Larry Gordon: Teach The Children Well


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booze.jpg[Appearing in this weeks 5 Towns Jewish Times

Perhaps you have seen the story on the Jewish news sites. A 19- or 20-year-old man in a bungalow colony in the Catskills drinks too much on a Shabbos afternoon, gets keys to a car, drives out on Route 42, loses control of the car, and crashes into a fence; then he tries to flee. He is apprehended by the police after a brief chase on foot, arrested, released on bail, and then is back at home while the lawyers go to work.

There are many troubling facets of these events. There’s the excessive consumption of alcohol by a kid—some media reports said that he was as young as 16. Then there was the matter of driving on Shabbos, a wanton and overt violation of the day’s holiness and sanctity. And then, of course, there was the obvious screaming out for attention by the young man, and the availability of liquor, possibly facilitated by adults, in the usually comfortable and laid-back environment of a summer resort. It’s the combination of what has become known as at-risk behavior, the plying of a pained psyche with booze, and the search for truth with alcohol or substance abuse in an effort to acquire a moment or two where one can say that he just feels good or okay for a change.

The episode contains within it a lot of things that need to be dealt with by parents, responsible adults in general, and our overall value and educational system charged with the growth and development of our young people in these very trying but also very exciting times in which we live. I’m not sure what it is and there are far too many experts on the subject with widely differing opinions about what ails the people involved in these unfortunate situations.

For some, stories like this come under the heading of “nothing new under the sun.” This position insists that there have always been situations like this in our community going back many decades. Some people in every generation simply fall prey to the destructive allures and distractions that are offered up by society. The difference between those times and present times is perhaps the way in which these events get splashed across media outlets just about as soon as they occur. Just because more people know about any given situation than in the past, does that mean that there are more instances of this destructive nature?

On the other hand, it seems that the proliferation of experts, professionals, and institutions dealing with these situations have increased to such an extent that it is simply impossible to say that nothing has changed over the years. And indeed much has changed. Those working in the field tell us that there are thousands of teens who have been either turned off or turned out and, regardless of the reason or the situation, they are making the streets their new home. Out the window has gone any resemblance to a conventional lifestyle. Also out the window goes all the years devoted to his or her Jewish religious training and practice.

Perhaps if you’d like to speculate about what happened last Shabbos upstate, you’d be safe looking in this direction. Of course a great deal can be learned from the details and applied to other similar situations, but the names of the people navigating their way through this crisis is not being released, so as to protect their privacy and to minimize the damage to the family. It is in part about the free flow of alcoholic beverages around impressionable children who conclude that imbibing in drink even under the guise of being yotzei kiddush can send you into a realm at least somewhat detached from your current, not very pleasant, reality. You are bombarded with these warnings around Simchas Torah and Purim, but otherwise it’s pretty quiet.

So it’s not necessarily the drinking that is the problem for those who overindulge. Rather it’s the drinking that is the result of the pursuit of an errant solution to whatever problem exists. And the problem is the age-old inalienable right for one to pursue his or her happiness. In these instances, however, these individuals are not concerned with “rights” but rather the natural desire of the human organism that surrounds a G-dly soul to find its place, to get the attention he or she needs, and the recognition or approval and the love that contains all of the above. And when that is missing in a person’s life, he or she will frequently go looking for it in a bottle or syringe.

So what about all the kids who are out all night and high as kites who come from so-called good homes? The answer to that question is elusive, but just something that exists and that no one—including the professionals—seem to be able to get a handle on or explain. Why would a good kid from a nice family, well known, with a good image and reputation, perhaps even wealthy too, want to reject everything that is so good and so satisfying to the overwhelming majority of people in his or her community for hanging out with friends on the streets?

I don’t believe that they reject their families or a halachic lifestyle because they are destined or determined to cause pain or do bad. These young people are not out there in search of deviousness or underhandedness. On the contrary; they are searching for honesty and authenticity in their lives, and to a great extent our conventional ways and systems have failed these kids in particular. Perhaps these youngsters need something intellectually extra. True, our yeshivas are crafting more individualized programs for students than at any other time in the past 40 years. But still there is too much rote and blind obedience that is being demanded of them.

They yearn to connect to something higher, something more real and contemporary, and we cannot give it to them without upsetting the system that is serving the majority of our kids in a fashion that, for now anyway, seems good and effective. The concepts of emunah—faith—and intellect are in some ways contradictory. The beautiful and even attractive aspect of faith is that no questions are asked and we are totally accepting. But that’s where intellect and faith do battle. There is a natural yearning to understand how a Jewish kid from an observant environment can get closer to Hashem if that’s what he desires. What if he cannot connect those G-dly dots through a piece of Gemara or Chumash? If we’ve failed in any way in these modern times, it is the failure to demonstrate to our kids the integral role that each and every one of us plays in G-d’s master plan of creation. The issue that we are all central to that big worldly and historical picture is essentially ignored. Sometimes that leads curious kids to some strange and unsavory places.

