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Grappling with a Jewish murder

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Marcy Nehorai photo 3 

My mind is wrested, entangled, and unsure of how to fit this one together with the rest of my inner philosophy and understanding of the world. Thoroughly disgusted of course, trying my best to grapple with the reality while I simultaneously try to expunge those violent, repugnant images from my head of the murder of Leiby Kletzky allegedly by a religious Jew in the Jewish lands of Borough Park, Brooklyn.

How do we understand this? How do we walk away from this? Who do we turn to, who do we blame, who do we TRUST most importantly, when the one who allegedly victimized the victim was “one of us” was, even more so, a card carrying Shomer Shabbos religious Jew?

Where do we go from here?

A generalized decision could be come to, of course, such as, “Those religious people (in general) are messed up” or “those religious people (from the sect that the alleged murderer belongs to) are messed up” or “New York is super dangerous don’t move there” or…

And that would alleviate a certain feeling of discomfort, for we would have some type of conclusion that would help us understand the workings of the world. But is that all? Is there more action that we can take? A growing idea that will strengthen us at the end of the day? Allow us to sleep at night? Allow us to trust again?

At the end of the day, there is the interior and the exterior of the Jew. The body and the soul. The philosophy and the internalization. Don’t confuse Jews with Judaism, the statement goes.

As Rav Solovietchik, the famous brilliant leader of Modern Orthodoxy in America in the mid 1900s, resolved, when you don’t know what to do, wrap yourself up in the four cubits of Jewish law and hide out there. 

I go, when I have nowhere else to go, to the safest place in the world, the Book of Books, which is not corrupted by infallible human resilience. On this Friday morning, I’ll look within, because that’s all I can do, to strengthen my own understanding, my own values, and my own commitment. 

Corruption is everywhere. I know this is a freak accident, a freak occurrence. It’s nothing to do with Jews, or religious Jews, or New Yorkers. There are those who allegedly corrupt the system and the philosophy at every level, every stratosphere of human and Jewish existence.

I’m not pulling out my card carrying membership yet, because I didn’t join this group because I believed its members were infallible. I joined (well, okay, I was kind of inducted at birth, but I suppose in terms of my religious connection and association) because I believed in the cause.

In terms of our public image I am relieved that in general Jews are a good bunch, a supportive, encouraging, inspiring bunch who are behind so many revolutionary things going on in the world, and in general, I am deeply impressed by the Jews that I meet and I am proud to be called one. But that again, is a fringe benefit.

Will I feel so comfortable accepting a ride from a random Jew on the street? Will this play out in my head henceforth? Can a small minority of corrupted Jewish individuals change the trust factor of a vast nation?

Regardless, that’s not the point, though it would be quite sad if that was the case. I like feeling like I can trust fellow Jews. But I didn’t join because of the fringe benefits of free Shabbos meals and inside jokes. I joined because there was a root there.

What can we do? Mourn the loss, set up preventive measures, teach our children the right way, and dig down deep, into the deepest of deeps, the Book of Books, wrap ourselves up in the four cubits of Jewish Law. And stick around people and trust people who internalize the deepest of our values.

We’re not divided anymore than we were before, at a spiritual level. At a physical level, cracks may be starting to show. The alleged murderer wore a kippah and looked like a religious Jew, but it doesn’t mean he embodies what it means to be a Jew, or a religious Jew, on a deeper level. And that is an important distinction.

I suppose, at the end of the day, when the shame and the shock of an alleged murderer from our own ranks shows up on file that is all we can do. Strengthen ourselves from within. The deepest place within us. And do the only thing that will make us spiritually stronger; learn more Torah, keep more mitzvoth. Connected from within. Even if I’ll think twice before taking a Shabbos meal from a random, Jewish stranger.

May the memory of Leiby Kletzy strengthen the Jewish people from the most important place, from within. And may us Jews, be cleansed from within so that we can feel safe superficially and intrinsically.

May this be a reminder that it’s not the clothes that we wear or the words that we say that make us who we are. It’s not the clothes that we should trust; it’s the deepness, the richness, the values, the Torah within. That’s the heart, the soul, of it all. That’s where our security lies. Who can we trust? The same God we’ve been trusting all of these years, through trials, tribulations, shock, awe, and ultimate joy and glory. And we don’t trust God because of what he’s wearing. We trust God because of who He is, who He stands for. Let us stand for the same thing.

May we never have to experience this lesson the same way again.

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