By Beth Sarafraz
BROOKLYN, New York — Meet Albert Mammon. You may already be familiar with his name because some of his good deeds were reported on TV, in newspapers, and on social media – where the stories went viral and comments under them numbered in the stratosphere. The fact that Mammon is unique — a yeshiva educated Bukharian Jewish cop currently serving as NYPD’s 60th Precinct Auxiliary Coordinator — may account for much of this interest. The fact that he’s a good cop (a 15-year upstanding veteran of the Department) and a good Jew (a mensch) most certainly accounts for the rest. But the mitzvot are in the details…
“Whoever saves one life saves the entire world” (Sanhedrin 4:1).
The Talmud explains that in the beginning, Adam was created alone – in essence, rendering this first, solitary human being the sum total of the entire world population. It teaches us to look at every individual likewise, as if that person represents the whole world’s population — therefore, saving one person saves an entire world.
On Sunday, February 22, 2015, while on vacation in Bal Harbour, Florida, Albert Mammon saved 17-year-old Christopher Tran from drowning in the ocean.
He describes it: “I heard some screams coming from the direction of the water. I looked at my friend and said to him, ‘Do you hear that?’ He answered, ‘Yeah, it’s kids playing.’ My intuition told me it was more than kids playing. Then I heard it again. I said, ‘This isn’t kids playing. This is a different sound. I’ve got to look into this.’ As I was looking, I heard the scream again, coming from the water. I saw somebody going down. He screamed again. I looked around to see if a lifeguard was coming. Then I realized there was no lifeguard on that beach.”
Mammon took immediate action, running to the water. Nobody else on the beach was rushing to the ocean, at that point.
“While I was running, somebody yelled ‘Shark!’”
Mammon kept running despite the warning of increased danger. This is what cops do.
But then, while running, Mammon prayed. This is what yeshiva boys do.
“I said ‘God, if there’s a shark there, just have it go away or something. Make a miracle.’ Because I thought to myself, ‘I can’t stop now. I’m in full motion going in. God forbid someone’s drowning, I have no time to turn around.’ Then, when I hit the water, I just remember saying to myself, ‘I hope if it is, the shark did what it had to do and went on its way.’”
Luckily, no killer fish were circling. Even luckier, other men on the beach took note of the screaming victim thrashing around and Mammon, the first and only responder.
“As I was getting close to the person drowning, somebody came from another direction and actually got to the victim first. Then another person came and I got behind them. I was exhausted at this point because I had gone straight in and the tide was hitting me. Then a guy came with a surfboard – which actually became the life-saving force for everybody, not only for the kid, but for all of us. We were all struggling out there, in the middle of the ocean. I was yelling ‘Get the kid on the surfboard!’ The kid was coughing up water. I was hitting him on his back: ‘Are you all right?’”
They were approximately 50 feet from the shore with everybody kicking in different directions and getting nowhere. Mammon had to take charge.
“Long story, short, I coordinated the whole thing. I took charge of pushing the surfboard with every wave that came in. I kept pushing the board till we got to the shoreline.”
Christopher Tran’s sister was there on the beach watching the whole thing – and frantic. Finally, the rescuers brought her brother onto the sand. “The kid was okay, thank God. No CPR, he went to the hospital for observation. I guess he drank a lot of water.”
Cops and yeshiva boys don’t normally do water rescues; nevertheless, Mammon was confident and determined. Where did he learn how to swim? Did they teach water rescue in the NYPD Police Academy?
“They do have basic swimming, but I think I was not there on that day,” Mammon says, laughing.
The Talmud, in Kiddushin 29a, says a father has certain obligations towards his son, among them, “to teach him to swim in water.”
Mammon smiles and says that his mother taught him to swim. His father was busy working.
Before leaving Florida, Bal Harbour Police Chief Mark Overton expressed his department’s gratitude to Mammon, promising to send a letter to NYPD stating, “We thank God that he was at the right place at the right time.” Back in Brooklyn, Albert Mammon was awarded a proclamation from State Assemblyman Bill Colton and a City Council proclamation from Councilman Mark Treyger – both honoring him for heroism.
Mammon The Matchmaker?
This charmingly reported story about Officer Mammon introducing two single people who later decided to get married went viral on mainstream and Jewish media, garnering hundreds of comments, portraying Mammon as a reincarnation of Yente the Matchmaker.
Two examples: “The solution for the shidduch crisis is in the hands of the NYPD” and “Hashem has many messengers indeed.” There were also comments asking Mammon to find marriage partners for others.
The story, as originally reported, was true, but then spun out into a fairytale, propelled by assumptions that weren’t, after all, based on facts.
Facts: It was a dark, quiet night in Coney Island on May 23, 2012. At 11:30 p.m., Officer Mammon was on duty, patrolling the Coney Island Boardwalk. He saw three young Jewish women, about 17–18 years old, in long skirts, sitting on a bench and talking, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.
Concerned for their safety on a practically deserted stretch of boardwalk, Mammon recalls, “I came up to them and said ‘You guys have got to be careful, look around, make sure you don’t put your head down.’”
