Celebrating our Successes – And Finding Our Voices
Several years ago, I read a thought-provoking article about the reaction of many school district superintendents and elected officials in affluent suburban areas of New York City to the growing incidence of substance abuse in their communities. Public health officials in these areas were alarmed by the trend of rising drug and alcohol use among the teens in their care. They were also puzzled by the fact that during the same time period, drug use was dropping dramatically in the inner city. Overall, there were still higher percentages of inner city kids who were ‘using.’ However, there was a clear, sustained pattern of diminishing numbers in the cities and increasing substance abuse in wealthy suburban areas. Several school districts in the northern suburbs of New York City pooled their resources and retained a firm to conduct extensive research in an attempt to gain insight into the reasons for this inexplicable phenomenon.
The research firm discovered that the inner city parents and schools were succeeding in reversing the trend of rising drug use because they were far more realistic in their assessment of the facts on the ground than were the more affluent suburbanites. Inner city parents and school officials were very mindful of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse – and were willing to make this issue a priority in their lives. Inner-city schools had ‘healthy living’ curricula in the very early grades and hard-hitting substance abuse prevention programs beginning as early as the middle school grades. Parents spoke to their children early and often – as early as ages five and six, in many instances – about the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use. Despite the challenges of inner-city life, the parental input had an overwhelmingly positive impact on reducing the incidence of substance abuse among children. Affluent suburbanites, on the other hand, were oblivious to the realities of drug use among the kids in their own communities. In fact, most suburban teens that were interviewed for the study felt that their parents were ‘clueless’ as to the number of kids who were ‘using’ and the hard-core nature of the substances that were being used. Inner-city kids, on the other hand, reported that they felt their parents ‘really get it.’
I mention this in the context of what was, in my opinion; a highly effective campaign among educators and parents in our community to limit excessive drinking among our children on Purim. I did not conduct any formal studies or surveys on this subject, but from my vantage point, there was more simchas Purim and far less in the way of out-of-control behavior this year. The bachurim collecting funds for worthy causes were being driven by more car services and school vans than gaudy stretch limos. They were lebedik (lively), some a bit, shall-we-say-more-than-a-little-lebedik, but the many hundreds, b’eh, that I saw over Purim were all courteous and respectful. More tellingly, I did not see one bachur stone-drunk this year. Many schools and shuls shifted to alcohol-free Purim mesibos (parties). The Hatzalah members with whom I spoke informed me that it was a far “quieter” Purim than in years past (meaning, fewer emergency calls due to over-drinking), and the vast majority of parents thankfully stopped offering the kids liquor when they came soliciting funds on Purim. I spent the day in Monsey and then went to Boro Park and Flatbush to visit our parents and in-laws – and I found the traffic, as well, in all three communities to be more manageable and drivers far more safety-conscious than in past years. Were there instances of poor behavior? Sure there were. But they seemed to be far less than in past years.
What changed? I think that we can sum things up by saying that we started acting more like the inner city parents that I noted above. We circulated the ‘Purim guidelines kol korei’ (public proclamation) signed by our gedolim s’hlita. Shul rabbis and educators spoke about this subject in the weeks leading up to Purim. We spoke to our kids about the need to be safe on Purim. The result? A far more enjoyable and safe Yom Tov for all.
In the broadest sense, the success of the Purim safety campaign has profound ramifications for public policy in our community. For if we can apply this type of thinking and activism to combating the ravages of smoking, substance abuse, gambling, and child-abuse, we can make significant strides in improving the quality of life for our children in the years to come.
Nowadays, we keep hearing the important message that children need to have their self-esteem reinforced and nurtured. Well, I think that parents need a dose of self-esteem-building from time to time just like kids do. Maybe even more. So, parents, put a star on your chart. Pat yourself on the back and give yourself a treat. Prepare yourself a latte or your favorite drink. Light on the alcohol, please.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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