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  • Vita Pires, Ph.D.

Mindful Chaplaincy: Cultivating Resilience in Public Safety with Rabbi Niles Goldstein

Updated: Apr 16













Rabbi Niles Goldstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley. Rabbi Goldstein, an experienced and dynamic Reform Rabbi and educator, is also the award-winning author or editor of ten books, including Gonzo Judaism and God at the Edge. Rabbi Goldstein is the National Jewish Chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, a position he has held since his ordination, and Chaplain for the Napa, CA, Police Department. Rabbi Goldstein shares his varied experiences as a chaplain in the army initially and then for federal law enforcement and local community police officers. The universalist nature of chaplaincy and supporting people in law enforcement with their spiritual needs, wherever they may be, about faith or belief in God. Maintaining a sense of connectedness, meaning, and purpose as first responders is essential. His experience as a martial arts practitioner and how that informs his spiritual journey and his chaplaincy work with law enforcement officers. RABBI NILES GOLDSTEIN Rabbi Niles Goldstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley. Rabbi Goldstein, an experienced and dynamic Reform Rabbi, and educator, is the award-winning author or editor of ten books, including Gonzo Judaism and God at the Edge. He was the founding rabbi of The New Shul, an innovative and independent synagogue in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, which he served for over a decade. He is also a founder of the Napa Center for Thought & Culture. Before he arrived at CBS Napa, Rabbi Goldstein worked in a variety of congregational, interfaith, and academic settings while based in his native Chicago. Rabbi Goldstein has been a thought leader and sought-after speaker in the American Jewish community for many years. He widely teaches spirituality, personal growth, the environment, leadership, and congregational innovation. He has written for Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, the Huffington Post, the Forward, and many other publications. He has been featured in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and other venues, as well as on radio and television. Rabbi Goldstein is the National Jewish Chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, a position he has held since his ordination, and Chaplain for the Napa Police Department. He is also a member of PEN, the Renaissance Institute, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Rabbi Goldstein has served on the faculty of New York University, Loyola University, Eastern Mennonite University, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Rabbi Goldstein is an avid traveler and outdoor adventurer. He has mushed dogs in Alaska and ridden horses in Mongolia, and he has done humanitarian work with communities in Central Asia and the Caucasus. He is also a longtime practitioner of martial arts, and he holds black belts in both karate and tae kwon do.

Mindful Chaplaincy: Cultivating Resilience in Public Safety with Rabbi Niles GoldsteinTranscript


Fleet Maull: 

Hi, welcome to another session on day four of the Global First Responder Resilience Summit. And today, we're focused on spiritual fitness and resilience. And I'm really happy to be here with  Rabbi Niles Goldstein. Welcome, Rabbi Goldstein. 


Niles Goldstein: 

Thank you, Fleet. I appreciate it. 


Fleet Maull: 

Great to have you here. So, I'm going to share a bit of your bio and your background, let people  know who you are, and then we'll jump into the conversation. All right? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Okay. 


Fleet Maull: 

I think for this audience, I might lead with your most stellar credential that you hold a black belt  in both karate and taekwondo. You mushed dogs in Alaska and ridden horses in Mongolia. I find  that really impressive. I'm kind of outdoor person myself, and I find that's a lot of creds there. I love it. 


Rabbi Goldstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom of Napa Valley,  California. He's an experienced and dynamic reformed rabbi and educator, and also the award winning author and editor of 10 books, including Gonzo Judaism and God at the Edge. He was  the founding rabbi of the New Shul, an innovative and independent synagogue in Manhattan's  Greenwich Village, which he served for over a decade. 

He is also the founder of the Napa Center for Thought and Culture. Prior to his arrival at  CBS Napa, Rabbi Goldstein worked in a variety of congregational, interfaith, and academic  settings while based in his native Chicago. 


Rabbi Goldstein has been a thought leader and sought-after speaker in the North  American Jewish community for many years. He teaches widely on spirituality, personal growth, the environment, leadership, and congregational innovation. He has written for Newsweek, The  Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News, Huffington Post, The  Forward, and many other publications. 

He has been featured in Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The  Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, and other venues, as well as on radio and  television. 


Rabbi Goldstein is the National Jewish Chaplain for the Federal Law Enforcement  Officers Association, a position he has held since his ordination, as well as Chaplain for the Napa  Police Department. He is also a member of PEN, the literary organization, the Renaissance  Institute, the Central Conference of American Rabbis.  


Rabbi Goldstein has served on the faculty of New York University, Loyola University,  Eastern Mennonite University, and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 

As I mentioned before, he's an avid traveler and outdoor adventurer. He has mushed  dogs in Alaska, ridden horses in Mongolia, and holds black belts in both karate and taekwondo.  So, not your usual rabbi. 


Niles Goldstein: 

You read the whole thing. That was too kind of you. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, I did find it fascinating, and I liked that right off the top there. A couple of your books are Gonzo Judaism and God at the Edge. It sounds like you're pretty cutting edge and really working  to make the spiritual dimension of our lives really accessible to the people you work with. So, it's just really great. 


We are focused today on spiritual fitness and resilience. I like to get your sense about  that in a moment. But perhaps maybe we could just start with you sharing a little bit about how  you got to where you are. How did you end up on the path of rabbinical studies and becoming a rabbi? And then, how did you find your way into police chaplaincy?