I was in a supermarket in Liberty, New York, last Friday afternoon about three hours before Shabbos. Two young yeshiva boys walked up to me in the store to ask if I could “help them out” with some beer. At first I genuinely thought they needed a few extra dollars so that they could purchase the beer. But then it quickly occurred to me that they were underage and the store would not sell them alcoholic beverages. I asked them their ages, and they said they were 16 and 17 years old. They told me what camp they were in and that they had hitched a ride to the store. I was inclined to buy the beer for them. After all, Shabbos was coming and they weren’t exactly babies. I don’t drink beer or much alcohol, but I can respect the next guy’s desire to get a little buzzed, especially over Shabbos. They asked again and I hemmed, hawed, and hesitated. I asked my wife if we should help them out and buy the beer. She said: “Absolutely not,” and added that we too have a 16-year-old in camp in the mountains for the summer. “I don’t want to think that anyone is buying him beer in any supermarkets,” she said. The line was drawn.


  1. Unfortunately, this story is all too common an occurrence. In my “other guise” as an attorney, I have been called upon too many times to “help out” when a member of the frum community has a child who has gotten themselves in trouble. I have been called upon to represent bochurim not only for DWI but for drug possession and even distribution! I have represented “erliche” girls for the same! We must, as a tzibbur, recognize that we have a serious situation on our hands and deal with it together lest it reach the level of an epidemic.

    BG Kelsen

  2. It bothers me to no end that some how this came from irisponcible behavior of the adults not the teens. These at risk teens don’t need any ones help getting alcohol if it wouldn’t be there they would get it by them self. The proof is because no one is giving them drugs yet they have no problem abtaining a endless supply of that.
    But that’s the style these days, blame everyone except the one who’s realy resposible THE TEEN HIMSELF.

  3. It is appaling that this article made it into any frum news medium. Anyone who thinks that emunah and intellect are engaged in a battle is completely unaware of what emunah is. Emunah is NOT faith. Faith is what the goyim have – the blind acceptance of some idea that has absolutely no rational basis to it whatsoever. They make that “leap of faith” because it is comfortable for them – either socially, economically, or because of the sheer ease that it injects into their lives by “recieving heaven on the platter of simple acceptance”.

    Emunah means faithfulness. The pasuk says that that Moshe’s hands were “emunah” (when he kept them raised during the battle against Amaleik). Does that menas that his hands were faith?

    Moshe’s hands were faithful – meaning that they faithfully stood in place the whole time.

    Emunah means to remain faithful. In our case that means faithful to one’s tradition. Of course that is not the basis of the tradition, rather it is how we keep the tradition.

    The basis of the tradition, of course, is that it is simple, historical fact. The Ribono shel olam spoke to the entire nation of Jewry by Har Sinai. It is a historical fact transmitted, both orally and in documentation, by the entire nation – in its family structure, in its schools, in its Schuls, etc. Simple and straightforward.

    It requires an aberration of the intellect to reject this simple, strightforward, historical fact.

    Now for another fact: The Torah requires every Jewish child to be taught Torah, without exception. Yes, there are children who will not grow up to be the Yissachars who dwell in the tents of Torah 24/7 – and yes they must be taught that they as well are very important to the Ribono shel Olam and have an important role to play within the Jewish nation. That does not, however, change even by one iota the fact that the Torah requires that we are mechaneich every single Jewish child by teaching them Torah. Furthermore, every child must grow up into an adult that will know that no matter what his particular role within the nation turns out to be – the study of Torah is the very lifeblood, the very breathing air of the Jewish People. And, as such, he will always remember to learn as much as his situation and his kochos enable him to. He will understand that his kevius itim is the central focus of his life from whence he derives the greatest pleasure and satisfaction.

    NOTE: This comment does not deal with the contemporary issue of how to practically deal with difficulties in Jewish education that arise, rather it was written to address the specific, false hashkafos that were expressed in the article.

  4. That next to the last paragraph – faith and intellect can’t both be satisfied? Tell that one to Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb, Dr. Akiva Tatz, etal.

    And that last paragraph. Funny but I don’t have such a respect for underaged, however mature, kids getting buzzed. I guess I’m too inbred a Litvak. What’s up with “especially over Shabbos”?!?

  5. A few more frightening episodes that hit the media will then open up the doors to reality.. & gdwilling we will be networking and find solutions until then its ‘only a few hecklers, not a real issue, blown out of proportions, etc.’
    Rav Twerskis 12 step solution to addiction will become a subject in yeshivos next to chumash and rashi,, soon enough.

