I’m writing this very soon after hearing the terrible news that Leiby Kletzky was found dead outside a house in Brooklyn. My heart goes out to his parents and family – I can only begin to imagine how they feel. May Hashem comfort them and heal them from their loss.
The reports have said that it was the first time that he had walked home by himself after day camp. His mother arranged to meet him halfway and when he did not arrive, she alerted Shomrim who triggered what turned into a massive search involving both New York Police Department and thousands of volunteers, until sadly, this morning the news came that a man had been arrested and had given information as to where to find a body.
There are several lessons we can learn from this tragedy. Perhaps the most important is to warn our children never to go anywhere with strangers. I have no reason to believe that Leiby’s parents did not do this, but family friends and teachers have commented in reports how very well behaved and obedient he was, saying that if someone told him to get in a car, he would probably have done so. We must impress on our children that sometimes it is OK to say no to an adult – there are a number of situations when this is the case. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz has an excellent video discussing how to have what he calls “The talk” with one’s children. Although our schools teach about stranger danger, we probably need to reinforce this at home as well.
As with all these things, it’s very difficult to know how to set the balance between warning and empowering your child and terrifying them. Each child is different and it will depend on age and personal circumstances. Maybe families could practice role plays. Nothing is fool proof, but children should be aware that not all bad people look like bad people and conversely, not all people who look “nice” are.
Despite the disastrous ending, the search itself made a tremendous Kiddush Hashem. As well as being widely reported in American media, it made its way across the Atlantic into the Daily Mail. The fact that so many people were prepared to drop whatever they were doing, and go out to search in the New York heat for a child they did not even know, made a big impression on the general public. The communal organisations – Hatzolah, Shomrim, Misaskim, Chaveirim amongst others – all worked together, with the police, in a great display of achdus. There is no doubt that this will have a positive impact both spiritually and practically on the kehillah and its relationship with the authorities. It’s terribly sad that it takes a tragedy like this to unite the Jewish people. Although people are wonderful in these sorts of circumstances, it is unfortunately less common to find everyone celebrating a simcha together.
As we approach the Three Weeks, during which tragedies have unfolded for the Jewish people throughout the generations, my prayer is that this should be the last time. Just as we united to daven for Yehudah ben Ita Esther over the last couple of days, may we soon be united to welcome Moshiach Tzidkeinu, bimheirah v’yomeinu.