Strength in numbers

No one denies that Wayne Stephen Young murdered Esther Lebovitz, the 11-year-old girl who disappeared on her way home from the Bais Yaakov School for Girls in 1969. And in a perfect world, the question of Young’s freedom — he was sentenced to life in prison in 1970 — would not be an issue almost 45 years after the killing brought horror to Baltimore’s Jewish community.

But this is not a perfect world, a fact laid bare last week when an obscure legal precedent known as the Unger ruling set in motion a process that culminated in Young’s appearance before Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hardagon. The jurist will now decide whether Young, who admitted to the police officer administering his polygraph test years ago that he “killed that little girl,” will get to go free.

The judge’s decision will surely be driven by the law. But even he could not ignore the presence of 250 members of our community who carpooled and rode buses and trains to attend the hearing.

“It does not go unnoticed how many people are here,” Judge Hardagon said from the bench. “Thank you for coming.”

The busloads of concerned citizens, clutching books of Tehillim and listening intently to the proceedings, made a statement even in silence. Most of those in attendance didn’t know the victim, whose family moved to Israel shortly after her murder. Many weren’t even born when the murder occurred. But they somehow felt the impact of the events of almost a half century ago.

Why they felt compelled to attend — and why we feel compelled to applaud their attendance — is a testament to their shared humanity and to the idea that when the imperfections of the world place even one Jewish family in danger, ours is a community that can rise together to demand that justice be done.

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