Last week, I ran a column entitled, “It’s One A.M. – Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” describing the “scene” in and around the pool hall in Monticello, New York, where hundreds of unsupervised teenage boys and girls were hanging out, drinking, and using drugs. There, I noted that some of the kids in the pool hall said that they and their friends rented bungalows in non-Jewish colonies or motel rooms throughout the Catskills where they regularly party from Thursday night until Monday morning – including Shabbos.
If I needed validation that things were as described, it came in the form of a published article in The Middletown Record, the newspaper serving the Catskill Mountain area, the very day that The Jewish Press hit the newsstands.
Five arrested after cops break up South Fallsburg party
August 01, 2007
South Fallsburg - Police arrested five men over the weekend after getting complaints about a house where kids were being served alcohol and people were smoking marijuana.
Fallsburg police got the calls Saturday night, and between 9 and 10 p.m. they went to the address on Laurel Avenue in South Fallsburg. Police say they broke up a large party at the house and arrested five males, all between the ages of 17 and 21. Police said that those arrested were among the oldest people at the party, and some of them had supplied the alcohol to the younger partyers. Police said the partygoers were summer residents.
The five men were freed pending appearances in Fallsburg Town Court. (emphasis mine.)
Those arrested were all frum kids from Brooklyn and Monsey, and their names were published in accounts of the arrests in other newspapers. (FYI; Shabbos ended well after 9 p.m. that week, so if the police got calls, responded, arrived, “between 9 and 10 p.m.” and found at that time “a large party,” – well, you do the math.)
So, I guess you are wondering how things turned out this past Motzoei Shabbos?
Well, I am pleased to report that things were far better the previous weekend – in no small part due to the awareness generated by the dissemination of the column. Countless parents whose teens are spending the summer in the Catskills shared copies of the column with each other in printed and email formats. I know of several bungalow colonies where the article was clipped from the paper and posted on the shul’s bulletin board. Two popular frum bloggers wrote essays about the issue last Wednesday and more than 1,100 people reviewed the article on my website alone – not counting those who forwarded it to their email lists.
Additionally, concrete steps were taken to improve things on the ground. Quite a few bungalow colony owners called staff meetings with their day-camp counselors and initiated curfews for those traveling off grounds on Motzoei Shabbos. A Brooklyn Rav and his lay leaders made arrangements with the pool hall owner in Monticello to have its use limited to boys after midnight. He also rented Liberty Lanes, a popular bowling alley in Liberty, New York, for the exclusive use of girls. The Rav arranged for adult supervision in both locations and provided homebound transportation for the girls after their time in the bowling alley. (It is interesting to note that the number of boys in the pool hall was similar to that of the previous week, but there were far fewer girls out and around this past Motzoei Shabbos. And those girls who were at Liberty Lanes repeatedly thanked the adults present for providing them with a risk-free enjoyable venue where they won’t “get in trouble.”)
As I see things, there are several important take-away lessons to be learned from this evolving episode:
To begin with, awareness matters. As difficult as it is for us to write and publish columns of this nature, it is really the only way to generate the type of awareness that allows parents and community leaders to proactively respond to the challenges we collectively face.
Additionally, we need not throw up our hands and feel resigned to accept things as they are. We must feel empowered to parent our children effectively and set limits for them that will keep them safe – and alive. We also need to get behind the efforts of the rabbis and lay leaders who are working to help save our children – with our time and our financial resources.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should resist the seductive route of merely ‘banning’ places and activities for our growing teen population. It is entirely appropriate to declare certain areas off limits for our children. But if we do not create healthy, safe, and enjoyable venues for our children, we are deluding ourselves into thinking that we have solved the problems and are setting the stage for far greater challenges later on.
Ten years ago, we ‘banned’ Woodbourne, for some very good reasons. There were pronouncements in a variety of Jewish publications forbidding our children from appearing in Woodbourne on Motzoei Shabbos. There was also a concerted effort made by Hatzolah leadership and camp directors to limit the driving of teenagers who spend their summers in camps and bungalow colonies. These initiatives were effective in taming the environment in Woodbourne and reducing the number of horrific car crashes. What we have not done, however, is really address the core causes that are driving so many of our young men and woman to the fringes of our society. Nor have we been creating enough supervised, appropriate venues for our children (including mainstream ones) to spend their free time.
Our disenfranchised kids, some of whom may not be that book smart and academically gifted, figured out the “new math” pretty quickly.
Woodbourne, no. Monticello, yes.
Frum pizza shops, no. Non-Jewish pool halls, yes.
Public areas, no. Motels and apartments in non-Jewish neighborhoods, yes.
Somehow, that doesn’t add up to me.
© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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