  6. mr. gordon ruined his article with the last paragraph. how can he rail againt the underage drinker in the beginning of the article and then almost be willing to “help out” some 16 yr olds by buying them beer ILLEGALY at the end of the article. Do you not believe in this country’s drinking laws. also what mitzvah is there in “getting buzzed” on shabbos especially for 16 yr olds. isnt that how the problem of the drunk driver got started in the first place- leshem mitzvah??

  7. “They asked again and I hemmed, hawed, and hesitated. I asked my wife if we should help them out and buy the beer. She said: “Absolutely not,” and added that we too have a 16-year-old in camp in the mountains for the summer. “I don’t want to think that anyone is buying him beer in any supermarkets,” she said. The line was drawn.”

    Well, that opinion would depend on whether you think your son is responsible or not, clearly a trait you should have taught him. If you drink nothing at home then it would make sense when he gets a hold of some beer he’ll have 15 bottles and get plastered, but if you have taught him what a moderate amount is then that would be no problem and you wouldn’t mind him having a beer or two.

  8. The last couple of sentences are unbelievable, he was inclined to illegally provide alcohol to minors to get a “buzz” on Shabbos, but his wife stopped him because they have a 16 year old in camp and she doesn’t want the favor(?) returned.

    the answer was NO and that was the correct answer regardless of the reason. what surprises me is that the author was inclined to buy beer for minors to begin with.

  9. Where did this drinking start?
    Perhaps it all started on PURIM, where young
    kids are urged to drink AD DLOH YADAH.
    There are Rebbeim that have encouraged their
    Talmidim to drink on Purim.
    KOL HACKOVOD to those shuls that have banned
    Liquor at Kedayshim at shul. The preferred drink is Grape Juice.
    What about the At-Risk kids? It seems to be an
    epidemic. How do we PREVENT this? How do we deal
    with current problems?

    I have NO answers

  10. Our holy Torah is one of the many ways Hashem gives a chance to return to Him. In this week’s sedra we learn of the chesed Hashem extends to us by creating the towns of refuge. That is a message of HOPE.
    The young men and women and the old men and women and everyone in between are all given the chanceto return. Let us help these people by not kicking them out but by warmly inviting them in while at the same time disapproving of what they did. We don’t have to say, “Yes,” to all they do but we can show what they all need; LOVE.

  11. why would you ask your wife? clearly just as an excuse not to help them out. If your son ever confides in you regarding purim or such, are you going to ask your wife? of course not. what does she know about drinking. all she knows is that it kills people. Not very knowledgeable information.

  12. I think my earlier comment got either pre-maturely posted or entirely erased.

    I posted on my own blog (Orthonomics) about this HORRIFYING article. How a man could publically admit to “hemming, hawing, and hestitating” when it comes to a request to buy alcohol from underage teenagers who has ever met is just downright horrifying. I ask all of you who are likewise horrified to join me by leaving your own comments at Let it be known that other parents expect their fellow parents to exercise clarity and judgement when it comes to these issues, rather than “respect the next guy’s desire to get a little buzzed, especially over Shabbos” (perhaps the teenager who crashed his car last Shabbos also wanted to get buzzed).

    Teenagers are not known for their judgement. That is why adults need to help guide them and take responsibility. I find it amazing that Mr. Gordon felt pressure from teenagers, teenagers he never met in his life? Has the word NO left the mouth of adults? Earlier in the article he calls upon the issues of self-destructive behavior to be addressed by “responsible adults” and yet demonstrates to the reader that he lacks much of the vision, clarity, and ability that a “responsible adult” should have. Fortunately, his wife had no issues with using the little two letter word so many parents have forgotton how to articulate.

    Mr. Gordon should have been able to say no with no hesitation. A tzadik would have offered these boys who hitched to the store a ride back to camp, making sure to get their names. Then he would be able to speak with the directors and call their parents.

    If a boy/girl asks my husband or me to buy alcohol for him, we would do everything in our power to speak to his/her parents, as well as inform the schools (something we incidently have done before). And we hope other parents would have that consideration for us if chas v’shalom our children are ever trying to get someone else to buy alcohol for them.

  13. I am apalled that Mr. Gordon writes, “I can respect the next guy’s desire to get a little buzzed, especially over Shabbos,” in an article entitled “Teach the Children Well.” It seems that Mr. Gordon has no clue about teaching Jewish children, about the purpose of Shabbos, and about the difference between having a “lechayim” to bring people closer for the sake of Kedusha, and getting “buzzed” for the sake of self-gratification, which is most certainly in the realm of Tumah. Shame!