English Translation of
Yiddish Forward Article "Are the Shomrim of Boro Park More Reliable than the Police?"
Rukhl Schaechter (The Yiddish Forward)
July 22, 2011
Original Yiddish article here.
The murder of a child is always shocking and horrifying. However, the murder of the 8-year old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzki in Boro Park was in a class of its own: firstly, because of the gruesome details of the case – the murderer, Levi Aron had dismembered the boy after choking him – and secondly, because the 35-year old Aron was himself a religious Jew, an "eygener" ("one of our own").
That Monday afternoon, Kletzky was walking home from the "Boyaner Day Camp," on 44th street and 12th Avenue in Boro Park. The boy had begged his parents to let him walk home alone, and they agreed to meet him on the way, at 50th street and 13th Avenue.
When Leiby did not show up, the family called the Boro Park branch of the "Shomrim," a neighborhood patrol composed of 150 volunteers, who combed the neighborhood looking for the child. When after 2 and a half hours, they could not find Leiby, they informed the police. During the next 24 hours, thousands of people helped post signs and look for clues as to where Leiby could be.
Wednesday morning, the police found parts of Kletzky's body in Aron's freezer. When the police asked him why he murdered the child, he responded that he had panicked in response to the masses of people that were looking for Kletzky. Upon being asked where the rest of the body was, he brought them to a garbage dump in nearby Park Slope, where the remaining body parts lay in a red suitcase.
According to Aron's report to the police, Kletzky had stopped him on the street to ask for directions. Aron took the boy into his car and drove away. During his interrogation, Aron told police that he brought Kletzky to a wedding in Monsey, NY. None of the wedding guests that were questioned reported having seen the child.
Based on the scratch-marks that were found on Aron's hands, it seems that Kletzky had struggled with his attacker. Despite all of the evidence pointing to Aron as the murderer, Aron later declared that he was not guilty of the crime.
According to a report in the New York Post, this was not the first time that Aron had tried to kidnap a child. A woman who lives three doors down from Aron reported that he once tried to convince her son to sit in the car with him, but she began to scream and apparently, frightened him. He immediately drove away.
Riki Kopolovich, a 33-year-old Israeli woman that works part-time as a preschool teacher, went on several dates with Levi Aron earlier this year. During an exclusive interview with the Yiddish Forward, she said that she met Aron 10 months ago through a Jewish matchmaking website. They decided to meet in the "Sunflower Cafe" near King's Highway in Brooklyn.
"He was a little spaced out, didn't answer questions right away, and was too quiet," Kopolovich remarked. "He didn't know basic Jewish stuff. He had never heard of Shlomo Carlebach, didn't even know who Samson and Delilah were. Whenever we were with other people, like at my friend Bella's house, he never contributed to the conversation, he just sat on the side. He wasn't really friendly to anybody," she said. Nevertheless, she responded to his emails and the two communicated on Skype.
In order to get to know Aron better, Kopolovich agreed to spend a shabbos with him and his family. "His stepmother and father spoke nicely, ﬂuently. We talked about an article in the Jewish Press, but he and his brother didn't say anything," she noted. "His brother just nodded his head from time to time. Sometimes Levi laughed inappropriately. After lunch I went back to my house, because there was nothing there for me to do anymore. He walked me home. Believe me, if I was sure he was OK, I would have married him. But I understood that if I see something suspicious, signs of weird behavior, I shouldn't ignore it, I shouldn't think that I'm just imagining it."
Before Aron met Kopolovich, he had already divorced two women. Diana Diunov in 2004 (who was later arrested for fraud and is still in prison for wire fraud) and in 2007, Debbie Kivel, a mother of two.
Aron's neighbors and his co-workers in the plumbing supply store where he worked also said that he was socially awkward. The New York Post reports that certain neighbors were alarmed by his habit of inviting boys in the neighborhood to ride with him in his Honda, and by his habit of watching the children of the local elementary school playing in the playground. According to Chaim Lefkowitz, a 39-year-old neighbor, the parents on his street kept their children away from Aron.
"Sometimes he would just get angry out of nowhere," Lefkowitz said. "He was one of those people you stayed away from."
This begs the question: If there were signs that Aron had tried to entice young boys, and that he behaved strangely, why did he not appear on any police watch list? The only record that the police had was that he received a ticket for public urination.
