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Child's grisly murder shocks Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood
The scene on Wednesday in front of the residence where Leiby Kletzky lived.
July 14th, 2011
04:53 PM ET

Child's grisly murder shocks Jewish Brooklyn neighborhood

By Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, CNN

Brooklyn, New York (CNN) – An 8-year-old's grisly murder would shock any community, but there's an added layer of astonishment in this neighborhood because the alleged killer appears to hail from the same close-knit religious community as the victim.

On Thursday, New York police charged a 35-year-old man with the killing of Leiby Kletzky, an Orthodox Jewish boy, after officers found human remains in the man's refrigerator and a trash bin.

The alleged killer also appears to be an Orthodox Jew who lived relatively nearby to Kletzky, according to community members.

"You can't possibly describe how tragic this is and how upset people are this boy was murdered by a person living in the community, who shares his religion and his neighborhood," said Ezra Friedlander, who lives in Borough Park, the neighborhood where Kletzky went missing on Monday.

On Thursday, Levi Aron was arraigned on first degree murder and kidnapping charges in Brooklyn in connection with Kletzky's death.

"It would have been extremely scary if a terrorist would have come into the community and killed a boy, but when it's one of your own you feel even more vulnerable," said Friedlander, a public relations executive who represents many Orthodox Jewish clients.

"The level of fear that mothers and fathers and children here are experiencing is something that I never witnessed before," he said.

Police say the 35-year-old Levi Aron made statements Wednesday implicating himself in the death of Leiby Kletzky.

Kletzky was supposed to meet his parents after walking seven blocks from his summer day camp, but became lost and asked the suspect for directions, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Menachem Freed, a 37-year-old Orthodox Jew whose 9-year-old son was Kletzky's classmate, said the community prides itself on its faith-based unity.

Borough Park is composed mostly of Hasidic Jews and non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox Jews of Eastern European descent. Signs for everything from pediatricians' offices to a pizza parlor are in both Hebrew and English.

Families with young children are everywhere, with streams of women pushing strollers down sidewalks and bearded Hasidic men piloting minivans through narrow streets.

"We all believe in the same ideas," Freed said, standing outside his son's preschool, where he showed up Thursday to help children deal with the murder.

On Monday night, Freed and his family had joined with other Orthodox Jews from the neighborhood to search for Kletzky.

The neighborhood's Jewish security patrol force - called the shomrim - searched for the boy through the night.

Working from surveillance video that showed Aron entering a dentist's office Monday while Kletzky waited for him across the street for seven minutes, police arrived at Aron's residence at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday to ask about the boy's whereabouts.

The suspect pointed them to the kitchen, where blood was visible on the freezer handle. Inside the refrigerator was a cutting board with three blood-spattered carving knives, Kelly said.

"A lot of people were saying that they would think differently about what they would allow their children to do," said Josh Nathan-Kazis, a staff writer for the Jewish newspaper The Forward, who is covering neighborhood reaction to Kletzky's murder.

"When you're there, it feels like a small town: Everybody knows each other," said Nathan-Kazis, describing Borough Park. "The fact that the alleged perpetrator was more or less from the same community, it's like they don't know who to trust."

There are questions about how active Aron was in the Jewish community, but pictures of him that have surfaced show him in traditional Orthodox Jewish dress.

New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind said the largely insular Orthodox neighborhood bred a sense of trust among adults and children.

"Borough Park is a largely Hasidic, Orthodox neighborhood - most people have beards and side curls," he said. "Often kids will trust someone who looks like their father or looks like their friend or like their teachers and say, 'Oh, this guy must be safe."

"This is not the case, never should have been the case," he continued. "You've got to be very, very careful. You've got to teach your kids. You've got to talk to your kids."

A young father who was pushing two strollers with children in Borough Park on Thursday said his rabbis told him to explain to his children that such a murder only happens "once in 10 years or even once in a lifetime."

Like many Orthodox Jews interviewed here, the man declined to give his name.

Nathan-Kazis said that rumors had begun emerging in Borough Park's Orthodox community that portrayed Aron as something of an outsider.

One such rumor suggested that Aron is a Sephardic Jew - meaning of Spanish of North African descent - unlike most Borough Park Jews, who are Ashkenazi, or of Eastern European descent.

