Every summer in the city of New York and its environs an annual ritual takes place among a huge number of religious families. There is a mass migration to the Catskill Mountains - a decades long favorite vacation spot for Jews of all stripes. For the last 50 years or so it has increasingly become populated by religious Jews. They do so to get away from the heat - and the hustle and bustle of the city. I can certainly understand their desire for this change of environment. They go from hot concrete to a cooler and beautifully scenic country atmosphere.
This can entail a 2 or 3 week stay in a Kosher hotel or more typically renting cabins in what is known as a bungalow colony for a couple of months that is filled with religiously like minded families. The wife and children stay there the entire time and the husbands commute - staying in the city for their jobs during the week and joining the families for Shabbos.
I could never understand this mindset. Aside from the expense of maintaining two residences for two months a year - how is a family to function properly as a unit for an entire summer without a father’s presence except for Shabbos? And how does the father spend his non-working hours during the week in the city alone? In my view this is an invitation for all kinds of problems.
Be that as it may, it’s a free country and it seems to work. The families survive. I am not here to judge them. I am here to defend them.
Last year at about this time, an event took place that shocked the Torah world. It happened in the Catskill Mountains in and around areas heavily populated by Religious Jew both Modern Orthodox and Charedi. Hundreds of young people from some very fine homes were found in and around a pool hall and hanging out, cavorting, drinking, and snorting drugs. The kids ran the full range of Orthodox Jewry “ children from very Chasidish to very modern Orthodox homes.
Mainstream young people joined the party at least as observers. Their friends had rented bungalows in non-Jewish colonies or rooms in hotels throughout the Catskills where they party from Thursday night until Monday morning including Shabbos.
When this was discovered last year it of course created an uproar. Parents and educators were rightly upset by this event. There was an outcry that was heard by some of the rabbinic leaders. It was determined that what was lacking was some sort of structured and Kosher activities for these young people to go to on a Motzei Shabbos. If I recall correctly they responded by organizing Saturday night concerts so that young people would be attracted to that - instead of hanging around bored - with nothing to do, no where to go, and being left to their own devises.
Personally I believe the problem in the Charedi world is deeper than just the lack of kosher entertainment. It is a problem of insularity. In the attempt to insulate from the toxicity of much that is American popular culture, they isolate – building walls around walls to prevent that culture from creeping in. Great effort is placed into assuring that children not see or hear anything outside of their tightly knit communities. Any activity seen as even a slight possibility to leading to a problem is completely avoided or banned. This - they feel - is the beast way to protect their children from the vices of the outside world.
That has left their young people with essentially nothing to do in a summer that is filled with lots of free time. The desire to alleviate boredom is a powerful force. If no outlets are provided, then young people will create their own. Most of the time this doesn’t mean going to the Beis Hamedrash as we see from the events of last year.
What is the Charedi response this year? The Yated is reporting yet another unbelievable ban by some unnamed rabbinic leadership. If one can trust the Yated, the solution is yet another ban - or near ban. This time it is on the entire Catskill Mountains. From the Yated:
Gedolei Yisroel want it made clear that those who opt to go to such places place themselves in a real nisoyon whereas those who "guard their soul" distance themselves from such places. Those who have already made reservations should ask a rov whether to cancel their reservations.
Yet another ‘bury your head in the sand’ solution. Any time there is any possibility of a problem in any enterprise, no matter how beneficial it might be, the entire enterprise is banned. This just happened again, if one is to believe the Yated.
Instead of trying to deal with the underlying cause of a problem the easy way out is taken, Ban it, ban it, ban it. Instead of finding solutions that will not drastically alter the lives of families who have a decades-long tradition of summer vacationing in the mountains, they just ban the whole thing. That’s always the solution.
Wasn’t last year’s solution more sensible? When are those who advocate bans as the solution to every problem - going to learn that instead of solving the problem they might actually be contributing to it? The more forbidden a fruit becomes, the more enticing it becomes. Sometimes I think the biggest problem plaguing the Torah world these days is the lack of common sense.
Many young people are unable to survive the austere environment that being handed them. I see it more and more. Some good kids from fine families are either going off the Derech when they encounter the forbidden fruit in a place like the pool hall of last year - or opting for a lifestyle that is far more consistent with the Modern Orthodox values than Charedi ones. That population is growing by leaps and bounds.
Is this the goal? To raise children that will rebel from the Charedi values and adopt a lifestyle that is Modern Orthodox but without the benefits of its Hashkafic underpinnings? Because if it that is their goal is they are succeeding in increasingly greater numbers.