Coping with the Leiby Kletzky a”h Tragedy, By Rabbi Asher Lopatin

July 15, 2011

The tragedy of the loss of such innocence looms over this Shabbat.  Last week the Berry family of Houston was in a tragic car accident where both parents died and two of the kids were left paralyzed, coming to Chicago for treatment.   Then we started this week with a “catastrophe, not a tragedy” with the fire at Kehillath Jeshurun on the East Side of New York, which destroyed only a shul, no humans or Torahs.  But we ended the week with a devastating tragedy, the murder of precious eight year old, Chasidishe boy in Borough Park.  I have to admit that I have had a hard time knowing how to react beyond just being sad, depressed and frustrated.  My iPhone is going wild from people on Facebook who cannot console themselves – but are trying – and speaking to rabbis, especially from New York, it feels that this is just a black, horrific moment.  But nothing is worse than just staring at black space, without being able to see a path from it, or through it.

One of my mentors helped me by reading a message in the tragedy: We are more vulnerable than we thought.   In the Jewish and Orthodox community we see Borough Park as a safe enclave, working hard to protect itself from any of the evils of the outside world.  That is the view the world has as well of this heavily Orthodox part of Brooklyn, New York.  But we also used to think that spousal abuse and child abuse didn’t occur in the Orthodox, frum community – or, even amongst Jews at all.   We now know better that everything in the general community makes its ugly appearance in the Orthodox community as well.  Sad, unfortunate, but true.  And now we know, tragically, that murderous, insane, monsters are there as well: they go to the dentist, they go to weddings, they live amongst normal people.  No one is safe, and the same rules that we teach children about not following strange looking people and not doing strange acts with strange people have to apply to not following even safe looking people.  Frum children need to know they should not do anything they are uncomfortable with even with frum looking people, even with relatives or teachers.  If we thought we knew this, and this tragedy brings it all out again in the saddest, clearest way.

It would be comfortable to feel there are no murderers, crazies, molesters, abusers amongst us, to be lulled by the blessings of Bilam, where he sees the Children of Israel as sinless, blameless, completely loyal to God and perfect in their ethical way of life.  But we know better.  We know that the blessings of Bilam are an ideal, and the perfect, safe frum community, insulated from any negative elements is a fantasy as well.  We have to be realists.

Yet,  I hope, I pray,  we do not lose our innocence.  The innocence of an eight year old boy wanting to be a big boy and walk home alone from camp…  Experts can argue over what is the earliest age to allow a kid to walk home from camp, but everyone who has been a kid, can feel for these parents who relented and finally let Leiby, a”h, walk home on his own.  Oy!  May Hashem allow this family, and all of our families, to hold on to that innocence and love, which makes us do things that sometimes we regret, but come from the most beautiful, loving, caring place.

So I ask for Hashem to give our community  the hard-headed realism to be more responsible to ferret out abusers and molesters– or attempted molesters – who may have slipped through our system, maybe because they were not reported directly to the police, or because the local Batei Dinim have been too lenient and protective of “respected” members of the community accused of such crimes.  However, at the same time , may God give us the strength to retain some of that innocence, some of  the trust we need to reach out even to the stranger.  Can we ever regain that trust or innocence?  With God’s help we can, and we the help of our community child-safety experts we can do so in a way that allows us to keep our children as safe and secure as humanly possible.

This is a world where the most innocent and precious people are vulnerable to the most vicious, evil and perverted minds.  Let us ask Hashem to allow us to fight that evil, while allowing us to retain our innocence and our belief and trust in the world God has given us.  Not easy, almost impossible, but that is at the core of our “emuna”,  our belief in an infinite and caring God.

May God bind the innocent, blessed soul of Leiby Kletzky in the bonds of everlasting life, and may the memory of his sweet life be a blessing to our entire world, which today is full of so much sadness and grief.


Asher Lopatin

Physical beauty transformed: From Anthony Weiner to Sara of the Bible -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

July 8, 2011

I recently came across a fascinating blog. It is authored by an anonymous single mother inSan Franciscowho suffered horrendous sexual abuse as a child at the hands of her own father and contains some of the deepest spiritual insights I have read. In a post entitled “Does your grandmother look good naked?” she writes:

“In our culture today, we seem to have allowed the porn industry to define female beauty for us. …I thought my grandmother was a beautiful woman. Actually – I know she was a beautiful woman. I remember the day I chose to name my only child after her: she was eighty-two years old, visiting her forty-three year old son in a nursing home (a horrible accident left him brain-dead). But she didn’t just visit him. She also brought gifts and smiles and attention to the other residents of that nursing home. Every one she touched could see how beautiful she was…I know what you’re thinking – my grandmother had spiritual beauty, not necessarily physical beauty. But how have we come to separate the two? They are not separate….My grandmother’s laugh lines, her arthritic hands, her dowager’s hump, her aged and tender skin-all of that was beautiful to me. Her body was beautiful because she lived in it. Your body is beautiful because you live in it…When we separate a body from its spirit; we turn that body into a corpse….Let’s stop treating our bodies as sex objects, and start embracing ourselves as sexual subjects. Only then will we have a shot at genuine beauty.”

I think she is talking here about an entirely new way of seeing beauty, sexuality, and attraction. That physical beauty must not be separate from emotional, relational, and spiritual beauty but that the two can be seen as deeply connected, as actually the same. Not jettisoning the physical for something deeper but seeing it in a new light, illuminated by the person themselves.

What would it mean to see each other in this way? How can we reframe when we feel attracted to someone due to their physical beauty alone? How do we see beauty as still beautiful and attractive but at the same time emerging from who someone is, the real person that inhabits that body, not from their skin? Is it even possible to see emotional and values driven beauty as inseparable from physical beauty? Not as many do, to see the soul and self in place of the body, but to see bodily beauty and sexuality as a manifestation of the soul? To see ourselves and others as beautiful, as sexy, but not because our skin is taught, not because we are an ideal figure, but as the “us” that inhabits our bodies.

It is interesting in this vain to reread the Bible’s description of the first Jewish woman, – Sara, who at 66 years old is described as physically, not spiritually beautiful. Shouldn’t the bible be more concerned with the spiritual or emotional beauty of Sara rather than her physical beauty? Is a 66 year old woman really the Bible’s image of physical beauty? Indeed the Bible does not describe many younger women this way.

Even stranger is that the context is one in which Abraham is afraid that due to Sara’s incredible beauty she will be taken by Pharaoh for a liaison. Pharaohs typically had access to all the young beautiful women their hearts desired, so why would Pharaoh notice Sara at 66 years old and take her? Is it possible that the blogger is right? That were we not inundated with media indoctrinating us to believe that beauty is only a manifestation of certain kinds of skin, certain weights, certain breast and leg formations, that beauty would be a wholly different type of experience for us? One in which the person and body were not separate, one in which the person themselves manifested their physical beauty?

In an age of Anthony Weiners who wish to be known only by their skin, in an age inundated by pornography and sexually oriented advertising, of television that only encourages us to see others and ourselves as objects, how can w cultivate the instruction of the anonymous but wise San Franciscan blogger? How do we move toward an appreciation of Biblical Sara whose physical beauty is her spiritual beauty and vice versa?