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Monday, August 11, 2008

More Bad News

I already reported the terrible car accident in a Catskills bungalow colony where a teenager crashed a car, thankfully hurting no one in his path, not even himself. Alcohol was involved.

Last week I heard about a terrible accident early Friday morning, where a teenage passenger's life was put on the line. Sadly, he passed away on Shabbat and the levaya was on Tisha B'Av no less. Alcohol was involved. All parties had been drinking.

Newsweek enraged many Orthodox commentors (see YWN and VIN) when they reported on the former accident and asked if there is a growing alcohol abuse problem. I was also informed by a reader that a 28 year old Queens girls passed away during the 9 days from a drug overdose, and I know of another family whose child overdosed and passed on. Heartbreaking.

Personally, I do not know how large the substance abuse issues are in the Orthodox community. None of us have any scientific means to access the problem. Unless there are studies, we can only listen to those who speak out, compare to our own experiences, and listen to our instincts. No matter how you cut it, the news doesn't look too good. My instinct tells me the problem is larger than we care to admit. I've made it into my 30's not knowing a single classmate from my (public) high school who has died in a drunk driving accident or drug overdose, so I am feeling rather bombarded as the period of the 3 weeks comes to a close.

Yet even as these tragedies come to light, an editorial decrying the Anti-Hareidi bias (the writer is reflecting on a story in which a family left one of their 5 children behind in an airport while flying to Paris, not knowing the child was missing until informed by the flight crew) was published declaring how great the Orthodox community is compared to the "secular." The author writes:

When it comes to secular families, and I truly apologize for the generalization, other things happen to the children, and they happen more frequently. Not all parents know where exactly their kids hang out on a Friday night; not every secular parent can swear that his son isn’t familiar with the neighborhood drug dealer.

I don't know who the neighborhood drug dealer is. But, I'm afraid too many young, Orthodox teenage boys and girls are well aware. Is the number comparable to secular teenagers? Maybe not. But too many children in our own neighborhoods are involved with things they should not be and instead of comparing ourselves to others, it is time to start problem solving because problems tend to get worse, not better.


Chaim said...
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DAG said...

So we have a problem. What is the solution?

SephardiLady said...

I don't there is *a* solution, but I think we know plenty of areas where we as parents (primarily) and the entire community could alleviate some of the issues, from making sure not to enable (see my post on 5tjt editorial), not to ignore what is going on right in front of our noses at times, to just being loving and firm parents. I'm sure offering more healthy outlets could help too.

I will not even dare speculate on what happened to any of the families involved in any of the terrible accidents and deaths mentioned in the post.

DAG said...

Look, Shuls need to be VERY careful that no children drink on Shul property...Purim and Simchas Torah included. I guess the real question is WHY are so many more turning to alcohol?

Is it peer pressure? Is it being dissatisfied with their lives?

And why on earth are kids who are drinking, getting into cars? Is it ignorance? Arrogance?

SephardiLady said...

I couldn't agree with you more. And the front needs to be unified throughout a whole community. You can't have one shul without when the next shul has.

ben-david said...

1) Rabbi Horowitz and other repeatedly stress that the levels of drug/alcohol abuse are higher than parents think - a combination of wishful thinking and communal denial work to push these issues out of awareness.

2) Given the ever-tightening restrictions placed on observant youth (especially haredi youth) - it's a miracle rates are not even higher.

3) It is impossible for me to think that anti-drug education is a priority in most cash-strapped haredi schools.

triLcat said...

Obviously, the solution is not simple, but it really starts with parents taking responsibility.

The schools can teach about the dangers of drugs and can provide guidance counselors, but they have hundreds of children to take care of. It's not their job to keep track of each child's personal situation. That's the job of the parents.

And for Heaven's sake, if a parent thinks their kid has a problem, join the pop culture - what middle class kid HASN'T been to a therapist?!

I've known more than one kid who was SCREAMING for help as a teen, and either never got it or only got it after their first hospitalization!

rachel in israel said...

"So we have a problem. What is the solution?"