Niles Goldstein: 

Those are big questions, but I'll be as succinct as I can. In terms of becoming a rabbi, I've always  thought that if I had been born Christian, I probably would have become a minister as well. A  priest, I don't know. But I've always been interested in the big questions going back to middle  school, high school. Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Does God exist? Is there life  after this one? I've always been drawn to those big existential questions.  


In college, I wound up majoring in philosophy, which helped. It helped me to address  those questions more directly than, say, literature did, which I also love. But I really felt that  religion more than philosophy helped me to grapple with the questions I was interested in more  overtly and more compellingly. Religious people have been wrestling with these kinds of questions for millennia. 


And so, without going into all the elaborate detail, the year after college, I lived in  Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was exploring spirituality, exploring religion in a much more serious  way. In terms of what I was reading, I read the Bible, the Hebrew Bible, for the first time in its  entirety. I had never done that before. I spent a lot of time with a friend of mine, who is now a  Jesuit priest who lives in Rome. I just saw him a few years ago when I traveled to Italy. But he  was living with the Jesuit community, finishing up his training in Boston. And I spent a lot of time  with that community. 


He and I had met a few years before that during my junior year abroad when I studied in  Jerusalem. I lived in Jerusalem for a couple of years. He was the one, believe it or not, who said  to me, here I was 22 years old, I was writing a book at the time, I was a young man trying to  figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And he said, "Have you ever thought about becoming  a rabbi?" 


At the time, I thought, 'Are you nuts? Are you crazy?' I was a bit of a partier when I was  that age. I got into a little bit of trouble. I had a lot of fun. I just didn't think I was worthy of  becoming a rabbi. And then he said something that I'll never forget. He said, "None of us are  worthy of becoming members of the clergy, becoming spiritual leaders. All that matters is  whether or not you're called." And from the time he floated that idea in my head to the time I  applied to rabbinical schools was pretty short. So, I really owe a lot to my friend, Scott, a Catholic  priest, for my becoming a rabbi.  


I thought about academia. I decided that studying about and teaching religion in the  academy, while really important, was not as direct a line of work as I was interested in. I really wanted to get into the muck and the mire. I really wanted to work with people in the trenches.  And so, I felt that becoming a rabbi rather than a full-time academic would allow me to both  grapple with those big existential questions that I had always been interested in but also really  help others to wrestle with those questions. 


Now, in terms of your question about becoming a law enforcement chaplain, it was  serendipity in some ways. I've always been interested in law enforcement. I had always felt that  it was an important job, a very difficult job, a unique job. It attracted certain types of people. I  had been an army chaplain before that. I had gone through basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  I was never active duty, but I was a reserve chaplain before that, before what I'm about to tell you. 


And even though the military and law enforcement are not identical, there's a lot of  crossovers. I really enjoyed some of my experiences in the army. And so, right when I was  ordained, a guy contacted me from FLEOA, from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers  Association, which is the umbrella organization that has grown a lot since I was ordained 25  years ago. 


It essentially offered support, legal support, sometimes financial support, spiritual  support to federal law enforcement agents and officers, FBI, DEA, Secret Service, marshals, all  of them, Bureau of Indian Affairs. And they had a National Catholic Chaplain, a National  Protestant Chaplain, and a National Jewish Chaplain at the time, in addition to their ancillary  chaplains all over the country. 


The Jewish chaplain, I don't even remember. I think he retired. I was 28 years old. I was  a young rabbi, and they heard about me from something. I think I had officiated at the marriage  of a friend of someone on their search committee. I met with some of the leaders of the national  board of FLEOA. I think one of our interviews was basically just having a couple of beers at a bar  in Battery Park City in Manhattan at the time, right near the Twin Towers. 


And you know what? They brought me on board. And I've worked with federal law  enforcement now for the entire time, over 25 years. And since I've been in Napa, I've been a  chaplain for the local police department, Napa PD, for about three years. It's a very different kind  of job as a chaplain working with local police rather than federal agents. I'm sure we're going to  probably touch on that.


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, we will. 


Niles Goldstein: 

So, I hope that answers both of those questions. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, absolutely. Great. Yeah. Really, really interesting background. And it's interesting that your  future career got settled over a couple of beers there in Lower Manhattan. They decided, "This  guy's okay," right? 


Niles Goldstein: 

I don't know if he's out there. But I still remember the head guy; his name was Vic Oboyski. He  was a US marshal, probably 6'5", 280 pounds. I couldn't really keep up with him in terms of the  beer, but it was a fun interview. 


Fleet Maull: 

So, today is about spiritual fitness and resilience. So, what do those terms mean to you? 


Niles Goldstein: 

It does mean something to me. I think fitness is probably a lot easier to define than the first part,  spirituality, spiritual. I've always thought that the word "God" and the word "love" are two of the  worst words in the English language because everyone means something else. 

When someone says, "I don't believe in God." I say, "Well, which conception? Which  image of God is it that you don't believe in?" There are dozens. There are hundreds of different  ideas about a higher power. And same with love. When we say we love something or someone,  that can mean a lot of different things. 


So, the spiritual part of spiritual fitness, I think, is a little bit harder to define. But to me,  spiritual fitness relates to having a kind of harmony, having a kind of health, a kind of health of  the soul, the health of the psyche that is related not just to our emotional and psychological  well-being but also to our spiritual well-being.  


