Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hard subjects

 The Jewish blogosphere has been dealing in a variety of ways with the news of the murder of 8-year-old Leibby Kletsky, who was killed in Boro Park after asking a man from the neighborhood for directions.

This article by Shmuley Boteach has been reprinted in a variety of sources, from the Jerusalem Post to The Algemeiner. And it is bothering me.

I don't want to be critical, even of Shmuley Boteach, at a time like this, but between utter disavowals of the alleged killer's humanity (which, frankly, I'm OK with), he seems to be saying that Hasidim choose to live in Hasidic neighborhoods in part to keep their children safe from the corruption of the world, and it is beyond him how this could have happened, in a neighborhood meant to protect children.

I don't know either, but I do know that no one raises their child in a neighborhood that they pick to expose their children to corruption. No one decides to move to a neighborhood they think might contain an average number of insane criminals. Everyone, to the best of their ability, tries to keep their children safe. And I know that I've read many accounts of similar crimes where people expressed shock that a child would be harmed or murdered in a community where people knew one another, and looked out for each other's kids.

He writes: I said the third reason why religious Jews live together is to protect their children from corrosive influences, to filter out elements of the popular culture and the media which are unhealthy for a child’s development. My God, given that’s the case, how do we make sense of a child being killed in a neighborhood set up to protect children? 

There's an odd sense for me that he simply can't make the necessary distinction here. "Corrosive influences" have nothing to do with psychotic murder. Neither do popular culture, or unhealthy media. Somehow he can't seem to understand that we're dealing with two entirely different things here. On the one hand, aspects of society that one can choose to allow or exclude in your child's life; on the other, pure evil that strikes like lightning.

I know it's different when it happens to people you identify with it. Hell, this one is different for me. Something like this happening in Boro Park is horrifying. My heart bleeds, and I cannot imagine how this must hurt not only family and friends, but the whole community. It hurts me. But something in this column, disjointed as it is, bugs me. A lot. It feels different when a child from a familiar, frum, community is murdered. I understand that. I'm not sure that Rabbi Boteach understands that it is not different, not if you're a grieving community of any religion, urban, suburban or rural, anywhere. Psychopaths come from all walks of life.

One question Boteach raises, I think there may be an answer to--he's baffled that rather than being abducted, the child seems to have walked up to the killer, who took advantage of the spur-of-the-moment opportunity. Failed Messiah says that the Shomrim had some information that the accused was stalking another boy in the community. I suspect that he'd been building himself up to something like this, and either frustrated by failure or overwhelmed by a sudden opening, he took the chance.

I suspect I'm so annoyed with Shmuley because I'm so stunned and saddened by this horror, and Shmuley pushes my buttons almost without fail. May this child's family, and all who mourn for him be comforted. I'm going to shut up now.

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