of the reasons he didn’t tell his family right away. “My approach in life is, don’t make an issue about something until it’s an issue, and I was hesitant to tell my father because I knew he would see it as a dangerous career.” Dzikansky’s mother had passed away when he was seven, so only his father and three older sisters were left to absorb the news. “I applied having clearly stated that I was shomer Shabbos, so it wasn’t as if I was leaving the fold, although there were some frum people who did after they joined. But I knew my father would still question if the police force would be safe for me.”

Dzikansky was accepted to the Police Academy and eventually graduated to become the third frum person in the NYPD. These days there are about 50. Although it was frightening for his father to contemplate Mordecai in this decidedly out-of-the-box line of work, he did ultimately shep nachas, and always marveled at the Divine orchestration that led his policeman son to recover stolen Torah scrolls and even move to Israel, all in the name of duty. Today Dzikansky and his family call the city of Raanana their home.


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