Spirituality, to my mind, is loosely defined as our relationship to something that  transcends us. As a theist myself, and I certainly have worked with lots of atheists and agnostics  over the years, even here in my own congregation. But as a theist, for me, spirituality divorced from the notion of a higher power is a little bit of a more problematic idea. But I do think it's  possible to be spiritual, even if you don't believe in a normative classical idea of God. But I think  you have to have some sense of transcendence, something that goes beyond yourself and your  ego and your own narrow self-concerns to have a notion of spirituality.  

So, that's kind of what spiritual fitness means to me, a kind of sense of health and well being that is connected to this notion of transcendence. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. I like that. I like that a lot. But in the clinical literature, the spiritual dimension, which is considered a broader dimension than the religious dimension, being more of a subset of broader dimensional spirituality, it's often described as that sense of connectedness within ourselves,  with others, and with something that transcends some greater dimension and gives our life meaning of purpose. 


And then, it's also that sense of meaning and purpose, and all the things that contribute  to having a sense of meaning and purpose. And then, spiritual distress is often described as a  breakdown in that connectedness and also a loss of meaning and purpose. 


Niles Goldstein: 

I appreciate you brought up the word "connection," because of course, that's at the core of all of  this as well, the interconnectedness of all things, all people. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. And when you think about some of the real serious health risks faced by first responders  and that ultimate risk of suicidality, but that whole trajectory towards empathy, fatigue, burnout,  various PTSD symptomology, and the risk of suicidality often has a lot to do with losing that  sense of connectedness with oneself, with others and with some greater dimension. 


And also, things are starting to feel kind of meaningless or empty in that spiritual distress, I think. That's why personally, I feel like this is a really important dimension for us to focus on at the Summit. Because when push comes to shove, one of our ultimate resources is that sense of  spiritual well-being, whatever that means to any of us. It's kind of when we go through tough  losses, really tough experiences, we have all forms of resilience, our connection with others, our  soul, so there are all kinds of things that are supportive and contributed support, but if there's  nothing else available to us, having some reservoir inside that we can tap into seems to be  ultimately important.


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. I agree completely, Fleet. And over the years when I've worked with agents and officers,  often when they get into the most trouble when they are in real distress, it's related to that idea  of disconnectedness, as you say, a sense of disconnection from their community, from other  agents and officers, a feeling of being disconnected from a support system or from resources. 


And it can become so acute. It can become so problematic that you can have all of this  support at your disposal, whether it's a peer support group or chaplains or therapists, you just  become so despondent, you just retreat into isolation or into addiction or whatever it is into your  cave. And you just don't avail yourself to any of that. 


I think, and I hope that that's changing, as some agencies and departments are becoming  more sensitive to the idea of, I don't like the term "wellness," it feels a little touchy-feely to me,  but it sort of captures that idea of well-being. I think some agencies and departments are  becoming much more aggressive, if that's the right word, about making sure that their staff, their  employees take advantage of these resources that are out there, that maybe were not out there  as much a generation or two ago. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. In our training with first responders, I always mentioned that when we see our peers  beginning to not maintain their relationships, when they start isolating, not maintaining their  personal, professional, social relationship, that's a real dangerous sign. It's always difficult to  intervene in others' lives, but better do that than hear about some tragedy later and go, "I kind  of saw that coming." Right? So, that disconnection is really key. 


I'm wondering across a lot of different fields, that sense of connectedness within  ourselves, with others. We talked about spirituality, the spiritual method. There's kind of this  body, heart, mind, spirit quality. Sometimes even in the clinical literature, they talk about, let's  see, they would say bio, psycho, social, spiritual, covering all the bases. But that whole body mind connection, I'm curious about the interface between your spiritual path, your vocation as a  rabbi, and your martial art training. 


I'm just wondering if there's some connection there in terms of what martial arts have done for  you in terms of connecting you in any kind of inner way or just even with more with your body  and mind and that interface and breadth and just that discipline of martial arts, whether you feel  that's contributed to your resilience, whether it has any connection to the spiritual dimension?


Niles Goldstein: 

Good question. And absolutely, it's connected to my spiritual life and my work as a rabbi and as  a chaplain. I've done martial arts off and on now for 30 years. My injuries are starting to pile up,  but I want to keep practicing, and I do different styles. Now Brazilian jiu-jitsu, combative that is much more reality-based than traditional martial arts.  


And so, I work out. I train with a lot of cops now. I've never been very good at yoga. I've  never been very good at meditation. I think my soul is a little too restless for those things. But  martial arts has been great. And it is holistic. It is body, mind, spirit. I know a lot of people who  are good technicians, but they're not good fighters.  


And anyone who watches MMA or boxing or any combat sport knows that like a violinist,  you can be a great technician as a violinist. But if you're not engaged with that instrument holistically, if your heart is not in the activity, if your soul is not in it, it'll come across to the  audience, to whoever's listening to you. And I have found that with the martial arts, too.  

I know a lot of tough guys and women who I've trained with, but the ones who really  excel are the ones who are engaged in the discipline, body, mind, and spirit. Well, I've learned a  lot of different techniques, a lot of different forms, a lot of different ways to defend myself and  to fight over the years. Those techniques are pretty much empty vessels unless you have the  inner passion behind them. 


