Monday, July 18, 2011

Searching for the message

Since the events of last week, I have found it very hard to consider writing anything else on this blog before addressing what happened. To not say something while blithely posting anything else seemed to me to be to callous; on the other hand, what could I possibly say, when I am clearly at a loss in my own thoughts over this horrible matter.

I waited this long before even attempting anything, because I wanted to distance myself at least a  little bit from the overpowering emotional  weight that this whole episode has carried; to my mind, it would be equally disrespectful to the poor victim to respond to the events in a visceral, uncontrolled way as it would be to not write anything at all.

Indeed, I have read numerous essays and blog posts where the writers reacted in such forceful ways that I felt embarrassed reading them. In their impotent rage at the brutality, they lashed out at the alleged murderer, sometimes in a ghastly manner that somewhat mirrored the gruesome demise of this innocent little boy.

In the few days immediately following the awful climax of the search for Leibby, I heard otherwise refined people speak in the most disgusting, harsh, depraved language concerning this man, and what they would do to him were they to find themselves alone with him. The topic of discussion in one of my classes was about the events of the week, and it quickly descended into a fantasy session among my classmates as they engaged in one-upmanship, describing the acts of vengeance they would carry out on the alleged killer.

It is clear that the Jewish "media outlets" possess a distinct bias against Levi Aron, the man who has been charged with the murder of this boy. Not only have they judged him and found him guilty, they have seen fit to label him with every pejorative that equates him with Evil Incarnate. Left to their own devices, it seems that the Jewish community would make this man quickly disappear (after meting out some serious vengeance). While I don't doubt that this man is responsible for the crimes he has been charged with, I do believe that by law (American and Jewish) this man must be found guilty, and until then we must treat him as someone with rights. Due process of the law must be upheld; there is no room for frontier justice in these circumstances. I firmly believe that one way or another, Justice will be done; whether that happens in the criminal justice system of the United States or on a different plane of existence altogether, it will be done - it is not for us, the laity, the bystanders with our clouded priorities to get involved where we don't belong.

And while my natural reaction is to stand with the crowd and join in the demonizing of Levi Aron, I cannot do so with a clear conscience. Nor can I join in with the "piling on" of other offenses to his "repertoire" without any evidence or indication that such suspicion is warranted. In an article published on Cross-Currents, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein quotes a rov who prefers to remain anonymous as saying that:

I am sure he was, and I am sure he molested many others, and i [sic] am sure that there were people that knew and hushed it.
This was in response to Rabbi Adlerstein's query whether that rov thought that Levi Aron might be a pedophile. I understand that pedophilia is one of the *popular* crises that the Jewish community is contending with now (rightfully so, unfortunately), but to accuse anyone of that crime without any justification is terribly irresponsible, even if that man has confessed to abducting and killing a young child.

I am not trying to advocate on Levi Aron's behalf, save for the assertion that he is entitled to representation, to face his accusers, and to a full mental assessment to determine whether he suffers from mental illness or not.

Another thing that has bothered me is the response of the Jewish community in general. I feel awful for saying this, but it appears to me that we still haven't gotten whatever message we were supposed to receive with this horrible tragedy. I witnessed soul numbing apathy in the hours leading up to the discovery of the body; in shul, people filed out after ma'ariv lost on their cellphones and BlackBerry's, oblivious to the enormous signs displayed prominently at eye level exhorting every minyan (even ma'ariv, a special exception for times of crisis) to say tehillim while hundreds of volunteers searched for Leiby. I tried to stop them but was ignored. Nor was there any significant change in my yeshiva; I heard that attendance at shacharis was lackluster, as if nothing had happened.

Of course, there was a tremendous show of support and unity from the Jewish community - but much of it came after the fact. When it was too late, and we already had a tragedy to cope with. And now, how do we respond? We have institutions using Leiby's angelic image as an advertising gimmick to stir us to donate to them; we have people using the tragedy as a tool to further their own agendas, from child safety campaigns to those who would attribute this occurrence to the misuse of the Internet and cellphones, in some form of Divine retribution.

It seems to me that our response to this tragedy has been almost entirely superficial. We say a few platitudes, shake our collective heads morosely, and return to regular programming as soon as possible. People were busy with rumors concerning Levi Aron and his dubious Jewish heritage - as if confirming that a Jew couldn't possibly have done such a heinous crime would alleviate the remorse and guilt and pain that we should all be feeling. I know that there are many individuals who are taking this seriously, and I am sure they have made tremendous changes or have resolved to make changes, but as a whole, what have we done in earnest?

Tomorrow is the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day. We will read in the Torah how our teacher Moshe pleads for our forgiveness, because we are a "stiff necked people."

Let us for once not be stiff necked. Let us not forget this tragedy any time soon. Let us turn our gazes inward, each of us, and try to find the personal message that Leiby's untimely death speaks to us on a personal level.

I don't know what to make of this whole story, but I do know that I have deficiencies that need to be worked on. One of those is reminding myself that we are in a very difficult galut, and though the end may be in sight, we still need to yearn for Mashiach.

The Lubavitchers got it wrong. It's not "We want Mashiach now!"

It's "We need Mashiach now."

1 comment:

micha said...

I responded to this post as part of a general phenomenon of bloggers dissatisfied with how our community responded over on Aspaqlaria. The post is titled, "He Should Inspect His Deeds".

-micha