Monday, August 07, 2017

We Have a Drinking Problem

There has been much talk in the media about the near epidemic level of opiate poisoning. Overdoses of heroin, an opiate, has been in the news a lot lately. Recently this problem has hit home. 20 year old Malky Klein, the daughter of a devout Chasidic family living in Boro Park, died of a heroin overdose. 

But opiate consumption is not the only problem we have. Consumption of alcohol is a problem too. And it long predates the opiate problem.  

In certain ways alcohol consumption is an even bigger problem. True the deaths due to alcohol poisoning are not as common (...or as commonly reported - I don't know which is the truer statement). But it is a bigger problem in the sense that alcohol consumption is a widely accepted social activity. (Among adults legally. Among minors illegally).

Not only is it socially acceptable, it is even encouraged in some Orthodox circles at least one day a year on Purim. Although many Rabbis and Roshei Yeshiva have put the brakes on their students doing it then, many have not and still encourage it. 

That it is legal and socially acceptable makes it ‘cool’ to get ‘high’ among young people.  The buzz one feels upon getting high is what getting drunk is all about. Which can be a lot of fun in the moment. But at the end of the day it all too often causes Chilul HaShem.

I see it all the time at weddings. Young Yeshiva students will sometimes get so drunk that they become wild and oblivious to people around them. Bumping into them and even knocking them down in wild dance.  

When challenged by a sober guest, about their wild dancing they will respond that they are performing the Mitzvah of being M'sameach Chasan V'Kalla - making the Chasan (and Kallah if she’s there) happy. These drunken Yeshiva students are selfish and insufferable. And yet, unfortunately, I occasionally see their Rosh Yeshiva or Rebbe either joining them in dance or showing their tacit approval of their ‘exuberance’.

In some cases, if the booze isn’t there (either because of hotel rules or the wishes of the host), these Yeshiva Bachurim will sneak in their own bottle. They don’t seem to care about the rules. Their interpretation of being M'sameach Chasan V'Kalla overrides those ‘stupid’ hotel rules! For them, getting drunk at a wedding is what weddings are all about, it seems. And their Roshei Yeshiva either approve – or don’t care.  This behavior crosses all Hashkafic lines. I’ve seen it among MO types and Charedi types.

Let me hasten to add that not all Yeshiva Bachurim are like that.  I can personally testify that I do see many Yeshiva students that are not like that. Telshe being one of them. I have never seen a Telshe Bachur behave in this way. 

I am not sure what percentage of Yeshiva Bauchrim get drunk. But clearly enough of them do to make it a source of Chilul HaShem. I can’t tell you how many times people have come over to me at a wedding and said something like, ‘I am never going to send my kids to a Yeshiva if this is how their students behave.’ I don’t blame them.

At the end of the day, this is a manifestation of pure selfishness. which ends up showing their true character. 

This phenomenon has spread into other areas recently. It seems to have become pervasive in certain summer camps. Here is how Yeshaya Dovid Braunstein of Lakewood feels about it – as expressed at YWN:

The topic I want to address is alcohol-drinking in camps. But not just any camps. I am referring to the elite “yeshiva / learning” camps. I have decided to leave the names of these camps out and hope that this letter alone will hopefully awaken the masses.
Please don’t start telling me that this is a minor percentage, because it’s not. This is a roaring problem that is largely being ignored and not being taken seriously by the people running these camps. I humbly question why the Roshei Yeshiva of these boys allow them to go to any of these camps as it’s no secret regarding the alcohol consumption at these camps. In fact, I have had many conversations with leading Roshei Yeshiva about this, and they just shrug their shoulders.
Just last night a bunch of these camps joined together to go to a well known amusement park. The day was capped off with a concert and a band with singing and dancing. I don’t think your readership needs to see the footage of the drunk boys staggering all over the place, so I’ll hold that for round two – If immediate action isn’t taken.
What are these camp owners waiting for? Do we need a few boys to die of alcohol poisoning before people boycott these camps? Why is the “zero tolerance for a smartphone” enforced but the drinking epidemic being ignored?
The description of what’s going on at these ‘learning camps’  sounds eerily similar to what I experience at weddings. But the problem does not begin in camp. As one YWN readers noted in a rather harshly worded comment: 
Let me give you a little detail in what happens: The rule in all of these camps are NO DRINKING. But what happens is, you have these bachurim who are so used to getting drunk in their homes, in their shuls, in their Yeshivas, that they go behind the camps back and drink in the bathroom, in the forest….etc.

He ends his comment by placing the blame where I think it rightly belongs: in the laps of the parents, Roshei Yeshiva, high school principals, Shul Rabbis. (I would add peer group pressure as well.) This – he says – is where the drinking starts. In their homes, their Yeshivos, and in their Shuls every Shabbos at the Kiddush!

I think he’s right. The fact happens to be that we are responsible for our children’s behavior. When we aggrandize alcohol consumption in conversations among ourselves, talking about how smooth various brands are or how single malt scotch is better then blended whiskey, or how great a 12 year old bottle of scotch is , what do we expect our children to learn from that? Certainly not that getting drunk in public and behaving like animals is a Chilul HaShem. 

Instead they want to emulate their role models. And believe it or not, parents are usually the most important role models in a child’s life. 

It gets more serious when alcohol consumption becomes an addiction. Why that happens is beyond the scope of this post. I will only say that it a form of self medication to relieve the emotional pain suffered by people that are clinically depressed. A growing phenomenon all by itself which can be due to the variety of factors often discussed here. 

The bottom line is that either way, this problem needs to be taken seriously. And it isn’t.  At least not enough. I know it is a complex problem that intertwines with other problems. But the difficulty of finding a solution does not absolve us of the responsibility of finding one.