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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. shaken

    Tragic and sick; but 'sephardic jew'? Talk about elitism, racism and all sorts of other isms... disgraceful!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • ksdksdksd

      I totally agree. A killing is a killing regardless of what type of Jew they are. When you try to start explaining why someone did something based on where thye are from you are wrong.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Rob

      I know right. He murdered someone, couldn't be one of us. Must be a demon, placed amongst us to discredit us. Oh now I know he's one of the Spanish Jews, well the whole problem is solved. Dumb 'de dumb dumb.

      July 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  2. Bernadette

    I was sick to my stomach when I heard this yesterday. That poor little boy and his poor family. Shame on those who are blaming the family, kids need to learn independence....no one could have predicted this.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  3. Omaha_Native

    In my book the lowest level of slime is the adult who prays on the innocent.

    I fell for that family, friends, and I pray that boy is sitting at the right hand of our father.

    Although I have been told that Jews do not believe in Hell, I hope that this child killer is thrown into the darkest dungeons of Hell for his sin and he suffers the fate of his victim over and over again.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  4. Robear in Ojai

    If this had been a Southern Baptist man killing a Southern Baptist kid of the same town or neighborhood, the religious angle would never have been brought up. I have great respect for the Judaic tradition, and I also have many Jewish friends, but the way the more traditional Jewish communities always play the "eternal-victim-at-the-hand-of-others" card really is getting old...

    Yes, this is a tragedy, and is the work of a sick person. However, trying to paint the murderer as an outsider – to the point of inventing him a Sephardic descent – only shows how impossibly self-righteous most conservative religious groups are.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • A

      Your right Robear. A kid was killed and sawed into pieces and put in a freezer. HOW DARE HE AND HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS "PLAY THE VICTIM"? I mean, hell, its just getting old. Why don't you go take your own bigotry and keep it in check until at least the kids body gets cold. Show some compassion.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  5. kathy

    Feel sorry that the kid is dead, but i will BLAME PARENTS. 8 year old kid is walking alone.
    THEIR ARE SICK PEOPLE IN THIS WORLD.

    PARENTS WAKE UP. USE YOUR BRAIN PLEASE.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  6. Bugsbunny

    I don't get why they do this to little kids at least let them grow up and let them have a good life these poor kids are now dead why don't they just leave kids alone don't these people know that there gonna get caught and go to jail they should get a job instead of killing people and kids

    July 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  7. alex

    now remember not all the Jews are the same

    July 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  8. sameeker

    Hope they don't try him in Florida.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • alex

      bring him to Texas man, we will take care of him 🙂

      July 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  9. stormsun

    This is a tragedy and a truly painful story to read, especially for parents. The story illustrates that there are bad, defective people in every community, in every neighborhood. It reveals to us that we have more in common than the differences that divide us, and that nothing is more precious than the lives of our children. Child murderers, molestors, and predators need to be eliminated from the general public, period. And we need to be ever-vigilant in protecting our children, because we will never identify and remove all of them before they commit their acts of depravity.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  10. KC

    Hire Jose Baez... be out in no time...

    July 14, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  11. shaywna

    I was shocked to hear about another child being taken from this world by a sick and ruthless individual. We will wonder what this beautiful child could have become. I hope that the man feels the same fear that this child felt. Dear God bless this baby and comfort his family.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  12. gulliblechristian

    Allah have mercy!

    July 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  13. Anne

    I think they should allow him to commit suicide. In fact give him knives to do so he can feel some of what he did to that child. That saves paying for what will be an assine trial, like Caylee's death, risking that he will get away with it and the state (the taxpayer) having to pay for his keep. Oh, I know, he drowned in a pool first so it was an accident.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  14. Tonda Whitehurst

    A few weeks ago the subject of Jesus of Nazareth cursing a fig tree came about. For the life in me, I could not understand why Jesus did not show mercy to the fig tree and cursed it. Now, I understand why. After reading about this evil tragic display to humanity. I pray Leiby's family receives God's strenghth, and that through discernment the community will gain and have protection. God has forgiveness toward Levi Aron if he wants it; however, God will not allow Levi's cruel and selfish deeds to go unpunished.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Liligi

    How can this article imply that Jews cannot committ murder wheeeennnnnnnnn one just did? : \ I was sick reading the paper this morning and learning this happened and I'm sick readin this article now seeing delusional people add insult to injury.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • la13

      what makes it so shocking is that the hassidic jews in this area are a very close knit community, rarely open up to "outsiders". it is almost like a small town within this big town. the fact that it is such a close community where they all know each other, is what made it so shocking to people here. for the people to learn hat it was another jew from this area doesn't mean that they don't think a jew is capable of doing something like this...it was just another hit to them.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  16. Kast

    Send him to the Allan B. Polunsky Unit, Texans will welcomed him.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
  17. gulliblechristian

    Now those gullible christians find an another excuse to hate Jews.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • Mark

      Another?!! This would be a drop in the ocean for all the things many jews do to the rest of humanity. Yet speaking truth somehow funnels into "anti-semitism." Where this is smoke, there is fire and christians are not to blame because they don't like the actions of others. A crime is a crime, don't want to be hated, then don't commit crimes.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  18. JJsMom

    OMG, what matters the most is that a poor little boy is dead and they have the killer. His poor parents must be beside themselves....God "IS" With Them at this time of Sadness...no matter what religion they practice...

    July 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
  19. gary

    WHY DID THE BOY HAVE TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS HOME, NO CHILD SHOULD BE ON THEIR OWN IN THAT HELLHOLE OF A CITY!
    YOUR GOD DOESN'T WORK, THAT'S WHY YOU HAVE PARENTS AND FRIENDS.

    July 14, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • IamSteveJobs

      If he had an iPhone he wouldn't have stopped to ask for directions. Parents please buy your kids an iPhone immediately. – Steve Jobs.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • gabe

      Hellhole?! Have you ever lived or even been through Borough Park? That neighborhood is safer and cleaner than most in the city, the Jews there really take care of one another. Try doing a little research before you spew ill-formed lies, you moron.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  20. Jeanette

    I agree no one wants to believe their own did it, but what kind of parents let their child (8yrold) walk 7 blocks alone if anything they r to blame for

    July 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • rh

      Because people in insular communities make believe that they are cooky cutter and don't have the same hopes, dreams, doubts, and fears as everyone else.

      It makes me sick to read "hey, if it was a goyim we'd feel safe, but one of US!" and an indication of the evils of organized religion. I can't figure out for the life of me why orthodox Jews are not in Israel.

      July 14, 2011 at 7:45 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.