As he leads the police response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is the county’s first Jewish sheriff. A 2016 campaign flier reported on that year by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel centers on the role that faith in general, and Judaism in particular, plays in his life.
“My Jewish faith is a central part of my entire life,” the flier quotes Israel as saying.
“My late father Sonny Israel fought in the Korean War and became a police officer because he believed in the call from the Talmud that ‘Whoever saves one life saves an entire world.’ Those words guided my brother and I, as we also became police officers.”
At the same time, Israel said he is as comfortable in churches as in synagogues.
Israel is the sheriff in charge of the area that includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 faculty members and students were killed by a 19-year-old, Nikolas Cruz, Feb. 14.
Israel’s children, triplets, had attended the school. In a video recorded by a local NBC affiliate, he called the mass shooting a “horrific, homicidal, detestable act.”
“This is a terrible day for Parkland, Broward County, the state of Florida and the US,” he told reporters on Feb. 14. “My very own triplets went to that school and graduated, in Stoneman Douglas. They played football and lacrosse at that school. It’s just catastrophic. There really are no words.”
Israel graduated from what is now the State University of New York at Cortland in 1977 with a degree in political science, and subsequently took a variety of courses on law enforcement, including at the FBI National Academy.
He joined the Fort Lauderdale Police Dept. in 1979 and served on the narcotics unit and the SWAT team.
A Democrat, he was elected sheriff in 2012 and re-elected four years later. The county is home to a large Jewish population. In the 2016 campaign flier, he mentioned fighting gun violence as one of his top issues.
In speeches, Israel is known to quote the Bible. A 2013 Sun-Sentinel article about him quoted a speech in which he referenced Ecclesiastes and “Eishet Chayil,” the Jewish poem about a valorous woman excerpted from Proverbs and traditionally sung on Friday night.
“As Broward’s first Jewish sheriff, I carry a heavy burden knowing I am making history,” the campaign flier said.
“That is why I always strive to do what is right, what is best, what will help people. This is why this message is important — regardless of your personal faith — because I want my children and grandchildren to always be able to look back with pride someday at my legacy as they continue to pass down our faith and legacy of public service.”
Israel told the Sun-Sentinel that he attends the Parkland Chabad. His wife, Susan, is Christian, and they raised their children in both religions.
“I am Jewish,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “Susan is Christian. Like most families with parents of different faiths, we raised our children with extensive exposure to both our faiths. The triplets were all Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Now that the triplets are adults, they each have the free choice to decide their own faith.”