And it's not always a passion. More often than not, it's peace. You cannot get emotional.  You cannot get angry when you're training with a sparring partner, for example. Or if, God forbid, you're in a conflict on the street. Whether you're a cop or a civilian, the way you get in trouble is  to let your emotions take over. And sometimes, you need to stay calm in the storm. And that's  what first responders are often so good at if they're able to. Some get crushed by the storm and  traumatized, and then they have to deal with PTSD. 


Martial arts training. With all that is involved in it. I wrote a book on it a few years ago  called The Challenge of the Soul: A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior. I look at eight different  concepts, discipline, repetition, improvisation. I look at eight different concepts that I believe are  shared between the martial arts and personal growth and spirituality. 

And so, I can just tell you that my martial arts training when I've been confronted with  traumatic experiences or even just very difficult experiences, I am convinced it has helped me to stay calm in that storm. I don't like drama, but when I'm confronted with drama around me, I  really do feel that that training has helped me to stay at peace, to stay mindful, and to stay calm. So, I think there's a direct correlation.  


And then, of course, as a chaplain, especially now, it's a great way offsite to build  relationships with some of the people that I serve. I mean, how much more fun could a cop have  than to grapple and submit his chaplain? Every once in a while, I can submit them. I'm talking  about jiu-jitsu now. But yeah, it's a fun, great way to build relationships. And honestly to build  trust. It's a lot easier to build trust when you're practicing in a dojo with somebody than when  you're giving a formal talk or training. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, absolutely. I had a hunch there was something there. I'm glad I asked that question because it sounds like there's a lot there. And this particular book you just mentioned, could you  mention a title of that again? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. This came out a few years ago, but it's still in print. The title is The Challenge of the Soul:  A Guide for the Spiritual Warrior, and you can find it on Amazon. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. I think that could be really adventurous for our audience here at the Summit. Yeah, that's great. 


Niles Goldstein: 

Thank you. As a matter of fact, when it came out, 1811, the Journal of the Federal Law  Enforcement Officers Association wrote a really nice review about it. And hopefully, it's been  making the rounds of some people in law enforcement. 


Fleet Maull: 

That's great. That's great. Well, let's talk about your work as a chaplain a bit. Separately with  your work with the municipal police and Napa because I think they are quite different, and then  your work with federal law enforcement.  

What are some of the things you do, and how do you support people? What do they reach out  to you for? What is the ministry like, and so forth? Just if you could talk about it, so we get a  better understanding of what is law enforcement chaplaincy?


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. It's a good question. I think every chaplain is a little bit different. I can tell you, though, I'm  a rabbi, and I'm obviously Jewish. Over the years, probably the majority of people I've worked  with have not been Jewish. Although, of course, Jewish agents and officers will probably reach  out to me more frequently. But in aggregate, it's been all across the board. 


And, of course, some people are not religious at all. But I've been told by, I remember  one Catholic DEA agent who was going through a tough time, and we were talking, and he said  he was much more comfortable talking to me than his priest. Because, A, he felt the level of  confidentiality was better with me because he didn't have to see me every Sunday morning. And  B, I had some cultural competency. I knew what was involved in his job and in his world.  


I would say, Fleet, that some of it are very hard to define. Some of it is what a lot of us  chaplains call the ministry of presence, just being there for somebody. After 9/11, we're coming  up to the 20-year anniversary. I live in New York at the time. I saw the towers collapse for my  fire escape in Brooklyn. A couple of days later, I was at Ground Zero when the smoke was still  coming up out of the ground. And I spent time with first responders, with firefighters, with  federal agents, law enforcement officers, just trying to offer the ministry of presence along with  other chaplains, just being there to share this traumatic experience and let people know that  they weren't alone. 


The last thing in the world I was talking about was God or theology. It's just not  appropriate sometimes. Or after the Murrah Building was blown up in the '90s by Timothy  McVeigh, and I forget who else was involved in that. 


Fleet Maull: 

In Oklahoma City. 


Niles Goldstein: 

And so, I flew out there and was involved in a more ceremonial role. So, it was still ministry of  presence, but I offered a prayer from the Jewish tradition. So, sometimes chaplains are there in  a ceremonial role, whether it's a wedding or a funeral or memorial service. Sometimes we're  there just to be present and offer support. Sometimes we do counseling. It can be just the same  kind of counseling I do in my congregation.


I've counseled agents and officers who've lost parents, who've gone through divorces,  who have had professional struggles with a supervisor, or someone from the command staff.  And that's not radically different from what any human being goes through. I've gone through a  divorce. A lot of people lose their parents. A lot of people have professional struggles. But some  of the work we do as chaplains is unique to the world of law enforcement - dealing with trauma,  helping people with PTSD. 


An FBI agent who is now retired, who I developed a long-term relationship with, and  now we're personal friends, I helped him when his partner, this was many years ago, committed  suicide that was related to the job. I helped him to navigate that experience. I then helped him  when his mother died, and I officiated at the funeral. I helped him when he went through a  divorce, and I've helped him with some other things over the years. 


I get calls out of the blue sometimes. Mainly from federal agents because that's where  I've done more of my work than with local PD. I got a call a year ago from a very high-ranking  federal agent who had a lot of concerns about whether or not he would be comfortable staying  in his job if President Biden was elected. And my job often is not to get political. I mean, we  didn't talk about politics.  


I was trying to counsel him and say, "Well, whether it's a Republican or a Democrat in  office, your job is still the same." We spent over an hour on the phone talking about this issue,  but that was one of the stranger ones. And I got a call recently from a Jewish federal agent on  the west coast who was involved in a shooting and was really struggling with whether she  wanted to stay in law enforcement. 