IMHO drug an alcohol abuse are not a problem, rather a symptom of a much larger monster (or many many mosters). we can treat the alcohol and drug abuse as much as we want but as long as the underlying problems remain, it will come back bigger and worse.

I am a huge admirer of R' Horowitz for having the guts to say what needs to be said.

I hate talking about what the real problem is becasue it leads to nowhere and nothing gets done.

So I think the question is what each of us can do as minor players in the community. As someone who's child hasn't started gan, I have no influence in schools. But I can do other things in small scale with the hope that others will join.

1. Pass along R' Horowitz's page to all the people I know, the more people that hear the message the better.

2. Try to follor R' Horowitz's advice as much as possible in what he thinks are the underlying problems

3. Talk to my children about alcohol/drugs/sex starting early and following my gutt feeling about it. I will ignore what "wise" people tell me to do (such as don't mention the word c-section in front of a 12 year old because she will ask what it is and it will lead to more questions)

4. have a zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol on purim and simchas torah. Make a meal and invite guests on that condition. If you get invited out go only on that condition.

5. Learn how to recognize the signs of drug and alcohol abuse (and physicsl/emotional/sexual abuse) and know how to report such cases.

6. Support organization that fight these problems (and don't send tzeddakah to an organization that indirectly feeds these problems. Ideally send a letter explaining why you will not give them money. I still don't have the gutts to do this)

On a bit larger scale there are also things we can do. I live in a town that has tons and tons of organized activities for teenagers. If your town also has them, you can supoort them financially or volunteer (if you like to deal with teenagers). If not, think of moving to such a place. My babies G-D willing, will be teenagers at some point and I need to be prepared.

I am interested in ideas on what each of us as individuals can do in a small scale.

ProfK said...

Point 1: Okay, take one yeshiva kid and his/her typical life and it generally does not include working for steady and large sums of money. So where are these kids getting the money to pay for drugs? As the common wisdom says "Follow the money."

Point 2: Programs in the schools teaching about alcohol and drug addiction should be mandatory. But they should also be presented to the parents of the students. If all of us were asked right now to name the warning signs of alcohol/drug addiction could we do it? What behavior of ours is enabling to a child involved with alcohol/drugs?

Point 3: Prepare the refuah before the machla. Make sure that programs/practitioners are known and in place so that parents/students have where to turn to when trouble is brewing. Every shul/school should have a list of organizations/practitioners that parents could turn to for help.

Point 4: Should be the first step: admit there is a problem and it's more than kids just being kids.

Anonymous said...

fyi- many public schools start drug and alcohol education very early on and take the problem very seriously. no fingers are pointed at anyone. parents are educated as well. maybe the yeshivas should look to the public sector for a model.

JS said...

It all starts and ends with the parents. People I knew who drank or did drugs generally (though not always) had overly permissive parents, parents who were out of the picture, parents who just didn't care, parents who encouraged in some cases because they wanted their kids to be cool, parents who wanted to be their child's friend.

I think we need to face the facts that we live in a dangerous world. But moreso, we need to face the facts that, in general, a 19-20 year old boy and girl are not necessarily ready to have kids. And a 23-24 year old is not necessarily ready to have 3-4 kids. And a 27-28 year old is not necessarily ready to have 7-8 kids. It starts with minor instances of neglect - of not spending enough time with our children (compounded by them spending all their days in yeshiva away from parents) and it ends with this dangerous behavior. With the neglect and time away from parents kids fall in with bad crowds, do things parents don't know about, or are hurting inside and look to drugs and alcohol to feel better. We send our kids away to boarding schools, Israel for a year or 2 and then we wonder why we're not a major influence in their life and why they're doing all these things we don't know about.

The answer is all right under our nose, the problem is no one will call a spade a spade because of the religious reasoning behind many of these poor parenting decisions.

Anon1 said...

The only way to keep our kids from being brought up by strangers, peers, or nobody---which underlies the alcohol/drug culture---is to reduce the economic and social pressure for mothers to work full-time outside the home.

As time goes on, and unavailable parents have kids who also grow up to be unavailable parents...the memory of the ideal Jewish home life will fade away. No one will even remember the "ordinary" life that was the pride of our people.

