Displaying a knack for heroics from an early age, in 1895, Raphael and his father saved over 12 people from a burning tenement on Allen Street.
As the result of these heroics, he soon came to the attention of Theodore Roosevelt who was then the New York City Police Commissioner-in effect police chief. Roosevelt who described Raphael as "a powerful fellow, with good-humored, intelligent face" suggested that Raphael take the police exam, which he did, and passed. In fact, among 380 applicants he obtained the highest score on the physical exam and came in tenth in the mental portion.
With his new position as a police officer, Raphael could now afford to pay for education for his younger brothers and sisters and to bring over family members left behind in Russia.
Raphael blazed his way through the police department ranks. In 1905, ten years after his initial appointment, he achieved the rank of sergeant; in 1910, he became a detective; and finally in 1917, he rose to the rank of detective lieutenant.
Engaging in one heroic act after another, Raphael became a legendary police officer. A sampling of these events included, arresting a murderer who had killed 14 people; saving a crowd of children from a runaway horse, where he sustained major injuries; getting shot while taking a prisoner; and, in 1914, breaking into a Mott Street apartment, to save a young girl who was being held as a "white slave" within a secret room in a wall, and beating her captor senseless.
Roosevelt and Raphael became lifelong friends. Raphael taught Roosevelt boxing, and they became sparring partners. During his career Raphael engaged in many exhibition matches, including one where he fought John L. Sullivan, who was credited as being the first heavyweight champion in the world.
Raphael retired in 1921 and died in 1937.