Monday, October 19, 2009

Israel's big post-weekend story...

In cold blood

You might think ordinary Israelis began their work week on Sunday focused on the UN Human Rights Council's lopsided endorsement of the unfair Goldstone Report; or perhaps the continuing absence of a Turkish ambassador in our country; or even what the attack on senior officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, not far from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, might mean.

But what actually grabbed most folks' attention was the slaughter - and we do not use the word carelessly - of three generations of the Oshrenko family, grandparents, parents and children, in Rishon Lezion early Saturday. The six victims have been named as Ludmilla and Edward Oshrenko, both 56, Dimitri and Tatyana Oshrenko, 32 and 28, three-year-old Revital and three-month-old Natanel. News of the killings was so appalling that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu used the weekly cabinet meeting to express the pain and horror all Israelis feel.

Criminologists will reassure us that crime is not galloping out of control, merely trotting apace with previous years and comparable to other advanced societies. Indeed, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 171 murders in Israel (population 7.4 million) during 2008 - though police have officially labeled only 122 of these as definitely murders. By comparison, the New York City (population 8.3 million) updated murder figure for 2008 is 516. London (7.5 million) averages around 170 homicides annually.

Rishon, with a population of over 200,000, has been solidifying a bad reputation for weekend violence largely traceable to its expansive entertainment and bar district. Last month, for example, Vodja Milnik allegedly stabbed IDF Sgt. Uri Chen to death during a brawl. Readers of The Jerusalem Post have become resigned to the reality that our Sunday edition is often loaded with news about weekend hooliganism in various localities, including the capital.

There are no obvious commonalities between the usual weekend mayhem our society seems to have reconciled itself to - stabbings, shootings, youthful brawling, teenage binge-drinking, and nuisance loitering - and the Oshrenko case. Still, if we are to be brutally frank, we can acknowledge that not a small amount of the weekend violence involves youths whose families stem from the former Soviet Union and who have remained cut off, even here in Israel, from their Jewish heritage.

There is a limit to what we know or are allowed at this juncture to say about the Oshrenko tragedy. There is speculation that this nadir of brutality - people say the country has never experienced anything like it - is traceable to "the Caucasus mafia."

We know that the Oshrenko family, who reportedly owned several thriving businesses, among them a delicatessen located on the block where they lived modestly, did nothing to attract unfavorable attention from their neighbors.

THE murders are, mercifully, a horrible aberration. But a good way to honor the memory of the family is to reinvigorate efforts to make Israel a less violent society. Naturally, that requires better policing, capable prosecutors and wise judges; yet something more is called for.

No one expects 21st-century Israel to be a Herzlian utopia where citizens spend their Friday nights either around the traditional Shabbat table (though, happily, many do) or around campfires engaged in earnest ideological discussion about the fine points of Zionist ideology.

But surely it would not be overreaching to strive for a middle ground between a country that is a caricature of its founders' ideals and one that is oblivious to them altogether. Put another way, if young people are inculcated with good - dare we say Zionist - values, we ought to have nothing to fear if they want to spend part of their Friday nights clubbing. The key, however, is to impart Zionism, civility and, by example, ethical norms.

In mourning the Oshrenkos, we would do well not to berate ourselves as a uniquely violent society (because we're not); nor, at the other extreme, to imagine that there is absolutely nothing to be learned because this crime is unique. Instead, let us urge the institutions that shape societal values - the Rabbinate, the media and entertainment industry, schools and families - to transmit messages of inclusion, on the one hand, and zero tolerance of violence on the other.

No comments:

My Archive