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UPDATED: Drinking on Purim
Interactive Parenting Column #60
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
This article orignally appeared in Chicago Community Kollel

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Recommended Reading: A column that I wrote last year shortly after Purim complementing the positive trend of safer and more enjoyable Purims over the past few years.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

As the parents of three teenage boys, we are frightened each Purim that our kids will drink heavily and chas v’shalom get violently ill or worse, get hurt in a car crash.

What are your thoughts on the entire drinking ‘scene’ on Purim and what can we do as parents when our kids tell us to, “Chill out, everyone is doing it (drinking)?”


Dovid and Chanie

Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Allow me to begin by complimenting you for being hands-on parents and wanting to become more educated on this subject. I have found over the years, that the cognitive dissonance (read Human Problems, a column I recently wrote in Mishpacha magazine on this subject) in our community is such a powerful force that many or most parents are totally clueless about the level of hard drinking and smoking among our teenagers. What is far more dangerous is that our street smart teenagers are very well aware of the fact that we are clueless.

True story:

Several years ago, after the death of two frum boys in Eretz Yisroel from drug overdoses in the course of one week, and after the arrest of four frum teenagers for selling drugs in Eretz Yisroel during that same week, the editors of The Jewish Press asked me to run a series of articles on this subject. In those columns, I was my usual candid self and wrote about the alarming rise in the drinking and smoking among our teens. I begged parents to take me seriously and become more proactive about stopping it. My columns became the subject of much discussion and many people wrote letters to the editor of The Jewish Press about this topic.

One Shabbos morning, after the third column in the series appeared, I was approached by a group of Monsey 12th grade bachurim who wanted to discuss these columns and the impact they may have on their lives. They were very respectful, but quite upset. They were concerned that their parents would get ‘bent out of shape’ and ‘crack down’ on them after reading my observations about teen drinking and smoking. They also felt that their parents may not allow them to go to Eretz Yisroel as a result of what I had written.

I asked them to share with me the particular segments of my columns that upset them. One of them asked me, “How can you write that 20-50% of teens are smoking?”

I smiled and asked him if he agreed with my assessment. He told me that he thinks the number is higher than 50%, (He said that in some Yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel it is as 80%), but he shared with me several reasons why he felt it was a ‘bad idea’ to publicize this information.

Then, one of his friends, a charming 17-year old delivered an off-the-cuff one-liner that spoke volumes. He told his friend, “What are you so worried about? None of our parents will do anything; each of the parents who read that article will think that their son is from the other 50% [who are not smoking]!!

I encourage each and every parent who reads these lines to visit the website of The Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse CASA , and read through their studies on the dangers of smoking and drinking. The Center has dedicated itself to the prevention of substance abuse and its horrific consequences. The ubiquitous, “Parents; the Anti-Drug” ads are a direct result of the research and public advocacy of CASA, under the leadership of Joseph Califano.

Here are 2 of the most powerful findings of their voluminous research:

“A child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.”

“Teens who smoke cigarettes are 12 times likelier to use marijuana and more than 19 times likelier to use cocaine”.

With statistics like this, it is a terrible indictment that we have not done more to stop this insanity of teen drinking and smoking. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski, s’hlita, one of the most visionary and courageous people of our times, has been speaking about this subject for decades and pleading with educators and parents to put an end to this plague of drinking and smoking among our kids.

Thankfully, people are starting to take notice and over the past few years, there has been a trend towards alcohol-free Purim parties, less adults offering children drinks, and an overall awareness regarding the dangers of teen drinking. Several months ago, Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levine s’hlita of Chicago called a meeting of all high school principals to discuss the (year-round) issue of drinking and our leading gedolim issued a very strong statement condemning the drinking (year-round) – asking parents not to serve alcohol at simchos and informing yeshiva bachurim that hard drinking is forbidden and contrary to Torah values. But we still have a very, very long way to go.

I would like to point out that when I mention drinking, I am not discussing having a glass of wine or even a small drink of whiskey. I am not a professional in treating substance abuse, and I imagine that some of these experts may disagree with me, but I think that there are two acceptable schools of thought regarding teens and alcohol. One is to completely ban its use, while others claim that adults can show teenagers who are above legal drinking age that drinking in moderation is OK by modeling appropriate behavior. As far as I am concerned, either of those approaches is reasonable. But allowing kids, especially minors, to get flat-out drunk under the guise of Purim is simply inexcusable.

For years now, I have been writing and lecturing about the fact that we are paying the price in spades for reducing or entirely discouraging recreational/sports activities for normal, healthy teenagers who need exercise so badly. One of the things that simply drive me batty is when parents and/or educators excuse away the hard drinking and smoking by explaining that, “The boys have a brutal schedule and need to blow a little steam.”

My response usually is, “HELLO! Did you ever hear of a basketball?”

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Next week:

• Purim and drinking from a halachic standpoint

• How to help your children buck peer pressure

• Being proactive in teaching your children about the ills of these various vices

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