So, it really is all across the board. But the bottom line is that some of the counseling,  which is what I enjoy the most, and where I think I can be most helpful, some of it is related to  just normal human experiences that I think we all go through. And some of it is related to the  kind of work that is sort of unique to first responders. 


I can tell you, some chaplains liked the uniform, they liked the badge, they like all of that  stuff. I'm not a cop, and I know I'm not a cop, but I think I have a good understanding of those  men and women of that world. If I can offer support, spiritual support specifically, that's what  really gives me gratification.


I'm a volunteer. Many, if not most chaplains, are volunteers. It's not easy to find the time because I have a full-time congregation. And that's already a 24/7 job as it is, but this kind of  work is so important for me that I'd like to keep doing it as long as I'm working. 


Fleet Maull: 

Wow, certainly, a much-needed vocation. So, is there a difference in terms of what you see in  the lives of the municipal police officers versus the federal agents in terms of the stresses or the  issues they're dealing with? I mean, I'm sure there's a lot of similarities, but I'm wondering if  there are some differences as well? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. There are a lot of similarities, of course, problems in the workplace, dealing with  supervisors, getting passed over for a promotion, having trouble with colleagues. I mean, that's  not unique. Everyone has those issues. I think what I'm finding with local police, with municipal  police, sheriff's deputies, police officers, especially the ones on patrol, it's just very different.  


I think most federal agents I know, and I hope I'm not going to get anyone mad at me.  But a lot of that work is investigation. And of course, there's an investigation in municipal law  enforcement, a lot of detective work, but for those who are out on patrol, every day is different.  You have no idea what's going to happen. The situations can be frightening and traumatic, whether it's dealing with domestic abuse, suicide, and that's where chaplains can help also, or  trying to get someone to leave a house who's barricaded himself, who's suicidal, who wants  suicide by cop. 


I find that the possibilities for trauma are higher with cops than with federal agents.  That's just been my experience. Some may not agree with me. I just feel unless you're a detective,  it's a lot harder to control what your day is going to look like if you're a cop or a sheriff's deputy.  At least if you're not in a more senior executive position, and you're just out on patrol. 


And I think, and Fleet, you probably know better than me, I would imagine the rate of  suicide is probably a lot higher among cops and deputies than it is among federal agents, even  though federal agents have it too. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. I believe it is higher. And across the spectrum of public safety, corrections is probably the  highest, correctional officers that work on a tier and those kinds of prison environments. It's often  the highest, but it is certainly way too high among our law enforcement personnel.


And it makes sense to patrol officers. They're out there—the aftermath of accidents,  shootings, domestic violence calls. I mean, they never know what their day is going to be. They  could be putting their life on the line at any moment.  


Of course, some federal officers are involved in high-risk work and dangerous undercover  work. But probably that your street cop is facing that kind of stuff every day, and there's a  cumulative impact of seeing kind of the worst, seeing the worst of humanity, right? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Right. And I do not want to compare. I mean, they're two completely different jobs. But on the  opposite side with federal agents, and I'm going back to 9/11, and then Oklahoma City, they may  not be involved in that daily kind of traumatic, critical incidents, but they often have to respond  to these monumental terrorist-guided things. And the trauma of those things, having seen it with  my own eyes, I mean, that changes your life forever. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, all of our heroic first responders are at risk for both primary and  secondary trauma. Yeah. And so, your vocation is a really important one. I know some of the  work you do is definitely counseling and could as easily be done by a counselor or  psychotherapist. 


I think there is something about when people reach out to a chaplain, though, and that's  I mean, obviously, licensed psychotherapists are really trusted clinicians and individuals with  high ethical standards and all of that. But there's something about the chaplain, or just maybe  another level of trust there or kind of an expectation of a certain depth and spiritual formation  or something there that I think can really be advantageous when people are seeking support to  that they find a way to a chaplain. 


And as you mentioned, chaplains are trained to really support people of all faiths and  people with no faith and really across the board, even though whether you're a Jewish or  Christian or Islamic or Buddhist or Hindu chaplain, you may end up getting assigned cases of  people who haven't to be of your denomination or faith, but you're going to end up working with  everybody, and you're trained as a chaplain to support everybody.


Niles Goldstein: 

Exactly. Every chaplain I know, any good chaplain, is trained to work with anyone. I would say  one thing that popped into my mind, Fleet, about chaplains is some of it is generational. I think  some of the younger folks in the law enforcement first responder community may not feel as  comfortable approaching chaplains as maybe chaplains in their 40s and 50s and in previous  generations. 


And I think some of that is because people in the law enforcement community it's a very  diverse group, just like any American. We have people on the right, on the left, liberal,  conservative, what have you. 


I think because Pew just came out with a recent study about religion in America, and as  religion in America declines, I think with a couple of exceptions. The Evangelical Christian world,  I think, has increased in numbers and maybe a couple of other demographic groups. But in  general, mainline Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, mainline Judaism, we see a decline in  terms of young people belonging to congregations participating in a ritual or worship services. I  see that in my congregation. I saw it when I served a congregation in New York City. 


I think the law enforcement community is no different. I think younger agents, younger  cops, maybe because they have a bias against religion, maybe because they just don't take it  seriously, they might be less comfortable approaching a chaplain because most of us, though  not all of us, most of us are ordained members of the clergy. 


