The tragedy of the loss of such innocence looms over this Shabbat. Last week the Berry family of Houston was in a tragic car accident where both parents died and two of the kids were left paralyzed, coming to Chicago for treatment. Then we started this week with a “catastrophe, not a tragedy” with the fire at Kehillath Jeshurun on the East Side of New York, which destroyed only a shul, no humans or Torahs. But we ended the week with a devastating tragedy, the murder of precious eight year old, Chasidishe boy in Borough Park. I have to admit that I have had a hard time knowing how to react beyond just being sad, depressed and frustrated. My iPhone is going wild from people on Facebook who cannot console themselves – but are trying – and speaking to rabbis, especially from New York, it feels that this is just a black, horrific moment. But nothing is worse than just staring at black space, without being able to see a path from it, or through it.
One of my mentors helped me by reading a message in the tragedy: We are more vulnerable than we thought. In the Jewish and Orthodox community we see Borough Park as a safe enclave, working hard to protect itself from any of the evils of the outside world. That is the view the world has as well of this heavily Orthodox part of Brooklyn, New York. But we also used to think that spousal abuse and child abuse didn’t occur in the Orthodox, frum community – or, even amongst Jews at all. We now know better that everything in the general community makes its ugly appearance in the Orthodox community as well. Sad, unfortunate, but true. And now we know, tragically, that murderous, insane, monsters are there as well: they go to the dentist, they go to weddings, they live amongst normal people. No one is safe, and the same rules that we teach children about not following strange looking people and not doing strange acts with strange people have to apply to not following even safe looking people. Frum children need to know they should not do anything they are uncomfortable with even with frum looking people, even with relatives or teachers. If we thought we knew this, and this tragedy brings it all out again in the saddest, clearest way.
It would be comfortable to feel there are no murderers, crazies, molesters, abusers amongst us, to be lulled by the blessings of Bilam, where he sees the Children of Israel as sinless, blameless, completely loyal to God and perfect in their ethical way of life. But we know better. We know that the blessings of Bilam are an ideal, and the perfect, safe frum community, insulated from any negative elements is a fantasy as well. We have to be realists.
Yet, I hope, I pray, we do not lose our innocence. The innocence of an eight year old boy wanting to be a big boy and walk home alone from camp… Experts can argue over what is the earliest age to allow a kid to walk home from camp, but everyone who has been a kid, can feel for these parents who relented and finally let Leiby, a”h, walk home on his own. Oy! May Hashem allow this family, and all of our families, to hold on to that innocence and love, which makes us do things that sometimes we regret, but come from the most beautiful, loving, caring place.
So I ask for Hashem to give our community the hard-headed realism to be more responsible to ferret out abusers and molesters– or attempted molesters - who may have slipped through our system, maybe because they were not reported directly to the police, or because the local Batei Dinim have been too lenient and protective of “respected” members of the community accused of such crimes. However, at the same time , may God give us the strength to retain some of that innocence, some of the trust we need to reach out even to the stranger. Can we ever regain that trust or innocence? With God’s help we can, and we the help of our community child-safety experts we can do so in a way that allows us to keep our children as safe and secure as humanly possible.
This is a world where the most innocent and precious people are vulnerable to the most vicious, evil and perverted minds. Let us ask Hashem to allow us to fight that evil, while allowing us to retain our innocence and our belief and trust in the world God has given us. Not easy, almost impossible, but that is at the core of our “emuna”, our belief in an infinite and caring God.
May God bind the innocent, blessed soul of Leiby Kletzky in the bonds of everlasting life, and may the memory of his sweet life be a blessing to our entire world, which today is full of so much sadness and grief.