Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hachayim V'hamaves B'yad.... Hamenahel

The problem of kids abusing alchohol arises every year at this time. Each Purim season brings more ads and articles like this one urging restraint. Yet, seemingly, the problem continues.

Years ago, I played a Purim seudah at one of the most prestigious charedi yeshivos on the East Coast. Virtually all of the bochurim were drunk, with many throwing up, staggering around, etc. I'll never forget how the sax player, who was standing next to me, kept saying: "This is all the Rabbi's fault. I blame him. If he didn't allow this to happen, it wouldn't." I had no answer at the time, and still don't because he was absolutely right. This Rabbi's talmidim would have listened to him, had he made an unequivocal statement banning the practice. I have no idea why he didn't, but the result was a yearly chillul Hashem.

For the past few years, I've played a Purim event for a black-hat high school. Since the boys are away for Purim, the event has been held a few nights earlier. Essentially, it was a Purim gig, only without the obligations of megillah and mishloach manot. Invariably, the boys, all underage, got plastered and many drank until they were sick.

This year, the menahel decided to put an end to this. Instead of the usual talk about not overdoing things, which the guys don't take seriously, he announced a penalty for drinking. A bochur caught drinking would incur a $500 fine plus additional consequences, including, possibly, expulsion. Since he was serious, and there was a clearly defined consequence, the kids took the warning seriously, and didn't drink. (There was one exception. He got caught and will likely be expelled.)

This approach is brilliant. Obviously, you don't expel a good kid for poor judgement on only one occasion. So the $500 is really a strong deterrent for most kids. As far as the problem kids go; a kid who is expelled won't pay the fee.

I played this year's party yesterday, and it was just as lively as previous years, despite the lack of alcohol. Afterwards, many of the kids came over to say that it had been "as great as last year" and "maybe it's better this way." Later that night, I ran into some other kids from the yeshiva, on my way home from my later gig, and they reiterated the sentiments their friends had expressed.

In short, this illustrates that if the rabbinic leadership at our yeshivos finally decide that the underage drinking has gotten unacceptably out of control and needs to be stopped, they can achieve this with ease. In the past, they've sent mixed messages, by talking about how people need to be appropriate, and then winking at innappropriate behavior by participating in events --chagigot, mesibot, get-togethers, etc.-- with obviously drunk kids.

Having witnessed several near accidents as a result of this behavior -- including a near accident last year, when a drunk high-schooler stepped into oncoming traffic -- I'm convinced that something needs to be done about this. It's one thing for a teenager to have a glass of wine at his family's seudah. It's quite another for teens to get stone drunk. It's past time the roshei yeshiva dealt with this effectively.