Op Ed: Taking A Stand Against OUT OF CONTROL Drinking In Our Community

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The Alcohol Keeps On Flowing

By: Zvi Gluck

Baruch Hashem, I had the zechus of spending a wonderful Succos with my family in the most beautiful place in the world: Yerushalayim.  While it was a truly remarkable and uplifting experience in so many ways, it was sadly tarnished by certain behaviors that I witnessed over yom tov.

As I walked with my wife and children to and from meals over Succos, I could not believe the amount of drinking that was going on by the many students, both boys and girls, who are spending a year (or two or three) in Eretz Yisroel.  They were being liberally supplied with drinks at meals and kiddeishim, and I cannot even begin to tell you how many of them I heard speaking openly about the amount of alcohol they had enjoyed, identifying the various bottles by brand, year and price.  Some of the kids I saw had had so much to drink that they were literally stumbling over their own two feet trying to make their way home.

And that was before we even got to the second days of yom tov.

The drinking that I just described all took place before Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah rolled around.  Things were exponentially worse on the last days of yom tov, particularly when it came to those who don’t live in Eretz Yisroel who found themselves facing a 48 hour drinking bonanza. First they got plastered on Shemini Atzeres, joining Israeli shuls and families who were also celebrating Simchas Torah on the same day.  Then they enjoyed an encore alcohol binge on the next day, joining foreigners for their Simchas Torah celebrations and, once again, getting completely and totally bombed.

But wait, it gets worse. There was one location where well meaning individuals set up second day minyanim for the chutznikim, but there was no supervision whatsoever.  From that site alone there were over 25 students who were so drunk that they were rolling around on the floor.  Six more kids from that location ended up hospitalized, two of whom had to have their stomachs pumped because they had alcohol poisoning.

It goes without saying that not every young adult who goes to study in Eretz Yisroel engages in this kind of destructive behavior.  I witnessed beautiful yom tov celebrations at both Rabbi Senter and Rabbi Fisher’s yeshivos; there was zero alcohol present, just true simcha that emanated from the hearts of everyone present as they experienced the pure joy of yom tov. I have no doubt that there were many other sober events throughout Eretz Yisroel and I applaud everyone who participated in those as well.  But there is no question that there were way too many events where the alcohol flowed freely and multiple friends who spent Succos in different neighborhoods in Eretz Yisroel told me that they had seen exactly the same type of drinking that my family and I witnessed.

I wish I had all the answers to problems like these, but I don’t.  Still, I know that what I saw in Yerushalayim is simply not acceptable and we all need to work together to put an end to this situation before more lives are ruined or worse.  No matter what country or neighborhood you find yourself in, if you are a responsible adult, be it the head of an institution or simply someone who wants to invite young adults for a meal or for a simcha, I urge you to do the right thing and to refrain from serving alcohol to your minor guests.

It is also important to remember that the burden of responsibility for the excessive drinking by young adults in Eretz Yisreol falls upon many sets of shoulders.  The yeshivos and seminaries to whom we entrust our children must not look away from these problems and must take a firm proactive stance on these issues.  The well meaning baalei batim who invite our children to their tables need to understand that they have no business allowing students to consume alcohol in their homes.  We parents also need to be well aware of the many opportunities for destructive behavior that exist when our sons and daughters are spending a year or more away from home and we need to make sure that they are equipped to face those dangers responsibly, no matter how tempting they may seem or what their peers are doing.

Finally, it is important to remember that children mimic the behaviors that they see around them which means that adults need to drink responsibly.  Hoping to further that goal, Amudim has been promoting the concept of having a designated adult shomer in charge of all alcoholic beverages at every simcha, event or kiddush.  That person would make sure that all alcohol is kept in a single location, would pour all drinks to anyone of legal drinking age and would refuse alcohol to anyone who has had one too many.  We are confident that by introducing measures to eliminate unsupervised access to alcohol we can drastically reduce the number of young adults who find themselves addicted, a situation that can have fatal consequences.

