The brutal murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky has rocked the Orthodox Jewish community into finally acknowledging that it needs more oversight to protect its children.
The fact that Leiby Kletzky was allegedly kidnapped, drugged, smothered, dismembered and killed by Levi Aron, a member of the Orthodox world, has forced the community to reevaluate just how effective its approach to child safeguarding is. Because within insular Jewish neighborhoods, like Brooklyn's Borough Park, law enforcement doesn't always adhere to the mainstream code, according to the New York Post.
Rather than immediately turn to the police, locals will often first call on their volunteer force--the Shomrim--a group of vigilantes that gets tax dollars, but isn't properly trained to deal with crucial evidence. According to the New York Post, Shomrim had access to surveillance tapes of Levi Aron eight hours before police did, but didn't know what to do with them. The private Jewish school system operates in a similarly autonomous manner. Where public schools are mandated to fingerprint and perform background checks on all employees, according to The Forward, private schools are not.
"For decades, our community's leadership has been protecting pedophiles," Ben Hirsch, president of Survivors for Justice, told the newspaper. "This is going to sound shocking, but the safest place for a sex offender to reside is within the Hasidic and strictly Orthodox community, employed as a teacher."
Survivors For Justice is a child-safety advocacy organization and support group for abuse victims in the Orthodox community.
The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children hopes to change that, according to the Forward. Its agenda would require New York state private school employees to get fingerprinted and background checks and all teachers to register with the State Education Department. The plan would also force school officials to report all in-school abuse, another contentious issue that has come under fire since Leiby Kletzky's body was found in a dumpster.
While the fervent search for Leiby Kletzky ensued, Shmuel Kamenetsky, vice president of Agudah's Supreme Council of Rabbinic Sages, declared that sexual abuse of children should first be reported to a rabbi, who then determines if there's enough evidence to warrant calling the police, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. This statement was particularly concerning in this case, since Shomrim was called an hour after Leiby went missing and the police weren't alerted until two hours after that, according to the New York Post.
Survivors for Justice called Agudah's statements "dangerous" and asked the organization to retract them, JTA further reported.
But religious groups aren't the only ones trying to implement measures to protect Jewish children.
To ensure kids have a safe place to turn when they're lost or in trouble, as Leiby was when he approached Aron on his way home from camp, Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield proposed "Leiby's Law" in July. After undergoing background checks, participating businesses would get a state-issued green sticker to place in their windows so that kids would know that they can safely seek help there, the Daily News reported.
Spurred by the deaths of Leiby Kletzky and Caylee Anthony, New York State Senator Tom Libous intrdodued the "Protect Our Children Act," last month, according to the Daily News. The act would create a new crime of aggravated murder of a child, with a sentence of life without parole. Additionally, aggravated abuse would include anyone who injures a child under 14, not just day care providers, as the law currently states.
"I think now, with everything that has gone on, there is greater recognition that more has to be done," Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat serving Borough Park, told the Forward. "It's about priming. It should have been done years ago. A lot of things should have been done years ago."
To honor Leiby's memory, his family has set up the Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund, a non profit that aims to collect $1 million for needy children and families.