Police, religious leaders and community members gathered Monday night to discuss child safety tips in the wake of the brutal murder of a young Jewish boy in Brooklyn.
Council members Elie Y. Katz and Yitz Stern organized the event after receiving calls from residents concerned about the murder of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky in Brooklyn last week. Kletzky’s killing, in the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, has left some members of Teaneck’s Orthodox population wondering how to protect their own children.
The fact that the man charged in the child’s death, Levi Aron, is also Jewish and lived in the same area, has served as a “wake-up call” for the community, said Rabbi Abe Friedman, who worked with the New York Police Department and helped search for Kletzky.
“Strangers, unfortunately, can be someone from our own community,” Friedman said.
Detective Eddy Lievano, of the Teaneck Police Youth Bureau, reminded parents that threats could come from people who might appear trusting to children. Lievano said technology allows police to quickly share information about a missing child and police should be called immediately when problems arise.
“Time is of the essence when something like this happens,” Lievano said.
Police Chief Robert Wilson also urged community members to quickly notify authorities if something seems amiss.
“We never downplay anybody’s concerns. We take it and we immediately respond to the area,” Wilson said.
Police generally handle about five reports of luring per year in town, with some turning out to be misunderstandings, he said. In one recent case, a Hackensack man was charged with trying to entice a teen girl to meet him a remote location. Police said the girl and area residents were able to supply critical information that led detectives to the man.
Debbie Fox, a licensed clinical social worker, detailed a series of safety tips for protecting children from both strangers and predators who might have a relationship with the child. In the Kletzky case, New York police have said the child was killed after a random encounter.
Community members must learn from crisis, Fox said.
“I believe that as a Jewish community we never believed that this could happen,” she said of the Brooklyn killing.
Parents should ask questions of their children, but also make children feel safe telling them about possible inappropriate behavior, Fox said.
Rabbi and Psychologist David Fox, Debbie’s husband, said the Kletzky tragedy was felt across the community.
“We are not distant from this,” he said. “We are all relatives to Leiby.”
Although Monday’s event was sponsored by Jewish group Chai Lifeline and held at Young Israel of Teaneck, the young child’s death also impacted those outside the Orthodox community.
“As someone who became a father four months ago, last week’s news really shook me to my core,” said Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who also attended Monday’s event.
Stern said he hoped similar safety events could be held around town.
“I think that this type of a meeting should be held in all parts of the Teaneck community,” he said. “This type of a problem should be brought to all parts of Teaneck.”