As a frum community, we need to remember that we are not immune from the problems that plague the outside world.  Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more how alcohol, and yes drugs, are destroying lives all around us, shattering families and inflicting unspeakable damage.  The time has come for us to take a strong stance against these problems – not only do we need to demand accountability to those who are entrusted with the care of our children, but we also need to require the same level of stringency from ourselves.

Nothing is more precious than our kids.   The time to stand up for them and to protect them from harm is NOW.

Zvi Gluck is the director of Amudim, an organization dedicated to helping abuse victims and those suffering from addiction within the Jewish community and has been heavily involved in crisis intervention and management for the past 19 years.  For more information go to www.amudim.org.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Very sad but true. As long as some elements of the frum tzibur invoke halacha, chazal, minhagim, mesorah etc. to rationalize “intoxication l’shem mitzvah” and equate drunkedness on shabbos and certain chagim and yom tovim with “hidur mitzvah” this problem will continue. Zvi Gluck speak from years of experieince and knowledge and any rabbonim or askanim who dispute his message are themselves a big part of the problem and may be indirectly complict in the loss of life.

  2. a few comments;
    1.the majority of bochurim getting drunk DID NOT see that at home. a parent cannot be expected to control a 19 yr. olds actions.
    2. a bochur is a work in progress and by far not a sholem .they will make mistakes and be obnoxious at times
    3 . many of the ” yeshivos” in e”y are an effort to rehabilitate in some way a teen thats failing, so these bochurim drank in america as well , they are in e”y because their parents are davening that the switch flicks on and they become a productive human that can get married and continue to grow.
    4. you are correct that many frum adults who are successful in business, family, yiddishkeit are drinking plenty it is symptomatic of excessive stress and a brief need to escape the daily grind

  3. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. “Kiddush clubs” for the grownups are a case in point. Forty years ago you did not see open bars at chasunehs. Now, the bars are as big as the shmorg tables. And it isn’t just wine and brandy with a bit of schnapps any more. It’s as full service as you can get at a night club.

    We worry so much about “drugs.” Well, alcohol is a drug. And it’s THE gateway drug to all the other ones.

    Why is this happening? We can all look in the mirror.

  4. “Out of control drinking” is what goes on on college campuses where the heavy drinking is year round, and not even limited to weekends. The “out of control” here was drinking normally on sukohs and getting smashed on the last 2 days. Since then those students haven’t gotten drunk as a group once and the next time they get drunk will be on Purim. This is almost like going on about the “out of control” drinking that has gone on on purim for decades as a problem that must be eradicated because “lives are being ruined”.
    “Out of control drinking” by definition means that the drinking is out of control. Drinking that is limited to one week a year and getting plastered to 2 or 3 days a year is drinking that IS under control.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Our youth drink like goyim. To me, it is a sign of lack of yiras shamayim. It is a throwing off of עול מלכות שמים. And for all of you who are on the verge of jumping down my throat, before you do so, ask yourself, when ‘ה looks down and sees the boys getting wasted, is He smiling, or furious? Of course I realize that there are many other things we do that dont make Hashem happy, but most items in that category are individual aveiros. Drinking as a way of life for boys is different. It is the absolut (pun intended) antithesis of yiddishkeit, it is the throwing off of עול מלכות שמים, rather than accepting it. I am not adverse to drinking a lachaim anymore than I am to drinking a coke. However, for it to become the object of the weekend (formerly שבת) and every other excuse of an occasion to get bombed, is simply not yiddishkeit.

  6. One cant ban alcohol at home, and then expect a kid who is given freedom, not to demonstrate that freedom, by drinking excessive amounts
    In this day and age its about teaching kids to drink in moderation,and only in an.environment where they can trust who they are with
    If one gives a child a small taste of spirit at a young age they find it unpleasant and wont be tempted again till they see thier school friends drinking then the way to handle it is to tell them they can have as much as they want whilst under thier own roof at home
    This obviously will not work with all children
    We as older parents have to.understand the world has changed
    We must try step into our kids world to get an inkling of what is going on
    The fact is education starts at birth
    One cant be reactive and start making rules once a kid is sixteen its too late

  7. I live in Jerusalem and did not see one person intoxicated during the holidays, however I remember myself at yeshiva many many years before I came here and I did drink a SMALL bit on Simchas Torah.

