Searching for Leiby
Along with the tragic ending, there was the unprecedented show of unity and love.
The last few days have felt as if a blur. Monday blended into Tuesday, and tonight, after paying my respects at Leiby Kletzky's funeral, I realized with a startle that it was already Wednesday evening; the week had passed by, and the sleepless nights and search-filled days all merged into one extended nightmare.
After the adrenaline and caffeine-fueled hours of searching came to a close, and after struggling today to make sense of it all, there is one story here that must be told.
There was a horrific incident, that is certain, but the horrors and nightmarish details that have been haunting us are not the story of Leiby Kletzy. They are the story of a sociopath, a malformed personality, a murderer.
There is the story of a community that came together in an unprecedented display of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God's Name. The religious communities of the five boroughs and beyond came together in a show of unity and sense of duty that is at once inspiring and humbling. It has a tragic ending, but the story itself is a story of love and dedication, the likes of which are not often seen on this scale.
The main search efforts were based out of several locations in Boro Park, and as the numerous news sites and photos online attest, they were orders of magnitude larger than any community effort in recent memory. And for a few hours last night, a search was mounted in Flatbush as well, its command post set up in the parking lot on East 12th and Ave M.
Midwood Chapel and Glatt Mart graciously arranged to allow access to the lot for organizing a Flatbush-based search. Hatzoloh of Flatbush supplied an ambulance to use as a base of operations, Amazing Savings supplied flashlights, food came from numerous sources, Pomegranate dropped of cases of water - the support for the effort was astounding.
At 9 pm a call to action went out, requesting volunteers to proceed to the lot.
At 9:05 we assigned our first search grid. As I gave instructions to the first pair of volunteers I wondered to myself how we would ever get enough people together to cover Flatbush, a very large geographical area.
By 9:30 there were 50 people lining up to request search grids. By 10:00 that number had swelled to over 300.
We assigned over 300 grids to an estimated 1,300 volunteers.
All told, we assigned over 300 grids to an estimated 1,300 volunteers. These included driving grids, walking grids, parks, transportation hubs, shuls and school yards, boardwalks, 24 hour stores, subway stations, avenues and side streets.
After assigning the grids, I drove through Flatbush, and was astounded by what I saw. Every pole and streetlight had a poster prominently mounted on it, there were groups of searchers to be found on nearly every block - their bobbing flashlight beams a testimony to the dedication of the volunteers who came out.
15,000 flyers were distributed and taped to every surface imaginable. Searching parties covered every street from Ocean Parkway to Ocean Ave, from Church Ave to Oriental Boulevard in Manhattan Beach.
I am still in awe of the response that the community showed, I am still humbled by the outpouring of support and concern that Leiby inspired.
This is the story of Leiby Kletzky.
It's the story of community volunteering on a staggering scale. It's the story of an extraordinary power, the power that drives one Jew to feel concern and pain for another, a power that provided the momentum for a search that saturated the streets of Flatbush with people whose motivation was pure, whose intentions were pure, and who were driven by the unrelenting engine of loving fellow Jews.
Leiby was a humble and pure child. The eulogies at his funeral attested to his warm and holy nature, and to the extraordinary love of God that his parents have.
But humble and shy does not a weak child make. Leiby had the strength to unite a community in a way that no other cause ever has. Chassidim and Litvish, Sefardim and every other walk of Jewish life were represented in Flatbush last night. There were groups of teens on bikes, and older couples on foot. There were car loads of students, professionals, husband and wife teams, the demographic that showed up included everybody, united everybody.
Leiby Kletzy, a pure neshama, gave Klal Yisrael a chance to shine.