And for some people, unfortunately, there's baggage associated with that. They think  that if they talk to me, I'm going to start talking about the Bible or heaven and hell. And of course,  that's usually the last thing that chaplains talk about unless they have a really, really intimate  relationship with somebody. So, I do think there's a difference in terms of age, and who's going  to avail themselves of a chaplain? 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. That's interesting. I was invited to present at a conference at a smaller college where  they're doing a whole conference about what I think they call none's today.  


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. N-O-N-E.


Fleet Maull: 

N-O-N-E people who are maybe spiritual, not religious, or just aren't affiliated, don't belong to  any religion. And that's a growing demographic, especially among young people, as you're  talking about. And they're actually talking about specialization of chaplaincy on how to be  chaplains for the nones, right? 


Niles Goldstein: 

No, exactly. I think it was in that recent Pew study. You check off a box - Catholic, Protestant,  Jewish, Muslim, whatever. And then one of the last boxes was none. I don't affiliate with any  religion. So, you're absolutely right. 


In fact, I just read an article. You know, you can be a chaplain in universities also. You can  be a chaplain at hospitals. I guess the lead chaplain at Harvard now for the first time is a none.  He's not affiliated with any religious tradition. I think he's an atheist. He's been really great at connecting with the nones. So, that's definitely part of this whole movement that we're seeing. 


Fleet Maull: 

We know that our first responders all in various ways across different professions and  disciplines, but are all at risk for really some pretty serious health consequences due to ongoing  exposure to high stress, often insufficiently managed stress, which can become chronic stress.  And then both primary and secondary trauma exposure. 


And especially at secondary trauma exposure, where we hear about things happening,  and our brain is having the same neurochemical experience of someone who's in an incident not  to the same degree, but it's cumulative over time—also working around people that have a lot  of trauma in their nervous systems. And so, all this is cumulative over the course of someone's career. 


And then, there are those incidents that people experience a primary trauma that can  really have a deleterious impact on someone. And so, in terms of being able to mitigate those  risks, but not only mitigate those risks, but actually see human adversity, human suffering as  also an opportunity for growth. 


I think the religious traditions, as you mentioned before, suffering has been a major topic  of all the world's religious traditions for millennia. How to make sense of human suffering? How  to make sense of life and death? How to make sense of suffering?


Niles Goldstein: 

Why do bad things happen to good people? 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah, absolutely. Rabbi Kushner wrote that book. Yeah? Well, if you could talk a bit about what  you've seen or your experience of that. Today we talked about - sometimes resilience. Some of  it is resilience. Often, what we talk about is bouncing back or springing back and tail out. People  say, "No. It should be bouncing forward, springing forward." And this idea of the possibility of  posttraumatic growth. 


So, it seems when we face adversity, it can really take us down. And we should have  tremendous compassion for ourselves and everyone else when that's happening. And hopefully,  we will find the support we need to get back on our feet. But also, it can spur growth. It can be  a challenge that causes us to rise to the next level in our emotional, spiritual development as  human beings. So, I'm wondering about your thoughts about that, adversity and growth? 


Niles Goldstein: 

I certainly believe that it's possible to grow from difficult experiences. Maybe even traumatic  experiences. And you're right. I can only speak for the Jewish tradition. But every tradition I've  studied, every faith tradition I've studied tries to address this issue.  

I wrote a book many years back called God at the Edge: Searching for the Divine in  Uncomfortable and Unexpected Places. And the entire theme of that book was how do you find  spirituality? How do you find growth? How do you move forward from uncomfortable and  difficult experiences? 


And I think I talked about 9/11 in that book, and I once had a run-in with a grizzly in  Alaska. I obviously got away from the bear. But that experience of raw, primal terror was  something I had never felt before. 


And so, one of the chapters talks about that - the relationship between fear and growth.  Fear can sometimes break us down. And when we break down our defenses, when we break  down our ego, when we become vulnerable, a lot of interesting things can happen  psychologically and spiritually, when we're in that place of vulnerability, when we're not in a  safe haven.


You know, the expression there are no atheists in foxholes. I mean, sometimes,  paradoxically, we have to be in a place of discomfort in order to gain that experience of  vulnerability, even though it can scare the hell out of us. 


So, I absolutely think it's possible to grow, but only if you have the right support system,  only if you have a sense of community because sometimes those experiences that scare the hell  out of us can crush us if we don't have the support. And that can lead to depression, addiction, and suicide. 


So, I don't want to romanticize trauma or challenge. But if the support is there, if we  brought in enough inner resilience to the experience, hopefully, we'll come out of it stronger and  wiser and better people and better at our jobs. 


There's a concept in Jewish mysticism, in the Kabbalah or Kabbalah. Some people may  have heard of it. The Hebrew is [foreign language 00:43:40], which in English means descent before ascent. 


And there's this idea of going back to the Bible that sometimes we have to descend.  Sometimes we have to fall into the muck and mire of human existence before we can rise again  as new and renewed people. It's almost like the resurrection idea. And there are many examples  that the mystics give. Moses goes down into Egypt before he goes up again toward the promised  land. The prophet Jonah goes deep into the sea. He's swallowed by this whale before he's later  spit out onto dry land. 


A lot of these metaphors that the mystics use from the Bible are used to convey that idea  of spiritual resurrection, that sometimes we really have to come to the verge of death before we  are able to really become new people with more resources at our disposal. 