There will always be special situations (e.g., when one income or 1 1/2 incomes won't pay for necessities, or when the husband is the type of person who should remain in full-time learning), but that's what these should be, special.

As has often been discussed here, Jewish educational and lifestyle expenses cannot remain uncontrolled if we want families to be able to lead healthy lives.

Bracha said...

Anon1 is right and wrong. he's right that a parent at home at least most of the time would be best for the kids. he's wrong because it doesn't have to be the mom, it can be the dad. My salary is more than 3 times my husbands salary. When a kid gets sick or has a reason that a parent has to be available during the work day he is the one to take off. During first grade my son had the only class mother who was a father. Bet this arrangement would work out for others also.

Anonymous said...

"As time goes on, and unavailable parents have kids who also grow up to be unavailable parents...the memory of the ideal Jewish home life will fade away. No one will even remember the "ordinary" life that was the pride of our people. "

this may be true, but it is a society-wide development, not a jewish one. as such, it would be rather hard for the jewish community lone to"turn back the clock" in the face of changed economic realities.

Commenter Abbi said...

Hmm, anon1, the ideal Jewish home like the one lovingly described in Ashet Chayil, where the mother is multi-tasking like there's no tomorrow?

The ideal Jewish home you seem to be alluding to is a myth that existed for a few flush decades in the mid 20th century. Other than that, unless you're talking about the Rothschilds, most Jewish families had to have both parents working to survive. The mother might have worked at home on piecework or in the family store, like my great aunt did in Czechoslovakia, but work they did.

triLcat said...

Even with both parents working, there should be ways to make a little time to spend with the kids.

Sure, it's not going to be like "Leave it to Beaver," but having dinner as a family (for example) should be a priority and something to strive for.

And I stand by what I've said before. If you're not going to be able to make time for 10 kids, then use birth control before you have them!

I know some of you will hate me for saying it, but I think that having children you can't take care of properly is a recipe for disaster. (and by properly, I don't mean ballet lessons and spring break on miami beach. I mean bedtime stories and healthy food.)

SephardiLady said...

I couldn't agree that financial pressure needs to be reduced. Some of that starts at home, but tuition is of course a HUGE issue.

Bracha-Thank you for pointing out that fathers can be a "primary" parent also. I'm meeting more and more (non-Jewish) fathers who are taking on that responsibility and I applaud them.

Anonymous said...

Anon1 and JS - thank you for being right on. I cringe when I hear all the chatter about drug and alcohol education. Why is it that much different than asking our schools to provide sex education? Stop differing responsibility from the parents.

Lion of Zion said...


"I don't there is *a* solution"

for starters, parents, schools and communal leaders need to recognize there is a problem


"It is impossible for me to think that anti-drug education is a priority in most cash-strapped haredi schools."

oh please. this is not the reason haredi schools will likely never have such programs.


"reduce the economic and social pressure for mothers to work full-time outside the home."

i know this has been argued back and forth before, but at least in my circle, there is no social pressure. it is purely economic. and this is not going to change. so let's move on.


"hate me for saying it, but I think that having children you can't take care of properly is a recipe for disaster."

why should i hate you if you are 100% correct. especially with people getting married earlier and haveing more kids and having them earlier.

Lion of Zion said...
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Lion of Zion said...

i think JS brings up 2 relevant issues.

1) kids spend more time ever in school/camp, etc., i.e., away from parents. so i think that all the commenters who are saying that the primary responsibility lies with the parents are correct, but perhaps not practical.

2) he also mentions israel. i said this recently somewhere else. anyone parent who sends a child to israel and thinks that there isn't a good chance said child won't go through a partying phase is kidding themselves. furthermore, when i went to israel there were a number of school that were well known as places were kids picked up bad habits (or places that looked the other way if the kid already had the bad habits). in retrospect it amazes me that high schools would approve their graduates going to these types of yeshivot

rachel in israel said...

