Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Murder Most Foul

I’m still having difficulty digesting it, let alone writing about it coherently. Who would murder a sweet little boy, then butcher his body like a side of beef, place the feet in a freezer and the other pieces in a suitcase and dump the suitcase in a Dumpster two miles away? Who? Why? Yet that is what happened to little Leiby Kletzky (Yehuda ben Itta Esther hy”d), a few days shy of his ninth birthday, last week. In the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood composed almost exclusively of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The child set out late in the afternoon of Monday July 11 from his day camp, walking alone for the first time, a few short blocks to meet his mother. Apparently he got lost and asked a stranger for directions. The stranger took him in his car to his (the stranger’s) home, where he was apparently suffocated with a bath towel, chopped up and dumped. A frantic search began within hours of the boy’s disappearance. Thousands from as far away as the Catskills and Lakewood, New Jersey participated, scouring Boro Park and beyond. Many went some 36 hours without sleep. Then the news broke Wednesday morning. Little Leiby was found dead, in pieces. The alleged killer, was in police custody. A lucky break and a lot of old fashioned police work led investigators to the scene of the crime, the Dumpster and the killer, before the remains would have ended up in a landfill somewhere, perhaps never to be found.

Was this the work of a politically motivated Arab or Muslim? The boy’s dress marked him as a member of a Hasidic sect not known for their ardent Zionism, but since when does that matter to an Arab? The boy was Jewish and that’s good enough. But no. It soon became apparent that the suspect was an Orthodox Jew named Levy Aron. The perp walk photo has him wearing a kippa. He worked as a clerk in a nearby hardware store, where co-workers described him as “a little slow” but a good worker. His only prior criminal record was a summons for public urination, though that might change as investigators comb through his past.

These things are not supposed to happen in Boro Park. Children do get lost, of course, but they were always found in short order and returned to their parents. People look out for one another there, the old fashioned way. Orthodox Jews don’t do such things to other Jews or anybody else. There were some attempted abductions, but screaming neighbors always scared the miscreants away. Leiby’s yeshiva teachers described him as obedient to a fault, the kind of kid that would go into somebody’s car if told to, especially if that somebody appeared to be one of us. The kind of kid that probably never struck a blow in anger in his whole short life. Yet marks on the alleged (I hate to use that word in this context but I don’t want to be sued) killer’s arms indicate that the boy struggled. I can only imagine what was going through his head in his final seconds on earth as he was compelled to lift his little hands against another Jew. May he be comforted in heaven by Rav Kook and his son.

As soon as the news broke, heartless ghouls started blaming the boy’s parents for allowing him to walk by himself at such a tender age. But there has to be a first time, and parents are in the best position to judge the maturity of their children and decide when they are ready. It is never easy. When I put my son on his first subway ride alone, to his high school, I was nervously reciting psalms until I called the school and verified that he got there safe. But being a parent is not supposed to be easy (thank God I had little from my children in the way of tza’ar gidul banim) and I knew it was in his best interest to take that step to independence. The object is to raise strong and confident young men – soldiers, not sissies. And who would think this could happen in a place like Boro Park? It was reported that even seasoned investigators, men who thought they had seen everything, threw up when they came upon that grisly scene. What comes to mind is the American GIs liberating Nazi concentration camps. They were no strangers to death, but nothing could have prepared them for what they saw.

As might be expected, people are asking where was God. God did not make automatons, but humans who are supposed to know right from wrong and act accordingly. This horrific murder, like the Holocaust, was a human failing, not a Divine one. We should be asking, “Where were we?” Would a smile and a “hello” or “good morning” to a neighbor who appeared to be troubled have made a difference? We can never know, but it costs nothing and certainly wouldn’t harm. And a misguided ethos of shielding our young from the filth and evil of the outside world – no TV, no radio, no secular newspapers - appears to have backfired. It is possible for a boy to be too sweet, too obedient, too trusting, too angelic for his own good. If this horror serves as a wake-up call to parents to teach children what can be lurking out there and how to protect themselves, little Leiby will not have died in vain.

Now the story is fading from the news, but the authorities continue to investigate. The process can be slow and, to us, frustrating. But the authorities need to build an airtight case; we cannot afford another Casey Anthony. The suspect’s lawyers are likely to mount an insanity defense, though the suspect’s confession will make that difficult. The lawyers are also likely to ask for a change of venue. With everybody screaming for Levy Aron’s head, it is unlikely that we can find twelve people in Brooklyn who can give him a fair shake. I know I can’t, and were I Levy Aron’s lawyer I would want him tried a good distance away, maybe Albany.

We now begin the three weeks of semi-mourning, culminating in Tisha B’Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem. We are told in the Talmud that the reason the Second Temple was destroyed was sinat hinam, gratuitous hatred among Jews. Rav Kook taught us that the tikkun (remedy) is ahavat hinam, gratuitous love. We have seen a beautiful (at least it would have been beautiful in a better context) display of ahavat hinam in the search for Leiby. Thousands of Jews from all walks of life cast aside their differences and, at considerable personal sacrifice, scoured the neighborhood. If we can hold on to this spirit we will be closer to the ge’ula sheleima, the ultimate redemption.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Murder Most Foul" ... indeed...

Wed Sep 07, 04:52:00 AM EDT  

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