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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. mensch

    The Torah says an eye for an eye a tooth for a tooth. Hand me the meat cleaver so I can get started on this guy.

    July 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • uri

      Well put Mr mensch.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Dan

      Funny...the Koran says the same thing, and its strictly enforced in some parts of the middle east...but everyone thinks its Barbaric...Suddenly an eye for an eye is okay cause the guys a jew?

      July 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  2. RK

    "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."

    Racist comment spreading in a racist community and yet no on cares to call it for what it is. Shame on you!

    July 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • Jon Durham

      Jews are allowed their racism unlike any other people on Earth. Their religion tells them that they are different because of the blood in their veins. This comment about this particular Jewish person not being of a particualr Orthodox origins demonstrates what Judaism is about. It's about the blood in your veins. And if you have it, other Jews believe you to be special and different than any other ethnicity and they treat you special and different than any other ethnicity. Just as this article demonstrates. The fact that this guy was Jewish elecits and entirely different response from Jews than if any other human being did this. You should all be ashamed of yourselves. Join the rest of the human race, for Pete's sake. 3000 years of estranging yourselves from the rest of humanit has turned out so well for you.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Jgrl

      RK, you're not Jewish or you'd understand that this would mean he would speak and worship a bit differently. Even the prayers would be sung differently and the services he attended would be different. Songs would be sung to different melodies. So yes he might be a bit of an outsider in a community of totally different descent. It's not a racist issue trust me. Everyone thinks I'm Sephardi and I get treated just the same.

      Quoted –
      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.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • Gavin Boothroyd

      Jon Durham: But you can convert into Judaism and be considered a Jew.

      Ironically Hitler established a "blood in veins" way of judging who is a Jew, so converts couldn't escape the bullet.
      In previous inquisitions converts or pretend converts could get away with things.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • Sal1943

      "Spanish of North African descent". I guess it's either Moorish Spain origins or their mothers were very friendly.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Jon Durham

      Gavin, the question of conversion has been hotly contested for as long as the idea of conversion has been around. Different sects of Judaism do not recognize a converted Jew as a Jew from one sect to another. They deny you as Jewish unless you have the blood. The more telling aspect of the racist compnent of Judaism is the fact that you can't NOT BE A JEW if you were born to Jewish blood. You can renounce Judaism until the cows come home but the Jews view you as different and special because of the blood in your veins. You can't put the blood argument on gentiles and Hitler. Jews separate themselves out from the rest of us as different, we don't separate them. You can try that line on someone else. Better yet, the larger Jewish community could ask itself "Why has every culture we ever made contact with ended up wanting to exile or kill us?" It's kinda like a funny line from a Tim Wilson song: "...you been married nine times? Hell, maybe it's you..."

      July 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • AB

      Mr Durham, I think you need to take your issues to another forum, since clearly you are unmoved by the murder and dismemberment of a young child (unlike the rest of the human race), and therefore are able to instead latch onto this tragedy in order to spew your own bigotry. And to add to it, the things that you present as fact are completely false, starting with your reference to what "sects" of Judaism recognize. I also wonder how many other groups have actually been around for 3000 such that they could ask themselves the question you posit. Virtually every other group that identified as such 300 years ago is extinct.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  3. A

    labba, you know this, why?

    July 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • labba

      because if he was raised to not be a racist...he would not have been afraid to ask a black or person of minority for directions. they raise these kids to hate and be afraid of whats different from them. I live in williamsburg..see it everyday.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Mark

      I am afraid this is true, sad but true.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  4. somebody

    Who lets their son who is only 8 yrs old walk alone 7 or 8 blocks in NYC? Irresponsible parents that's who. Don't say don't blame the parents but I do especially when I never would let my son do that.

    July 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • A

      Hindsight is 20/20, but this neighborhood in many ways resembles a small town where this is more the norm

      July 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • rudy

      do you live in NYC? not the entire city looks like times square, which is what alot of people from outside the city think its like. there are neighborhoods in NYC that are just as safe as small towns in the U.S. Walking 7 blocks in borough park is nothing like walking 7 block in the middle of Manhattan.
      that being said, murderers and freaks like this guy can show up anywhere, regardless of how "safe" or family oriented an area might be.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  5. cathy

    What Would You Do featured a skit on children being lured by adults, to see if anyone would get involved and help - not too many did. We all have to help when it comes to children ... especially in a world with such predators. Heartbreaking

    July 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  6. Dick Wilstron

    After reading this headline, I'm crossing my fingers that my white daughter is murdered by a non-white if she ever is! That'll make it easier to take at least!

    July 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • mv

      that was the MOST IGNORANT thing I've ever read..FIRST YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO WISH YOUR CHILD IS MURDERED BY ANYONE LET ALONE A NON-WHITE. Losing a child no matter how does not make it EASY AT ALL. I feel sorry for your WHITE DAUGHTER.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      @MV Are you really this dim or did you find this the best place to vent your spleen. It is clear from the grammar of this comment that it is a conditional. If...then. Get an education so you can tell what is going on around you or just shut up.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  7. Jose Santos

    Why does CNN file this story under "Belief Blog"? It's not worthy of the regular news section because the victim was Jewish?