    Boys will be boys and want to try this and that, but the real danger is in the USA in the ‘kiddush clubs’….

  8. These drunkards {Girls as well as Boys} need to repent with upcoming BeHa’B which is commencing Monday marCheshvon 20th. As they recite the Selichos and fast, it may set them thinking about how evil this excessive drinking is, before the next week long Yom-Tov.

  9. Kol Hakavod Rav Zvi!

    We regularly host both yeshiva and seminary students, as well as Israelis. I do not offer a l’chaim or any alchohol when the Americans are over. If they bring wine, we serve one bottle and put the rest aside. This is not because everybody has a problem, but because there is a real problem in this kehillah, and students sometimes bring this unhealthy behavior with them when they come over. I have seen enough to not bark up that tree again.

    I have worked in yeshivos. Parents of yeshiva and seminary students should be asked more in advance, and checking up during their children’s time in EY. Ask where students are expected to be on yom tov and shabbosim. Ask what their policy is about liquor. I have seen that most abuse happens in dorms or in town (with the exception of Purim), occasionally with guests who come abroad. Dorms are a big deal. A dira full of 19 year olds who are finding themselves or drinking unsupervised can be a dangerous scene. Some guys have a beautiful tish with some beer. Others end up plastered and passed out. Know your kids. Most kids under the age of 20 (if not older) need real madrichim and mashgichim, daily shiurim and real shmiras hesedarim. There needs to be this basic level of oversite. It’s your responsibility as parents to ensure that it is there. The consequences are very real.

    In contrast, I was among a chardal Israeli crowd this year and It amazed me how little drinking I saw on simchas torah . A few men had a l’chaim at the kiddush, and that was it. There were no teens drinking, there was only one bottle that a ba’al habos brought to share with some friends. Nobody that I saw had more than a l’chaim. I don’t know if this is universal, but it was refreshing.

    As my wife pointed out, there are people who simply enjoy a good wine, without obsession, compulsion or over-indulgence, and there are people and unfortunately communities with real issues. We know that we have a friend with an issue, and don’t serve liquor when he is over. When a community accepts obsession, compulsion and over-indulgence, it is time to move heavily in the opposite direction.

  10. Mr. Gluck: You wrote “I urge you to do the right thing and to refrain from serving alcohol to your minor guests”. Are you talking minors as we define in the USA (under 21) or as defined in EY (under 18)? Earlier in the article you wrote “the many students, both boys and girls, who are spending a year (or two or three) in Eretz Yisroel. ” In the eyes of the law in EY, these students are probably 18 or older and are adults, not minors. Even if i agree with your premise we cannot enforce the US legal drinking age in EY.

  11. While one commenter mentioned the source of such excessive drinking is a lack of Yiras Shamayim, I tend to believe that we as parents aren’t doing enough to show our children how to have a genuine sense of Simchas HaChaim. And perhaps it is because we adults don’t have enough or exhibit often enough our own Simchas HaChaim.

    If a child can be shown on a constant basis what a zechus it is to be a Yid and live a meaningful life filled with Torah, Mitzvos and Gemilus Chasodim, that child won’t feel the need to drink in order to create his own simcha. Yes, drinking moderately can enhance simcha but only when there is already existent a basis for simcha.

    If children can witness a Shabbos or Yom Tov seudah with spirited singing, geshmack divrei Torah and meaningful discussions, they will begin to feel the beautiful simcha of Shabbos and Yom Tov without the need to drink and won’t feel that they are missing out on something special if they don’t imbibe.

    Perhaps this is the direction we need to pursue to make some headway against the drinking problem.

  12. baishatalmuder: Please don’t be so naive to think that it is only one week a year (sukkos/shmini atzeres/simchas torah) and purim that these young men are getting plastered. There is plenty of drinking (and yes overdoing it) every shabbos. Whether it’s boys going on Friday night from shalom zachor to shalom zachor or kiddush to kiddush shabbos morning drinking is “out of control”. At least one shul in my neighborhood has started a “dry only” shalom zachor. While I don’t believe in total abstinence, I do believe in moderation. I have no issue with being the “sar hamashkim” in my shul.

