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Among the many and diverse responses to this series of columns, one theme that keeps coming up is the sense of bewilderment on the part of many people. The vast majority of people who are contacting me agree with the facts as I am presenting them. They shake their heads and wonder:
How did we get to this point (that teen drinking/smoking have become acceptable, and that the rate of substance abuse is rising)? … And
What should (could) we be doing about it?
The al regel achas (short version) of my response to these questions is that we have been lulled into complacency by the remarkable success of our Yeshiva and Beis Yaakov system over the past 2 generations. We are basking in the glow of the thousands of well-adjusted, idealistic and spiritual young men and women that our schools are graduating – while at the same time we are becoming numbed and accustomed to the rising rates and intensity of drinking and smoking, substance abuse and addiction. I think that we need to be candid in our analysis of the facts and hand, and proactive in our response to them.
Last week, I began this three-column set by addressing the “how did we get there?” with an introduction to the phrase coined by the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Defining Deviancy Down.” He wrote that each generation adjusts to growth in antisocial behavior by regularly redefining deviancy and, in effect, pretending that nothing got worse. That phrase became the rallying cry of New York's Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bratton who used the term to explain why they implemented their ‘quality of life’ campaign and transformed New York City.
I noted that this turnaround started with a speech, an article, … and most importantly, the public’s collective refusal to continue to define deviancy downward.
Defining Deviancy Down (Part 2)
ANSWERING OUR CALL
As I prepare to close this series of columns, and move to teen parenting articles, I keep thinking of the ramifications of the transformation of New York City as it relates to the teen-smoking-alcohol-drug issue. I am not chas v’shalom (G-d forbid) implying that we have mass lawlessness, which needs to be cleaned up. I am saying, however, that we have defined deviancy downward very significantly over the past decade or so. I am suggesting that we may be lulled into a false sense of security by the outstanding successes of our Yeshiva and Beis Yakov system. And we may be numbed by repeated exposure to observing teen drinking and smoking, in the timeless words of our chazal, “avar ve'shana na'aseis lo k'heter” (loosely translated to mean that one becomes numbed by repeated sins to the point that they almost appear to the sinner as a mitzvah).
We are winking at the alarming, growing rate of drinking and smoking among our teens – while at the same time denying them access to healthy hobbies and sports opportunities in our schools and communities. We are subjecting our boys (and girls) to longer and longer school days with mounting pressure – while at the same time ignoring behaviors (smoking and drinking) that we would never have tolerated years ago.
What is most frightening to me is our tolerance level to this phenomenon. It is as if we have “No Radio” signs on our homes. There may be a problem with smoking or drinking or drugs in Eretz Yisroel and the States, but at least it is not our son or daughter (We hope).
Two months ago in this space, I ran excerpts from an article written by a menahel of a Yeshiva about his recent trip to Eretz Yisroel. He wrote about observing dozens of frum teens openly smoking marijuana in the streets of Yerushalayim. I hunkered down and waited for the barrage of emails and letters accusing me of over-dramatization and yeshiva bashing. Never happened. Its as if the collective response was, “Nice article Yankie – please pass the salt.”
WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?
There is a tremendous dichotomy over the protectiveness that we exhibit with our children: we scrutinize our younger children’s playmates and ban children who use bathroom language from our homes – while we act as if we are powerless to stop the thugs who are pushing drugs to our teenage kids.
Bulletin!!! There is a gambling establishment located above one of the more popular restaurants in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. It is run and operated by non-religious people from the former Soviet Union and is almost exclusively frequented by frum, white-shirted kids. (A frum therapist informed me that he is treating several couples that lost their entire savings and wedding gifts at similar establishments that cater to frum teens and young adults.) It is common knowledge that if you want to play a good game of “Texas” Poker, that is the place to go. The entrance to this establishment is several feet from where hundreds of frum parents walk each day. WHY IS THE PLACE STILL OPEN? I heard about it from the kids weeks ago. If a 40-something, charedi Menahel with a day job like myself found out about this, why couldn’t you, my readers, do the same? Why aren’t we pressuring our elected officials to crack down on substance abuse? Are we concerned about making a chilul Hashem? Are we afraid to make waves? I have had conversations with quite a number of well-placed individuals over the years. The police and elected officials are of the opinion that our community has neither the stomach nor the desire to clean up our streets. And, off the record, they feel that if there is an arrest of a (frum) drug pusher, “We will get calls from the rabbis” to release him.
A TIME FOR ACTION
Next week, I will outline some of the initiatives that we will need to take to address the broader issues that I have been raising over the past few months.
These programs will cost considerable money, but I do believe that there is enough money out there for good and vitally important things to happen. This must however be predicated by our desire to raise the bar of acceptable norms in our community and an open refusal to continue to define deviancy down.
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