He then continued his patrol. “As I drove up the boardwalk, I saw three Jewish boys, wearing yarmulkes. I started talking to them. I asked, ‘Are you married?’ They said no, they were in their 20s. I said, ‘Why are you guys here by yourselves? There are three girls over there by themselves. You should sit over there. It would be good security for them. There’s nobody on this boardwalk. At least they’ll be safe with you. Tell them Officer Mammon said that. What’s the worst that could happen – a shidduch?’ Sure enough, they went over there to the girls. I found out, months later, that two of them were getting married to each other. I didn’t expect all that to happen! From what I was told, somebody got a hold of the story and told it to a newspaper.”
Did they invite Mammon to the wedding? “Yes, they did.”
Did he go? “Yes, I did.”
Did he dance at the wedding? “Yes, I danced at the wedding.”
But the mitzvah here had nothing to do with arranging a shidduch. It had everything to do with trying to insure the safety of young adults unaware of the potential danger surrounding them – a mitzvah right out of the NYPD Patrol Guide.
The bottom line on his matchmaking abilities, expressed with a smile, by the young, as yet unmarried 36-year-old officer: “I’m trying to match myself. I haven’t matched myself up, yet!”
Reached by phone, Rabbi Yochanan Ivry of Congregation Toras Emes of Staten Island, says, “I met Albert six, maybe seven years ago. He’s an active member of our shul, well versed in Jewish law, with a beautiful voice — and he’s there for us day and night.”
According to Rabbi Ivry, a couple of years ago, Mammon was approached by a friend whose Jewish relative was scheduled to be buried in a non-Jewish cemetery. The friend asked Mammon to go to the hospital and explain to the family why this would be a great mistake. Although he didn’t know the family or the deceased, Mammon went. He spoke respectfully, but so knowledgeably that a traditional burial in a Jewish cemetery was arranged — a great mitzvah, according to Rabbi Ivry. Another mitzvah Mammon performed involved going to a shiva house in Manhattan Beach and bringing along enough Jewish auxiliary officers to complete a minyan, so that Kaddish could be said.
“Albert’s Jewish name is Avraham,” says the rabbi. “Avraham was the first patriarch, the first one who called out God’s name and was not ashamed to speak his truth — even in a world where, at that time, people were worshiping idols. The name suits Albert Mammon.”
Philip Snyder, 30, a member of the Young Leadership Board of RAJE – the Russian American Jewish Experience in Brooklyn, says “Albert stops by often with his auxiliary crew, to say hello. He speaks with the participants one on one to give advice and lend a helping hand. He steers them in the right direction, taking on the role of police officer, mentor, family member, and friend. Albert is one of the few authority figures people can confide in and trust, knowing they won’t be judged. He comes to a Shabbos meal once in a while and usually gives a pro-Israel, pro-police speech. He also made sure we had kosher food at the precinct on ‘National Night Out’.”
Mr. Figaro, the Singing Barber
Albert’s father, Jacob Mammon, was the legendary “Mr. Figaro, the Singing Barber” who sang with Elvis, cut Rabbi Meir Kahane’s hair, fought alongside Menachem Begin, claimed Maimonides as an ancestor, owned and operated a combination barbershop-opera house at 1919 Avenue Z in Brooklyn.
Twenty-something years ago, this reporter visited that shop with her son, then a little boy. Before the haircut, the barber sat down at a baby grand piano and belted out “O Sole Mio” with such power that the mirrors nearly cracked and fell off the wall. Jacob’s wife (Albert’s mother, since deceased) interrupted the performance with a smile: “Enough opera, cut his hair already.”
After a stroke in 2011, Jacob stopped cutting hair and moved into a Brooklyn nursing home to recover.
This past October, Jacob, 88, comatose, was rushed to Coney Island Hospital and placed on life support. Albert, then on vacation in Israel, took an emergency flight back to New York to spend the last part of Tishrei’s chagim — and all the days that followed — at Jacob’s bedside. A steady stream of visitors found him standing there talking softly to his father and saying Tehillim.
Jacob’s lifelong love of music was such that when Albert held an I-Phone to his ear and played “Hatikvah,” a monitor displayed his vital signs as markedly improved. When the music stopped, they reverted back to what they were before. On Friday night, Shabbat, October 16, with machines beeping and Albert standing by, Jacob Mammon passed away.
That Sunday, at Brooklyn’s Shomrei Hadas, a grieving son conducted the funeral service, recounting and celebrating, in story after “just one more” story, his papa’s remarkable life, even showing film clips of “Mr. Figaro” singing and talking to reporters. Mourners of every race, religion, rank and political affiliation, including many NYPD officers in dress uniform – watched, transfixed — and understood.
Here was Albert Mammon introducing us to his last surviving parent in a way that was so personal, raw and real that we, too, fell in love with the father we had come to bid farewell. This young man’s meticulous performance of yet another mitzvah in a time of anguish and loss, with chesed shel emet (true kindness that can never be repaid), hit home hard, broke every heart, shook every soul – as he fulfilled the Fifth Commandment: Honor Thy Father…
By: Beth Sarafraz
Retrieved from ww.sdjewishworld.com
Originally published in Olam Yehudi, The Jewish Press Magazine, 12/11/2015.