  13. Perhaps if yeshivos and seinaries actually took responsibility for their students for shabbos and yom tov instead of making them look for places to go every shabbos, for every meal…… some yeshivos are so large that a bachur can literally disaappear and noone will even notice except perhaps a roomate or a chavrusa, maybe. If parents whose children are in such yeshivos and seminaries actually made sure to be on top of where their children spent shabbops and yom tov….. the problem is way to much hefkairus for our children who are half a world away from their parents, often free of their parents constant supervision for the 1st time.

  14. Ritual or ceremonial drinking in Torah life NEVER includes intoxication. There has never been any debate on that. Furthermore, intoxication renders one’s kiyum of mitzvos null and void. DUI (Davening Under the Influence) has the added value of being labeled as a to’eivoh by the Rambam. To equate intoxication (even without the danger of alcohol poisoning) with simcha has zero basis in Torah. יין ישמח לבב אנוש is not about getting drunk. Zvi is correct in calling attention to this problem. It exists in many places. And commenters that call out Kiddush Clubs are also correct. These are abominations, and should never, ever be permitted in any shul anywhere.

    If we truly appreciated the שמחה של מצוה, there would be no place for alcohol in it. Kiddush at the Yomtov meals is more than enough. It is a bizayon when people drink to intoxication and then delude themselves that they are rejoicing in the simcha of the Torah.

    Zvi – as always – keep up your work.

  15. How long before we morph from Kiddush clubs on Shabbos to “cannabis clubs”. Clearly most ehrliche yiddne will not “light up” on Shabbos but its simply a matter of time before we read about cholent laced with cannabis oil or cannabis bits in rugelach served at Kiddush. Given the legalization of pot beginning this week in Canada, maybe plan to visit your mishpacha in the Bathurst St/Kennsington Market neighborhoods of Toronto or Kiryas Tosch in Montreal.

  16. I moved to Israel about 20 years ago. The first year, I spoke with my Grandfather on the phone after Simchas Torah and he was shocked that I didn’t have alcohol. He said “How can you have Simchas Torah without alcolhol.” I remember lots of adult drinking in North America by Simchas Torah. So it’s no wonder the bochrim are drniking by simchas beis hashoavos and Simchas Torah. So this one is on the parents.

  17. There is no halacha to indulge in alcohol on Simchas Torah (other than kiddush ) and serving it in shule before Birkas Kohanim is a problem. Please dont blame the Yomim Tovim on this problem. I dont get the people who provide the alcohol to the kids and then send them out drunk to the streets. Sakanas Nefashos. The adults here need to take responsibility.

  18. Nothing is really going to solve it. Drinking here, in Israel is legal at 18 and is not in most other countries/states until 21.
    So of COURSE the students from abroad are going to try it, and for many of them they’ve never had the freedom to drink so much whenever they want and it takes time for them to realize how to do that responsibly.

    That being said, anyone here who has a kesher with any abroad students should try to educate them about the dangers of over drinking and keep an eye on their mental, physical and emotional health.

  19. iacisrmma:

    It became common custom to make kiddush earlier on Simchas Torah, presumably because the dancing of hakafos made the davening longer. People get hungry. The issue was once a Kohain made kiddush, he had probably consumed a shiur of wine that rendered him ineligible to duchen. So the minhag to duchen by Shacharis was developed. But it is pretty close to kefira to imply that it was expected that one would be drunk before mussaf, and that’s what Birkas Kohanim was done by Shacharis.

    I am familiar with shuls where the Kohanim duchen by Mussaf, as like any other Yomtov. The Kohanim do not make kiddush at all. That works just fine.

  20. The problem isn’t the alcohol its the people, trying to control teenagers will not work and will backfire, the job of parents and teachers are to form their children’s beliefs and to give them decision making skills so they can make proper decisions when they are on their own feet

  21. I’ll drink to that.

    But seriously I hear what you are saying. Here in CANADA the Rav of our shul sent out the new shul policy on weed. No weed will be allowed on the shul premises including in the shul parking lot. What he neglected to address is the alcohol consumption by our young adults EVERY Shabbat.

    Personally he should roil up the policy and smoke it.