Local rabbi also serves as sheriff’s chaplain

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of the Chabad of Poway is administering to the spiritual needs of Poway Sheriff’s Department deputies.

When Poway sheriff’s deputies reach for a snack these days, they’re often presented with a choice: Donuts or potato latkes?

More than just a nod to the modern, multicultural workplace, it’s a calling card of sorts for Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who became the Sheriff Department’s Jewish chaplain in October.

As chaplain, he looks after the spiritual needs of Jewish deputies, and works to educate non-Jews on the force about his faith.

It’s familiar work for Goldstein, who for the past 20 years has delivered sermons to Rancho Bernardo and Poway’s Orthodox Jews. His synagogue, Chabad of Poway, was founded after he immigrated from Brooklyn, N.Y., at the age of 24.

Warm, talkative, and bearing an easy-going laugh, Chabad’s numerous outreach services reflect Goldstein’s philosophy of active community involvement. He’s a diligent shepherd, recently traveling to Israel to perform a former congregation member’s bar mitzvah.

“I’m on a mission,” Goldstein said. “This rabbi is not a business, not a career. It’s a mission. I’m a guy from Brooklyn sent out to do good in this part of the world, and try to bring people as much as possible back to the fold. And it’s going very well.”

That mission now includes spending several hours each week visiting with sheriff’s deputies. Whether going from cubicle to cubicle or shadowing them on ride-alongs — “Deputies on the beat, their car is their office,” he said — Goldstein is available for department members to discuss moments of stress or difficulty.

He explained that witnessing tragedies on the job, including shootings or child deaths, can be traumatic. Often, deputies require counseling to help them through the healing process, and Goldstein makes himself available, regardless of the deputies’ creed.

According to Capt. Charlie Campe, chaplains aren’t needed every day, but their presence, and the knowledge that they’ll be around when a crisis arises, makes the job a little easier.

“We never know what we’ll get into from day to day,” Campe said. “There are situations where people are very emotional, or deputies look back and say, ‘That could have been disastrous.’”

Goldstein’s natural affability was helpful even before he became chaplain. Campe said one of his first experiences with the rabbi involved a distressed elderly gentleman about to lose his license. He happened to be of the Jewish faith, so Campe asked Goldstein to sit down and speak with him. He managed to open a dialogue with the man about a subject that was obviously upsetting.

But Goldstein is also present for happier occasions. Births, marriages, or even just general cheering up are unwritten laws written into his job description. On Christmas night, he spent several hours chatting with a lone deputy who had the unenviable task of watching over the station.

Acting as a liaison between the department’s Christian majority and the Jewish community is another one of Goldstein’s important functions.

“Lots of deputies are ignorant of the Jewish religion,” he said. “They’ve never encountered it or know much about it. So by me being there and spending time with the station, they get a whole new perspective, and a whole new respect for it.”

That respect runs both ways now that Goldstein has attended several line-ups — the early-morning briefings that sum up a deputy’s plans for each day. The briefings opened his eyes to the department’s drive to protect Poway’s citizens and families.

“You get to realize and appreciate what (they) do for our city and throughout San Diego,” he said.