In my last column I wrote about Leiby Kletzky and what I experienced when I made a shiva call to his family. My plan was to continue writing about this tragedy and focus on what we must learn from it and do. In the interim, I received a letter from a non-Jewish reader and felt I should share it.
Tragically, the world is once again turning against us, but we know that nothing happens randomly – that G-d is always watching us. If our world is becoming darker with every passing moment, it is pointless for us to curse the darkness, for we Jews know we have to search our souls to “find the light” that will illuminate the world with the light of G-d, for that is the only way we, who sealed a covenant with G-d at Sinai and heard the command “You shall be a light unto the nations,” can banish the darkness that becomes more menacing with every passing moment.
Next week, b’ezras Hashem, I hope to spell out what, exactly, that demands of us as individuals and as a nation. Meanwhile, the following is a somewhat shortened version of the letter alluded to above.
Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,
Your latest column was very moving, and I look forward to the continuation. The gruesome murder of this child is, like murder in general, nearly beyond belief. Nearly, in that we have seen such horrors before. Rebbetzin, please know I hold you in deepest respect and admiration, but feel I must offer an opinion. I mean no disrespect or insult, so please bear with me.
With no disrespect, I don’t believe Jews are better than other people (I mean this as to people as a whole, not individuals). However, I was always taught that the Jewish people were chosen by G-d to live the Torah life and to bring the rest of the world to Torah. As you would say, this is an awesome responsibility.
We see throughout the pages of Torah and in life itself that there are always those who transgress, some in horrible ways. We are appalled to see people, many wearing religious garb (priests, ministers, rabbis, cantors) performing terrible deeds. The Catholic Church has, for me, lost all credibility in its sinful handling of years of systematized pedophilia and sexual deviance. Jews have succeeded in bringing Torah and G-d to the world. There will always be individual exceptions, but you and your people have completed a great mission.
On the morning I learned of little Leiby’s death, I was, of course, greatly saddened. I was even more saddened to hear that one of his own people, in a neighborhood in which Leiby knew no fear, had murdered him. The thing that made me cry, however, was the revelation that Leiby had been petitioning his parents for some time to be able to walk home from camp, and this was the first day he was to do so.
He pleaded and cajoled, and when they consented, they embarked on relentless instruction and dry runs. Of course parents are nervous and anxious – this is a big step – and their little boy was exhibiting the first signs of autonomy, of steps away from the parents and of younger childhood. He was doing what normal kids do.
What could really go wrong? He would be walking a few blocks in a neighborhood where he’d lived his whole life and from which he’d rarely ventured. With normal parental trepidation, they sent him out that morning, with the expectation they would meet him that afternoon at the end of their well-planned route.
My first thoughts on learning of his disappearance were that he, like many an 8-year-old child, boys in particular and no matter how well instructed, had become intrigued with something (or someone) that took him out of his way. I don’t know the parameters of his neighborhood, but I was fully expecting to hear he had experienced some sort of accident. To learn he had been murdered so horribly was a shock.
We will never know what happened, as the circumstances of his death don’t seem to add up and the defendant is unreliable. This little boy had no reason to fear this person who, though personally unknown to him, was obviously a member of his community.
Certainly the sketchy existence of the defendant warrants a closer look. What were we (I include those outside of his community and non-Jews, in that the murderer traveled a great deal and had much contact outside the community) all missing?
What does it take for us to pay attention to one another? What has to happen for us to wake up and realize we are responsible one for the other?
I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism many years ago. (I cannot relay the reasons for this as it’s a long story, and I’m fuzzy as to my own reasoning or lack thereof.) Anyway, I’m no longer affiliated, for many reasons, but that’s not important. One morning, the priest at my local church gave a sermon that spoke of people crying out to G-d to end their afflictions, to heal the world and to end war and suffering. I went up to him after the Mass and we spoke. I said, Father, ending suffering and war is not G-d’s job. It’s ours. He agreed, acknowledging the Torah.
I had learned that message from you, Rebbetzin.
I never knew little Leiby, yet I cannot believe he’s gone. I grieve for his family and am so glad they kept away from the press. I was also glad to read that you visited them, as I knew you would.
This is not the last horrible thing that will happen to a child, or to anybody. Sometimes it’s difficult to get up and go on when you know of all the terrible things that happen in the world, or that may happen to your loved ones or yourself. We cannot, however, do otherwise than to get up and go about our lives.
It’s just a shame more of us of us can’t take a bit more time to read and interpret the needs and fears and aspirations of people other than ourselves.
Whether one is a Jew or not, believer or non-believer, living a Torah life seems to me to be the only reasonable choice.
Thank you, once again, for your wonderful columns.