So, certainly, that idea is present in the Jewish tradition. I've talked about it with the  people I've worked with both in my rabbinic work and in my work as a chaplain, and most people  seem pretty receptive to it, but I really think it's important that you have a support system. It's  really hard to grow from a real crushing experience, even like being fired from your job, or going  through a divorce, or having a partner commit suicide. Those are really profound experiences.  But you need support, or you may not come out of it.


Fleet Maull: 

What you were describing as the descent there is very much part of the Hero's Journey as was  codified by Joseph Campbell and others from all the great world traditions, very much that idea  of the descent and as part of a transformative process. And you mentioned the need for support  and community, which kind of practices my next question. I wanted to talk about community. 


I think you need to look at resilience both as a kind of a vertical pole and a horizontal  plane or something. And vertically, we have our own resources, whether, if we're taking good  care of ourselves, we all know, if we're getting good rest, if we're eating well, if we're taking  good care of ourselves, we're going to be more resilient. 


And so, we're taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, and so forth,  we're going to be more resilient. And also, it has been something that we can really believe in,  whether it's religious faith or some other kind of faith. And having some way to tap into the  depths of our own being, whether it's our nature through contemplative experiences and so  forth, gives us that deep rootedness in something, that deep connection. So, that's kind of, for  me, the vertical pole of our resilience. 


And then, the horizontal plane is more our connection with others, our support systems,  and that sense of community, which is incredibly important. So, I wonder if you could talk about  that - the importance of community and support systems, how you see that functioning, and how  it could maybe even function better within first responder communities, and perhaps your role  as a chaplain in facilitating that? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. That's a great question. I like how you break it down. As I'm sure you know, there's been  a lot of research going into what you're calling the vertical pole, including now from what I've  been reading Psychotropic Drugs. I don't know when or if that will become legal. But a lot of  therapists out there have been experimenting with psychotropic medications and how they can  help people with PTSD. 


But in terms of the horizontal axis and community, I think it's really, really important. I  think peer support groups are vital. I've been pushing to have more of a presence as a chaplain  at debriefings and peer support groups. 


I think one thing that your friend and colleague did at a retreat here for Napa, Rich  Goerling was terrific. He did a two-day retreat here for Napa PD, where he focused on  mindfulness. He's a former cop, and he talked about the problems with law enforcement culture,  historically, in this whole culture of what he called toxic masculinity, where you're just told to  suck it up, and you don't really need community, you should just be resilient by yourself sitting  in a room. 


So, I think the more we can move beyond that sort of culture of toxic masculinity into one  where spiritual fitness, where a sense of well-being and caring for our agents and officers are more prevalent, the more we can do that, the better. Transforming culture is really, really hard.  It's really hard. But I'm seeing a little bit of that happening. I'd like to see more of it. 

Actually, I feel that the military is doing a pretty good job of trying to do that with their  chaplains. And that's probably working its way, maybe more into federal law enforcement than  into local law enforcement where I think everyone kind of does their own thing. They don't have  some central authority sort of mandating what they're supposed to do. 

But I think changing the culture is going to really help and encouraging people to build  community, to seek out community. And a community could just be one or two other people. It  doesn't have to be 10 or 100 other people. It just means you have someone to lean on. You have  someone who can offer you what I called earlier, the ministry of presence. And that doesn't  always have to be a chaplain. That could be somebody else. It could be a colleague. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely, absolutely. Fortunately, there are many more women today among our first  responder professions. I think that's changing the culture as well. 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. 


Fleet Maull: 

And also, I think people are waking up to that there is that kind of shadow side of the masculine  you referenced that as toxic masculinity. Like, going alone, tough it up, and talk it out. And even  in some law enforcement, that expression 'suck it up buttercup' and things like that is obviously  unhealthy, and we internalize all that pressure and trauma, and it leads to all these very serious  health consequences. 


So, hopefully, that is changing. And we're beginning to remove the stigma around mental health  and what we need to do to be mentally fit and resilient. So, hopefully, that's shifting. 

And certainly, our first responder culture is not just a male issue anymore because there are so many women involved. But I think also having models of healthy masculinity can be really  helpful for those men who are involved in law enforcement.  


You mentioned that idea of the descent before the ascent and that Hero's Journey, Joseph  Campbell's work, and Robert Bly's book, Iron John, which is very much about healthy masculinity  and draws from all the world's mythologies and fables and folklore and takes this narrative  journey through that process of transformation. 


So, I think there's a lot of good resources out there, I think, for us men to discover a  healthier form of masculinity. I think women bring a healthier context, to begin with. But I don't  want to get too much into the gender thing here, but it's interesting in terms of first responder  cultures, and of course, women have had to bump up against the male culture and so forth. 


But it does seem to be all be changing. And you mentioned generational with each new  generation that comes on. There are really different mindsets coming into the first responder  communities, I think. 


Niles Goldstein: 

No, I agree. I mentioned Rich Goerling earlier, the interim police chief, who was a woman here in  Napa, she was the one who brought him in, and she was the one who had experience with  mindfulness. And the new chief is a woman as well. And I think she's very open to these ideas.  


I don't want to overplay the gender thing either, but I think women do bring a different  kind of sensibility. I think cultures, not only law enforcement but in my world in religion, are  making some important changes to our culture. 