"You could see the community struggling with the fact that the suspect is Jewish and lived nearby and at the same time protect a sense of safety in the community," Nathan-Kazis said.

Thousands of Orthodox Jews turned out for Kletzky's funeral on Wednesday.

On Thursday, community members organized an effort to initiate a Torah scroll in Kletzky's name.

"It's an extremely lofty way to elevate someone's memory," Friedlander said of the scroll. "Not every person has a Torah in their name."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Judaism • New York • Uncategorized

soundoff (1,564 Responses)
  1. aaron

    well that's an idiotic response

    July 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  2. nora

    while this is a tragedy beyond comprehension.. my only question is this.. What the h*ll is this 8 year old child doing, walking home alone?! Granted he was less than half a mile from home, but really? Anything couldve happened to him, and guess what, something did.. Some sick individual killed this child. So who really is to blame for this child's death?? The parent's or the killer?

    I live in a small community 5 hours north of the city, and I would never EVER let my daughter walk home alone for any reason. You can not simply trust anyone with the number of sickos and perverts that are allowed to run loose in our communities, and will protect my child at any cost..even if it means going half a mile to school myself to pick her up, just so I know she is home safe with me...

    July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Brett

      I think the parents will be blaming themselves enough without the rest of us judging. i'ts one of those useless random acts that make no sense.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
    • AnoelG

      To people like Nora who immediately blame the parents. The blame lies with the killer. Are you going to walk your daughter EVERYWHERE until she is 18 years old? Are you going to watch her 24 hrs a day even when in school? What if she gets kidnapped from school? And even at home, will you never sleep? Children got kidnapped from homes when parents were asleep. If something happens to her when she is an adult is that your fault? Children as well as adults are kidnapped and murdered all the time, it is never 100% preventable. Do you blame the adult victim that they didn't do this or that? The parents didn't let the boy drive or drink or do anything outrageous but let him walk from point A to point B. They will suffer sorrow for the rest of their life. Righteous people like you who have the need to assert their self importance are simply pathetic.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • dan k

      I think the more appropriate question here Nora may be this: When did this Country go so far off the rails that we CANNOT allow children to walk home alone? I am 42 years old and when i was a kid we actually walked home from school for LUNCH every day and then back to school when lunch was done. I know this will not set well with many but i am GLAD i have no children at this point and have an intense concern about the world in which my neices and nephew are growing up. The morals and values in this supposedly "Christian" Country are so far off kilter it amazes even a jaded Agnostic (leaning heavily towards Atheist) like myself honestly. This story is just proof positive that even "one of your own" is an unknown and THAT is the moral of this story I think, as sad as that is. When "Sixteen and Pregnant" and "Toddlers in Tiaras" are popular shows among young children and their parents think that is OK I guess none of this should surprise me but it still does. Our values in this Country as a whole must change, in my opinion, but they won't,

      July 14, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      ' I am 42 years old and when i was a kid we actually walked home from school for LUNCH every day and then back to school when lunch was done'
      well thats nice and all but i can tell you now kids were abducted and killed even when you were a kid.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • nora

      @Anoel - I was not immediately blaming the parents, what i said was more along the lines of asking a question as to who would the blame be put on.. what I asked didnt come out the way I intended. Of course as someone else pointed out, the parents are going to be blaming themselves for the rest of their lives, and there are so many what if's that are going to be go through their minds.

      I have lost a child myself, and the pain and heartache the family is feeling is gonna last for years to come. Do i intend on holding my daughter's hand til she's 18? No..But will I let her walk point A to point B alone when she's only 8 years old? No. As a parent, I will try to protect my child 24/7 as it is my duty to do so, but there will also come a time where I have to trust my own child to protect herself and not put herself into situation in which she could be harmed or killed. Any parent (well most unless you're someone like casey anthony) will do anything to protect their child from harm. Young children still dont fully understand that talking to strangers may bring dire consequences. Their brains that control basic reasoning/logic or in simple terms "common sense" at that age are still underdeveloped. So it up to us to protect our children, but as I know, anything can happen, at any time or any place.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Rick.

