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A Monster Among the 'Frum'

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A Shomrim flyer showing a photo of Leiby Kletzky.  

He had become convinced that Leiby had followed 44th Street all the way south to its terminus, where the offices of Tri State were located. Bern­stein’s tapes would show which way the boy had gone next. Unfortunately, Bernstein was a security freak who could not operate his own security apparatus. He slapped anxiously at his computer before bounding, with the jerky grace of a giraffe, to the phone, where he summoned Heshy Herbst, a friend and Protel employee

Herbst, like everyone in Borough Park, had been following the news of Leiby’s disappearance, and he dropped what he was working on and drove straight over. Inside the office, he hooked up the cameras to Bernstein’s desktop and showed German and Bernstein how to stream the footage. It did not take them long to find Leiby.

In the clip, the boy, clearly disoriented, lingers by the chain-link fence at the corner of the Tri State lot. A man, bearded and wearing a newsboy cap, approaches, and he and Leiby have a brief conversation. The man departs. Seven minutes pass. Leiby remains in place. The man returns and walks with Leiby to a nearby Honda. The car, in a stroke of awful luck, sits partially hidden by a bush, its license plate out of view.

“Did you see that?” German asked.

“See what?” Bernstein said. “The car?”

“No, the guy, in the cap. He was Jewish.”

In Borough Park, most marriages are arranged with the help of a shadken—a professional matchmaker who performs a kind of due diligence on his or her ­clients, sweeping the ancestral closet for skeletons. Criteria include the social position of the family and the perceived piety of the bride and groom. The most promising men and women are generally married early, around the age of 21 or 22. For the next decade, they concentrate on building the biggest possible family—a mitzvah in the eyes of God.

Levi Aron remained single for the bulk of his twenties, a sign that he was considered by both his family and the neighborhood shadken to be of lesser stock. For companionship, he turned to a group of like-minded Jews, most of them also single men. They called themselves rebels, one friend remembers. They raged against the strictures of the frum, or pious, world and gathered at restaurants and bars around South Brooklyn—their go-to spot was a dimly lit kosher Japanese steakhouse called Fuji Hana. Aron could be a hard person to talk to, by turns aggressively chatty or heavy-­lidded and silent. “His head would just drop down and his face would go blank,” one former friend remembers. “We’d ask him if he was okay, and he’d lean over and show us the scar from the bike accident.” He seemed to have trouble “distinguishing emotional distance,” one acquaintance said. “He could tell you if he knew someone, but he couldn’t tell you who’s a friend, who’s just some guy he barely knows.”

In 2002, Aron met Diana Diunov, a young Israeli émigré who had become romantically involved with a friend of his named Jay Girshberg. As a teenager, she claimed, the Israeli government had smuggled her out of her native Moldavia. But soon, Diunov said, she was diagnosed with a fatal liver condition and, with the help of a Brooklyn Jewish group, moved to the United States with her daughter Edita to receive a transplant. When the operation was over, she decided to stay in New York. Diunov could be charming and fiercely funny, and she quickly found work in the diamond district.

“Everything for Diana is big,” says someone who knows her well. “When she’s up, she’s on top of the world, and when she is down, she can take the entire cosmos with her.” To Aron, she must have seemed exotic indeed. Diunov, for her part, initially thought of Aron only as a friend, but when her relationship with Girshberg began to sour, she took a second look. Asher Girshberg, Jay’s father, vouched for Levi, saying he was a “nice boy.” According to Diunov, she and Aron married in 2004, embarking on an unconventional union: She was still living with Girshberg, and Aron would come out to their Brighton Beach apartment to see his bride. During that time, Aron also spent time with young Edita, apparently without incident.

At one point, Diunov remembers, she and Diunov considered renting an apartment together. For Aron, the benefits of the arrangement would have been obvious: He could escape Borough Park, find permanent companionship, cure his isolation. But after just three months, the marriage began to fray, and by the end of the year, Diunov and Aron were divorced. They remained friends, however, and when Diunov married a man named Boris Shvartsman, Aron made a brief appearance at the wedding, where he dropped off some spare audio equipment for the D.J.


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