    July 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Dick Wilstron

      I agree, a disservice to Jews in this article, but not for the reason you mention. The reason is they are implying by the headline that jews believe they are ethnically superior therefore they are extra hurt a jew committed the murder. Racist either way.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      It is hard to argue with "God's Chosen People" being anything but a feeling of superiority. Fortunately, most do not live as if the rest of us are unclean.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  8. cathy

    Wow, people need to wake up. You shouldn't think that everyone that is like you is GOOD and that others are NOT. Talk about judging a book by its cover. We must all teach our kids that strangers are STRANGERS - even if they look like you do. And not to talk to them, or get in their cars, to scream if you need help, go into a store or seek out a police officer, to know their phone number... so many things need to be taught at an early age to protect these little ones. Oh and I watch that show What WOuld You Do... I'd get involved FOR SURE if a child is at risk.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      Yes.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
  9. Loralee

    Come on, CNN, get the hateful, anti-Semitic posts off NOW!

    July 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Gavin Boothroyd

      CNN has a "report abuse" button

      July 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  10. ohboy

    murderers, drug addicts, mentally ill people come in all forms. doesn't matter he was Jewish. crazy is crazy.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  11. wrack

    Hey Jennifer Ford, what say you?

    July 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  12. Christopher Hitchens

    Oy!

    July 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  13. Melabong

    Out come the ignoramuses, the uneducated, the bigoted, the racists, the supremacists and the morons (David, Kathy etc). Reading these posts is quite a treat.

    "May God comfort Leiby's family and community among all the mourners of Tzion and Jerusalem."

    July 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  14. joel

    A lot of you seem to be confused as to why the kid was walking home by himself and why the community was shocked it was one of their own.
    I explain for you. I'm not jewish, but i live in the same neighborhood as this kid, on the same street he was walking down in fact, just a few avenues over. The neighborhood of Borough Park is incredibly tight night in respects to the Orthodox Jewish community that dominates it. Yes, it's in NYC, but the people here treat it almost like a small town. They all know each other, they have their own emergency services and they are also very, very, very closed off from the outside world. It's pretty common here to see young children playing on the sidewalks or walking to and from the park, usually in pairs without the presence of an adult, just as kids USED to do in small towns.
    This is exactly why, the community was shocked it was one of their own, because they're so closed off from the rest of the world. The only time I ever see the Hasidic Jews interact with non-jews is maybe in public parks or a small drug store. They have their own restaurants, delis, and shops. They don't celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving or Fourth of July – they're basically like the Amish of Brooklyn. Foolish as those actions may appear to the rest of us, that's why the kid was by himself and why they"re so surprised it was one of their own. They just had to learn the hard way, that evil knows no boundaries.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  15. tom

    well if Casey Anthony can get off why cant he??

    July 14, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  16. Rene

    Katie,
    Your whole comment made no sense. The writer put himself in that situation. What does the suspect possible, not proven, ethnic background has to do w/ his being a murderer. Specially, when through history ppl of African descent have unjustly been labeled as being prone to violence. Now Aaron is a murder suspect, he's disowned and sent to Africans. Would they mention he had African in him if he was receiving the nobel peace prize. We ppl of African descent are not the garbage of the world!

    July 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  17. BarbaraT

    People if life gives you lemons, you dont need to kill children over it.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  18. Pat

    If this was a minority child no one would even care.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Akeelah

      You are absolutely right.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • RealityChecker

      And since it's not, you're so mentally ill that you will use the death of a child as political fodder. You need medical treatment for your mental illness.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Huh?

      Orthodox Jew isn't a minority? You serious?

      July 14, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • A

      Right. Because Hasidic people are the "majority". This is a minority child, albeit with white skin.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • West

      umm.. this is a minority child

      July 14, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • PainterGirl1

      Do you REALLY think Hasidic Jew is NOT a minority????? The whole point, for another poster here, is that they ARE a very small, tight knit, unified community that, one of whom (the suspect) HAPPENS to POSSIBLY be of African decent (JEWISH African, that is – so very much NOT a slam against "Africans" – just a reference to the various groups within the community – some Eastern, some African, some Hasidic, some Orthodox) Why does EVERY last little thing printed in this entire country practically that says "African" mean "African-American-bashing" to so many people. What's any of that NONSENSE got to do with a little boy who was brutally murdered by someone who should have been, by community standards, as trustworthy as his very own parents???? What self-centered hate-mongers some people are. Get over yourselves and your insignificant, itty-bitty little minds and grow up enough to care about someone else!!!

      July 14, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      It is a minority family. Jewish people are Semitic, like Arabs. As it is both an ethnicity and a religion they do not encourage anyone in joining up, unlike some Christians who won't shut up.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
    • Jgrl

      Jews are one if the smallest minorities in the world, all Jews together make up something like less than 1/2 of the world's population. And if you think we don't get discriminated against you haven't been paying attention. Just because we don't expect special treatment doesn't mean we're a large group by any means.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Jgrl

      Sorry, I mant to say 1/2 of 1 percent of the world's population. I think it is smaller than that however.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
    • Mark

      More aptly put, if this child wasn't jewish, no one would care because to jews everyone else is an animal. You don't hear the jewish media covering how jews are killing Palestinian children in the middle east by the thousands. Google ~ ifamericansknew.

      July 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
  19. bill

    terrible-bterrible thing that happened- j hope he doesnt use same defense as Casey Anthony!!

    July 14, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  20. Phil

    They need to have an awareness parade to stop the Jew on Jew violence.

    July 14, 2011 at 8:48 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.