As a rabbi, and I know I speak for a lot of other clerics, clergy people who work with  congregations, I'm confronted every day with pain, suffering, and death. And historically, we also  were trained to just kind of suck it up. We need to be compassionate. We need to be empathetic. But then, when we're home alone, it all comes down, and we take it out on our spouses or on our bodies, just like a first responder would.


And I think, at least in my world, when there are more and more women who are  becoming rabbis, the culture of my work is changing, and congregations are much more  understanding of the fact that rabbis are people too. We need to take care of ourselves, whether  it's going to martial arts, or going to the gym, or going to see a show, or out to dinner. We need  to take care of ourselves, or we're not going to be able to take care of them. 


And that goes for maybe needing to take some time off if we just had to do with a very  difficult experience like the suicide of a teenager. You don't bounce back from that the next  morning after officiating at that kind of a funeral. 


So, I think the culture generally speaking is changing in America as a whole. I think one  of the problems, as we are all too aware, having seen the last couple of elections, this country  is so polarized. I don't know how it's all going to play out, and I don't know how the culture wars  may affect one way or another what I hope will be an improvement on some of the problems in  this culture and in the various forms of work that we have that have led to unhealthy outcomes for people. 


Fleet Maull: 

You didn't use that terminology, but you're really speaking about the need for self-care for  chaplains and rabbis, everyone, all of us. And if we're not proactive, sooner or later, we pay the  price. 


And unfortunately, in the past, I think that not just among first responder communities,  but even in society, self-care has been considered soft or maybe even selfish. That's why some  people using the term self-stewardship because it's that idea, and you see it in the  advertisements for the airlines. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping even the child next  to you." Because if you're not okay, you can't help somebody else. 


So, I think that. And first responders are serving all the time. That's their vocation or  profession. So, if they're not taking care of themselves, and their own tank is running on an  empty, they're not really going to be able to serve the way that they were inspired to become  first responders in the first place. 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah, no, that idea of self-care is so critical. It's funny over the years when I've done speaking  engagements. I very often use that exact same example of the flight attendant telling you to put  the mask on.


First, there's a great teaching in the rabbinic tradition. It's almost 2000 years old. You  may have heard of it. It says, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me." We have to take care  of ourselves first. But then, of course, the teaching goes on and says, "If I am only for myself,  what am I?" 


So, we need to skirt that line between self-care, which is vitally important, and not  becoming a narcissist, which is not particularly good. We need to take care of ourselves, but we  need to move from that to taking care of others.

 

Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. Moving on to a lot of culture change. You've been talking about the need for culture  change within first responder communities, law enforcement culture. And everything we've been  going to around policing and relationship with the community, and the tragic deaths at the hands  of police, and especially of black Americans and everything we've been going through with the  protests over the last year, and this whole reckoning with race where we're going to in the  country, and how it is centered around policing. 

And so, the final day of our Summit is leading healthy change in public safety. And this  isn't about being political, but I think everyone in the public safety world knows we need a  healthy change in one form or another. They may have different priorities, but they all know that  things aren't necessarily working. In fact, it's getting really hard to keep the ranks full. And  there's a tremendous amount of mandatory overtime, which even exacerbates all the high stress  and trauma exposure. 


So, I think everybody needs to realize that some kind of change is needed. I'm curious  from your perspective, as both a law enforcement chaplain but also as a spiritual leader, if you  had the opportunity to address a big conference full of public safety leaders, both at the  policymaking level and the operational leadership level, what might your message be? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Well, I would just try to encapsulate essentially what we've been talking about today - changing  culture, recognizing and acknowledging that certain systems are not working. Certain cultures  are not working, and being open-minded about how we move forward, being more forward thinking about new models for policing, for community building.


And instead of circling the wagons and being reactionary and defensive, being much  more proactive about building that. And this might be a good note to end on, building that sense  of interconnectedness that you started our discussion with. We are all interconnected—all of us. Men, women, black, white, Jewish, Christian, cop, civilian, we're all interconnected. And we have  multiple systems right now that is not working. 

The political system is maybe the most obvious one that's not working. But we have a  lot of systems right now in our country that is not working. So, if we don't acknowledge the  dysfunction, we're not going to be able to move past it. And look, Monday night is the very  beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, where we enter into a 10-day period of  repentance called the Days of Awe. And it culminates on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. 


The whole message of the Days of Awe is that we have to start with an acknowledgment  of our mistakes. We have to acknowledge where we have fallen short in the year that's just  passed. So, if we as a country, if we as a culture, if we as an agency don't acknowledge the  problems within our system, within our work, we're never going to move forward. We're never  going to progress and advance and do our jobs more effectively. 

So, I think acknowledgment is key. And then just being open-minded and learning in  ways that may not always feel comfortable. I think what you're doing is a great example of that.  I don't know if 20, 30 years ago, something like this would've even existed. So, I commend you  for putting this together. That's probably what I would say if I had that kind of an opportunity. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, thank you very much, Rabbi Niles Goldstein. Where can people find out more about your work? 


Niles Goldstein: 

Yeah. So, if you want to read either of the books I mentioned, all my books and articles are listed  there, or you can send me an email if I can be of any help. It's just my name, NilesGoldstein.com.  And everything you want to find will be right there. 


Fleet Maull: 

I just really appreciate the work you're doing as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain and your  spiritual leadership and appeal, and I just really appreciate you being part of this Summit.


Niles Goldstein: 

Thank you, Fleet.

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