      From the age of 8 to the end of high school, I walked or took public transport to school by myself or with my younger brother without incident with distances ranging from across the street to across town and in every kind of neighborhood imaginable. "Stranger danger" rarely RARELY happens. This isn't anyone's fault but the perpetrator.

      August 25, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  3. Sorrow

    Deepest sorrow for the loss of an innocent child. My heart goes out to the family.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  4. daniel

    tragic story. his parents let him walk alone for the first time and this happened. its a message. this tragic event should never be forgotten and always kept int he back of your mind the next time you let your kids walk alone.

    July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  5. chewish

    this sicko is real meeshagunga

    July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  6. rad

    Religious people slay me. Do they think that because someone practices a religion, they would not commit murder!! Happens all the time, read some history, millions of murders have been committed in history by 'religious people'

    July 14, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
    • chewish

      yup, total fraud

      July 14, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  7. Jimbo

    "We are all Jewish and dress the same this wasn't supposed to happen in our neighborhood"

    July 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  8. Jaynicia

    "One such rumor suggested that Aron is a Sephardic Jew – meaning of Spanish of North African descent – unlike most Borough Park Jews, who are Ashkenazi, or of Eastern European descent."

    Oh I see;. He's not a "white" jew but a "brown skinned" jew and therefore predisposed to such a crime because a "white" jew would never do such a thing. I got news for you; crime knows no race, color, creed or national origin. A criminal will commit a crime of opportunity if it presents itself.

    What nerve...

    July 14, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Debrap424

      I dont think that is what it is trying to say but merely that Sephardic Jews don't practice with Ashkenazi Jews.

      July 14, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Don't worry folks in the midst of all this horrible trajedy we can take comfort in knowing all jews go to heaven regardless.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Sbrewer535

      The quote above gives you direct insight into how Ashkenazi Jews view Sephardic Jews. It just goes to show how deeply entrenched racism is in the Ashkenazi community, as they are quick to assume a "brown skinned Jew" did this horrific crime. But as it turns out it was one of their own.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Fortunate

      Janicia, before trying to play 'racial card', you had to look at the photo of Aron being arraigned. He is red-headed (at least, red-bearded), white-skinned fellow, so, please, no talk of 'color' here. Sephardic Jews are basically the same people as Ashkenazi. The difference is mostly in cultural traditions, commonly spoken language, and some subtle diffrences in religious services. However, due to those procedural differences, Sephards usually attend not the same temples as Ashkenazis, and as a result are not tied to the Hasidic community and less known to the neighbors.
      Sephards as well as Ashkenazis have peaceful and patriarchal life styles and children are sacred to them as well. So, the fact that Aron may be Sephardic is not used by Ashkenazis to explain what happened, but only to explain why they overlooked psychotic murderous type among them. They blame themselves and not Aron's origins.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • equility4all

      A child is brutally murdered by a sick criminal....it is heartbreaking and sad....what kind of people listens to gossip and rumor and come up with racial theory

      July 14, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Jaynicia

      Fortunate, go back and reread my comment. I didn't play the race card – it was suggested in the story with the rumor on what he is to try to explain away why a white jew couldn't possibly commit a crime like this. I'm not looking for race. I saw a little boy who was probably terrified beyond measure over what happened to him and with us the public knowing how he ended up. Those who are pushing these "rumors" around are trying to turn this into a race issue. If you continue to read my comments, I stated that crime doesn't know race, color, creed, national origin...

      Crime is colorblind. That's my stance on it.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Jaynicia

      Sbrewer535

      The quote above gives you direct insight into how Ashkenazi Jews view Sephardic Jews. It just goes to show how deeply entrenched racism is in the Ashkenazi community, as they are quick to assume a "brown skinned Jew" did this horrific crime. But as it turns out it was one of their own.

      THANK YOU! That's all I'm saying.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • DenverGrl

      It's not about race, not at all. It's that this is a community of Ashkenazi Jews that have different traditions than Sephardic Jews. They believe the same basic things, but do things differently. They're saying he was an outsider because he follows different practices. You have to understand that the Rebbe for these Chasidic and other very observant sects of Judaism control a lot of what people do and how they behave down to the smallest details of the home. That is their culture. For this man to be a part of their community raises eyebrows because almost all of these people have lived this way and possibly in this community for all of their lives. It's not that his race is different, it's that his practice is different and that makes him stand out in a community where being the same as everyone else is important.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Aaron

      Jaynicia,
      Why the race card? The reference between ashkanaz and sephardic jews was simply to say that they are two different type of cultural stances on the religion. They brought it up because the chasidic jews and the sephardic jews do not go to the same synagogue. Which means that they don't mingle. That was why they brought it up. I grew up in a very ultra-orthodox neighborhood and i see this all the time. There is no hate, it's just different practices and slight variations in customs.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Isis7

      As always, religion and race seems to always have a place everywhere!

