The murder last week of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky was “a tragedy beyond words,” Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin told The Jewish Standard. And that is why, “as the citizens of Teaneck were reflecting on how to keep our children safe, we took this opportunity” to call a town-wide meeting, in conjunction with Chai Lifeline and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, Monday night.
Hameeduddin and former Mayor Elie Katz were among the speakers at the gathering, held at Young Israel of Teaneck and attended by more than 250 people.
Rabbi David Fox, a forensic and clinical psychologist and a member of Chai Lifeline’s Project Chai, spoke about helping both adults and children to cope with the tragedy and about parents’ playing a greater role in a child’s life and turning safety into a routine, not just a speech.
|Missing-person posters for 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky were plastered throughout Borough Park, Brooklyn, in the time between his disappearance and the arrest of his suspected murderer on July 13. Local Jewish institutions are examining their safety procedures. Tim Faracy/Creative Commons|
Police Chief Robert A. Wilson illustrated the importance of calling the police immediately when a child’s safety is threatened by citing a case some years ago in which a man tried to lure a child into his car on Shabbat. The parents waited until the next day to call the police.
When people don’t report crimes they see, for whatever reason, Wilson told the Standard, it “seriously inhibits our ability to do our job.”
He added, “All the rabbis I’ve spoken to say … you have to take action and take care of your child, despite it being Shabbat…. You’re not bothering us reporting suspicious acts you may see. That’s why we’re here…. We all need to take an active role in protecting our kids.”
Experts, including Debbie Fox, a licensed social worker who has written about child safety, answered the question of what to teach a child to do if lost: First, find a uniformed officer. If not, look for a mother with children, and then a cashier or salesperson in a store.
Sheila Steinbach, director of clinical services at Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, said her treatment team is on call and able to conduct individual, family, and group counseling. “We offer workshops on child safety, how to protect your children in public, bullying, cyberbullying, and more.” She said that she will reach out to local school administrators once schools are back in session: “This is definitely going to be an issue in the fall.” The treatment team is also available to work with parents on “how to speak to kids about the tragedy. You really have to do it in a mindful way,” she said.
A sampling of area summer programs showed that safety procedures are in place.
At the Neil Klatskin Day Camp of the JCC on the Palisades, in Tenafly, says camp director Stacey Budkofsky, “All staff members wear camp T-shirts. If an adult is on camp premises who doesn’t belong, that person really stands out.” She added that her staff is vigilant about identifying strangers and will “always approach them and escort them to where they need to go.”
Their vigilance extends to dismissal procedure, she pointed out, noting that the camp operates a strict carpool system. “Each parent gets a card, with a specific number corresponding to a camper, that he or she needs to display when picking up a child,” says Budkofsky. If there is a special situation, such as a camper who needs to leave early, the camper must bring a signed note, and the adult picking up the child must come into the office and present identification, she says.
At Gan Aviv, a nursery school in Bergenfield, visitors must call the office on an intercom to enter the building. Parents are issued key cards, allowing them to come inside to pick up their children, and a computer system matches name to card number, verifying the identity every time a parent walks in. “We have a very strict security system here,” says Karen Adler, owner and director of the school. Visitors need to carry picture identification at all times. “We have had times,” Adler says, “where people have had to go back to get their IDs and come back.”
“We don’t let the children go with anyone,” says Debbie Lesnoy, director of Shomrei Torah Nursery School in Fair Lawn, unless that person is a parent. Staff members check the identification of all visitors to the school, and when a grandfather recently called to arrange to pick up a student, Lesnoy took not only his name, but his address, car make, and license plate number. She verified her information when the car arrived. “I think everyone in the community needs to re-look at our comfort level,” she said.