Secondly, Kletzky was supposed to meet his parents on that Monday at 5:00. At 6:00, there was still no sign of him. Yet the police were not informed until two and a half hours later at 8:30.
This is largely because the ultra-orthodox community of Brooklyn, like other Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities around the world, are accustomed to first inform their own civilian patrol units, and afterwards call 911, should their own patrollers fail to solve the problem. Similar to the local group "Misaskim", which provides new mourners with all of their needs free of charge; and Hatzolah, a volunteer ambulance corps that often arrives earlier than the usual ambulances and takes the patient to the hospital of his/her choice, people turn to the Shomrim when a person goes missing. The community trusts the Shomrim because they know the streets and the residents well.
"The Shomrim are amazing, unbelievable," Assemblyman Dov Hikind told the Yiddish Forward. "People feel more comfortable calling them."
Last October, the New York City Council honored four members of the Boro Park Shomrim, who were wounded while disarming a known sex offender, David Flores.
During a press conference after the discovery of Kletzky's body, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly also praised the Shomrim, saying that he understands that members of the Hasidic community notify the citizen patrols first. He added, however, that it was a shame that the Kletzky family hadn't immediately contacted the police. "We want to be notified right away; we don't think it's a good idea to lag in notifications to the police," he added.
An NYPD official familiar with the Orthodox community told the Yiddish Forward that, although the Shomrim and Hatzolah are wonderful charities, they often do not respond to emergencies in the same way that the government would.
"When Hatzolah, brings a woman to the hospital after being beaten by her husband, the organization will not call the police because that would lead to her husband's arrest," the NYPD source noted. The same happens when the Shomrim suspect someone of sexual abuse, or after the discovery of Kletzky's murder, when the charity "Misaskim" made sure to follow tradition by burying the body as soon as possible. "I hope that the hasty burial will not harm the investigation," the source told us.
The source also asked a series of other questions: What did the Shomrim do during the two and a half hours before they called the police? "In the police department, when we find out that a child has gone missing, we follow a certain procedure. I would ask the Shomrim: what is your procedure? How do you organize your investigation?"
According to this source, the Shomrim allegedly have a list of orthodox Jews that are suspected of molesting children. "Does it actually exist?," he asks. "If so, what are the names? Who are the victims? How many children are we talking about? We at the police don't have any access to this information."
Although Hikind claims that the Shomrim do share their information with the police, Ben Hirsch, the president of Survivors for Justice (SFJ) – an organization that fights sexual molestation in the Orthodox world – told the Yiddish Forward that this is simply false. "This is not the first abduction of a child in Boro Park. Indeed recent Boro Park abduction cases include two where young Hasidic children were lured into cars and abducted," Hirsch said. "The police were called and the children were found wandering the streets hours later. Both these children had been sexually abused."
SFJ's contacts within the NYPD stated that they had evidence the abductor was an Orthodox Jewish male, but no one, including the Shomrim has released his name.
Attempts to reach Yanky Daskal, one of the coordinators of the Boro Park Shomrim, were not successful.
Among ultra-orthodox Jews, sharing this kind of information with the police is considered "mesira," or betrayal. Indeed, the ultra-Orthodox communal organization Agudath Israel has openly stated that if one suspects an Orthodox Jew in sexual abuse he should consult with a rabbi before informing the police.
Luzer Twersky, the 26-year-old son of the Faltinasher Rebbe and a volunteer in the NYPD, also criticized the Shomrim for keeping the names of Orthodox sex offenders from the police. Twersky, who was molested for three years - from age 9-12 - says that the community "does nothing" when it hears of a Jew who molested a child. "They sweep it under the carpet."
In the Kletzky case, argues Twersky, the Shomrim did not carry out the investigation in a professional manner. "The community made a big stink, every amateur took the investigation into his own hands and tried to find the boy."
"Levi said he himself panicked when he heard that thousands of people were looking for Kletzky and that's why he killed the boy. Maybe if [the Shomrim] had let the police do their job, Leyby Kletzky would still be alive."
"My fellow Hasidim, you must understand that there are professionals for these types of things," says Twersky. "When someone is sick, he goes to a doctor and when someone is sexually abused, he goes to the Special Victims Unit. Tell me, if you actually discovered the kidnapper, would you even know what to say to him? You can't do it alone."