      The bottom line is...an innocent child's life was taken!!! It doesn't matter what race he was or what religious belief/culture he or his parents practiced, this MURDER was SENSELESS, and his killer needs to pay, not in heaven not in hell but HERE on EARTH!!!

      ...and regardless of which higher power I pray to (or not), or what color my skin may be, I would like to send my condolences out to the family, sorry for your lost...

      July 20, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  9. Robert

    its really sad to see a jew kill another jew like this. stuff like this sickens me completely

    July 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Does it sicken you when a Christian kills another Christian or a Muslim kills another Muslim? This is a horrible ghastly murder the religion or race of the perpetrator and victim had NO bearing on this. If it did it is even worse but the fact that you jump to a jew on Jew crime as making you sick without recognizing the MURDER should make every decent human sick.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • nora

      what makes this sick is the fact that this man butchered this child, and tossed his parts of his body in the dumpster like trash, and kept the rest of it in the freezer... Religion has nothing to do with the horrors of this incident.. the media just emphasizes on it because a murder of this magnitude makes for good ratings..

      July 14, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
    • Dani

      I think it's sad whenever ANYBODY kills someone else. People of the same race or ethnic background kill each other everyday. Every race has monsters.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • equility4all

      Do not call that killer a Jew. That sick criminal cannot be true believer of Judaism and God, and commit such a heinous crime. May be he was born to a Jewish family but I would not call him a Jew.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  10. name

    Tragic. But I will say Brooklyn or Manhattan is not the area to let your child walk back from anywhere alone.

    July 14, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  11. skr

    Jews Kill Jews, what can you say?

    July 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Michael E

      Meaning what?

      July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  12. zzzz

    Lock this evil man in the refrigerator....

    July 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Joe Sixpack

      I bet the sicko would have put the blame on some Muslim patsy, if not cut..

      July 14, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  13. linda

    as long as there are men there will be evil... religion is just an excuse

    July 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  14. Debrap424

    just drop him in a syrian desert

    July 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  15. Kpuc

    Yes, please be shocked, nobody has ever been killed by someone of the same religion living in the same neighborhood before.

    July 14, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Ruth

      Not in the Jewish Orthodox community.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Aaron

      It's shocking because it is not a common occurrence. You have no idea the humility that ultra-orthodox jews have. This is traumatizing for those jews in that neighborhood. Trust me on this.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
  16. Ga Gal

    Let's hope this jury gets it right

    July 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  17. Christopher

    With all due respect, what the hell does the religious community have to do with this? The kid and accused murderer being from different religious communities would not make things 'better' at all.

    July 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Bannister

      The murder of the child is ONE story. How that murder affects this particular tight-knit religious community is ANOTHER story, one that unfolds parallel to the first story.

      It's called good journalism. The reporter takes a simple event and puts it in the larger human context. In your attempt to be politically correct (ie colorblind, religion-blind, etc ) you miss the human element that makes our world so interesting and worth living in.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:03 pm |
    • PalinKeepsMyGutBusting

      I know what Christopher is trying to say and you can't blame him. However, Bannister, kudos for such a nicely explained response.

      July 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  18. Bubba

    Being Religious does not mean that you are a good person.

    July 14, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Debrap424

      some religions (ahem muslims) call it a "jihad" to kill a jewish person, so you are right.

      July 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Debrap424

      oh and not to mention the bible is filled with murder

      July 14, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
  19. Wanda

    This sick minded demon needs to be put in a locked room with a lion or gorilla, maybe allow the parents of this slim have an hour with him. I just pray that the parents do not blame themselves for allowing their child grow up and do age appropriate things.

    July 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  20. Name*Randomthinkin

    TAP him

    July 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.