"in retrospect it amazes me that high schools would approve their graduates going to these types of yeshivot"

it doesn't amaze me at all. I worked in a high school. There is a lot of pressure to go to israel. the mentality in EVERY circle is that going to israel is a must and anyone who doesn't go has "issues". In their mind anyplace in Israel is better than staying home and going to community or public college.

I think the issue of the leaders trying to push kids away from parents is a major one. and, honestly, even mediocre parents who love their children do a better job raising their kids than rebbeim and counselors in schools

ora said...

What a surprise that birth control came up in this thread (and no, Trilcat, I don't hate you, I just think your point is silly). What evidence is there that family size has any positive correlation with drug use? Why would you automatically point fingers at parents with many children?

I think it's natural for parents of one or two children to find it incomprehensible that parents of larger families can pay attention to all of their kids. Those kids must be neglected, decide those who would never choose to have so many. But if you actually ask children from big families if they felt neglected, you'll get the same range and distribution of responses that you get from children with one or two siblings. There are kids who were one in ten and neglected and kids who were one in ten who were showered with love and affection, just as there are only children who are the center of their parents' world and only children who are left in front of the TV for hours a day. Birth control is not the solution here.

triLcat said...

Ora, yes and no - you're right that some people should close up shop before they begin, and others can handle ten well.

The thing is that parents need to ask themselves before they have a child "can I handle this child? Do I have the mental and emotional energy to be there for this child?"

If they can't commit themselves to being an emotional and mental support for the child, then they shouldn't have the child.

Lion of Zion said...


i just don't get it. it's not like the high school i went to swept these issues under the carpet. we had grade-wide programming for alchohol abuse and other issues and everyone knew what was going on (almost?). is the push for israel that strong to impart cognitive dissonance?

Mike S. said...

Perhaps my perspective is different with age, but what does a full-time mother do when the youngest child is in school from 8-5 5 days a week anyway. It isn't our 4 year-olds who have drug problems (I am assuming). Full day kindergarten has been the norm in day schools for 20+ years. How many parents of teenagers or young adults have a 4 year-old at home? It's not as rare in Orthodox circles as elsewhere, but it isn't the norm.

While kids sometimes pick up bad habits in Israel, they do that at college also. The first time away from home is tough in that way; some kids feel the need to push the envelope when they can. My experience is that the more sheltered kids are more at risk first time away from home, perhaps because it is a more sudden shock. But that is anecdotal.

Lion of Zion said...


"While kids sometimes pick up bad habits in Israel, they do that at college also."

true. i did think of this when i wrote i wrote. the only thing i can say though is

1) kids from more right-wing families also not going away to college for hashkafic reasons.

2) kids from RW and MO families who go to the specific party yeshivot i had in mind are not going away to college because of grades.

SephardiLady said...

Mike S-I believe anecdotal evidence to the contrary could also be presented.

Also, I know I could find plenty to do between 8 and 5 without returning to work full time, but perhaps that is just me. Seems there is always a ton to do, from cleaning and cooking to paperwork to helping with aging parents, etc. I will probably continue to take on more work as my kids enter school, but I have plenty of older neighbors who have yet to return to work and are as busy as bees.

Mike S. said...

Fair enough, but kids do leave home eventually. Even if only when they get married. Most RW of the anecdotes I was thinking of stayed home until marriage and then went off the derech and engaged in some very high risk behavior. of course by then the young lady was in the family way, which compounded the problem.

If there is a way to raise children with no risk of them developing (seriously) bad behavior I haven't heard what it is. Most kids, in my experience, turn out reasonably well with attentive parenting, but there are no guarantees in parenting. And even the ones who turn out well require parents to adjust their parenting strategies as they see what is and isn't working for the particular kids. Certainly my 4 have reqired different parenting techniques.

Anonymous said...

Is this really a new problem? And is it all about our kids? I know of several communities where the balabatim get drunk at Shabbos kiddush. And that's what they do in public, so we can oly guess what goes on at home. Haven't you notices homes with more than ample "bars" and stocks of liquor and wine. Let's be honest with ourselves, were (are) we all saints? And do we discuss our past (or present) follies with our kids? Let's stop being so noble and calling this a generation issue.