An eight-year-old boy in Brooklyn wanted to walk home alone from camp. He got a little bit lost and asked a neighbor—a really normal-looking neighbor for help. The neighbor, a supply-store clerk, allegedly took the boy to his house, killed him, chopped him up, and put the parts in his refrigerator freezer.
Thousands of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are now mourning this boy’s gruesome death and asking the same thing everybody who’s seen the news is asking themselves:
Can there be any answer to that question in such a story as this? The guy who confessed—Levi Aron—has said only that he saw the flyers about a missing boy and panicked. This doesn’t help me understand a thing about why he did what he says he did next, first smothering the child to death and then hacking up his parts and hiding them.
Why has this story of all stories awakened our outrage? We read about kids getting abducted and murdered all the time. When does it ever make any sense? When is it not outrageous?
Last night, Mira’s friend Tobaron wrote asking for a Kaddish for Leiby.
Today, Mira’s mom was beside herself about Leiby. Mira was visiting, and she called me to ask if we could make the Kaddish together at Rebecca’s house. I grabbed my horn and drove over. Mira and Rebecca and I sat together talking for hours, trying to make sense of any of it. We didn’t get very far. Rebecca commented, “The story about Leiby is too much. Inside me, it’s raging. But there are many Leibys… The bastard didn’t touch us, and yet he killed us. He killed something in each one of us.”
We shook our heads.
What sense does any of it make? What do you say? What do you think? What do you do?
We did what we do these days—we recorded a Kaddish. The three of us held hands while Mira recited the Kaddish. Rebecca and I joined in for the key passage, which Mira modified to suit the occasion, as she often does:
ʻoseh shalom bimromav
hu yaʻase shalom
ʻalenu v’ʻal kol ha-yeladim,
make peace in the high places
He will make peace
for us — and for all the children,
and we say, amen.
Then I played “Kaddish,” and I felt the sadness of the piece—of this occasion—more intensely than I have for quite a while. Mira and I have both confessed lately to a feeling of being “all kaddished out,” but when something like this happens, I am right back to a feeling I’ve had numerous times during this project, of feeling strangely grateful that we have something useful we can do in a time of grief. And it did feel ever so slightly useful, this Kaddish.
A kaddish for a little boy who was excited to walk home alone for the first time, whose walk ended in senseless tragedy. A kaddish for all the children whose good days turn horribly, unaccountably tragic, and for their families who will never, ever understand why.