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Adi and Yitzhak Levy were sure they were doing the right thing the night they persuaded their only son, Ra'anan, to accompany friends to a nightclub at Kibbutz Shefayim. Though mourning the loss of their eldest daughter, who had died of complications from cerebral palsy only three months earlier, the Rishon Lezion residents wanted their son to live it up a little before his impending military service.
"I pushed him to go out [though] he was still grieving," says father Yitzhak. "Our youngsters spend three years of their lives in the army and it is important for them to enjoy themselves beforehand."
Little did the family know, however, that the decision to go out on December 18, 2004 would prove to be a fatal one for the 18-year-old, who got caught in the crossfire of a violent brawl outside the nightclub he hadn't even been particularly keen to enter in the first place.
Described by family and friends as a home-body at heart who not only excelled at sports, but who had passed his matriculation exams with flying colors, Ra'anan had never been partial to the drinking or clubbing scene. Indeed, his clean-cut appearance may have been one of the reasons he and his friends failed to pass the club's "selection process," involving a bouncer at the door allowing or denying access, according to standards of "cool."
Which makes Ra'anan's death that night as painfully ironic as it was tragic.
Initial police findings and eyewitness testimonies suggested that Ra'anan and his friends had struck up a conversation with a girl who, too, was waiting to pass "selection."
The girl's boyfriend, said witnesses, suspected Ra'anan of flirting with his girlfriend and alerted a group of friends, who then chased Levy in a Mitsubishi 4x4 jeep. After catching him, one of them got out of the car and stabbed him in the heart. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
"I would read about this sort of thing happening to other kids in the paper and believed it only happened to troubled youths, not to those from good families," says Yitzhak, a textile engineer.
A close friend of the family, Arthur Levi, a former native of Britain who tutored Ra'anan in English, describes him as a very ordinary boy, in the best sense of the word.
"Actually, by Israeli standards, I would even say he was extraordinary because he was so polite. When we heard about the incident on the news, we did not worry that it was the Ra'anan Levy we knew; we thought it was someone else with the same name. It was not the sort of boy he was; it just wasn't him."
Mother Adi was equally shocked.
"I had no idea about all this violence in clubs, my other daughter told me that I lived in a bubble," she says, her voice beginning to break. "That bubble burst the night we went to [the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine at] Abu Kabir to identify Ra'anan's body. Suddenly I felt as if the whole world were laughing at us."
THE LEVYS - who kept quiet about their ordeal until the recent court-ordered gag on the case was removed - are only one of many families who have lost a member to violent crime.
"Since this happened to us, we have been hearing about more and more similar incidents," says Yitzhak. "It is almost as though society is getting used to it. I don't know, perhaps it is because all the death caused by terrorism has made life so cheap that no one cares when a person dies outside a nightclub. Everyone turns a blind eye."
Apparently, however, Ra'anan's brutal murder a year and a half ago was a serious eye-opener for police and social professionals. Reaching the conclusion that this type of violent crime must be dealt with on many different levels simultaneously, a number of police-run programs and projects have been set in motion or at least formulated. One example is the requirement for nightclubs to train their security guards to handle fights that erupt on the premises.
Furthermore, this week in Eilat more than 400 politicians, social workers, police experts, university professors and other professionals will gather under the banner "Confronting Violence in Israeli Society" to discuss ways to repair society's apathy to crime.
AS FOR Ra'anan's murder, the case still remains unsolved. Despite witnesses who came forward on the night of the stabbing, the police have yet to apprehend his killer or accomplices.
According to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, following the initial investigation many of the witnesses refused to make official statements.
"We cannot prosecute a case without any evidence," he says. "The team investigating the murder is currently at the height of its investigation and significant progress has been made.
"There was a change in the make up of the team in order to give it new focus and put emphasis on points that had not been before considered. The family is in close contact with the police, and so far we have only received positive feedback from them of our work."
Adi's comments to The Jerusalem Post do not jibe with Rosenfeld's, however.
"The three friends who were with Ra'anan on the night he was murdered all came forward with evidence of who killed their friend, but the police did nothing," she says. "It's absurd that the country has come to this. It's absurd that the police did not gather evidence from the crime scene and that witnesses from that night were afraid to come forward, even though they saw who committed the crime."
She continues: "We know who did it, but it is not my job to catch the killer. That is the job of the police. The country should protect me. I was raised to love this country, but I lost a lot when the police did nothing to find the murderer of my son. This murderer did not kill one child. He has ruined a whole family."
For Yitzhak, too, the fact his son's murderer is still at large is an open wound. "I just ask that they try and catch him so we can put some closure on this," he says.
The Levy's are disappointed that society has allowed such brutal behavior to go unchecked for so long.
"Watching a sick child die hurts, but it something you deal with; you cannot get too angry with anyone about it," says Adi. "But having a child die because of meaningless violence I can't accept. All my son did was smile at the girl. I always taught him to smile at people and be nice when he first met them. Today it is more acceptable to call a girl 'kusit' ["hot babe" in polite translation] than to be courteous and smile at her. Smile at someone and you get killed; curse at them or use derogatory language and that is OK. Our society does not accept gentle behavior. If you are too soft it means you are a 'yoram' [goody two-shoes]. A child who does not know how to hit back will only lose out."
"All the things that we raised him to be - kind, polite and gentle - did not really matter in the end," says Yitzhak sadly. "I have little doubt that basic education comes from the home, from parents and how they teach their children to behave. Afterwards, it comes from the education system, but many schools do not deal with the violence or hide it so their school does not get a bad reputation. But the worst offenders are the courts, which give out light punishments. Lawyers and judges need to learn from America. We get the bad things from there. Why can't we also get the good things, such as stiffer sentences?
"The clubs need to get involved in stopping this violence too. Now, at football matches there are police and ambulances present to prevent this kind of thing from happening. At places such as clubs, there is absolutely no protection for the young people."
In spite of their great loss, the Levy family hopes that by finally talking about their ordeal, they may be able to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.
Says Yitzhak: "Ra'anan will never come back to us but maybe something will change, maybe someone else will gain from hearing about our experiences."
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