What’s with Jews and drinking? Is there a Mitzvah I don’t know about? Because Purim is here, I always feel compelled to speak out in the strongest terms. Maybe someone out there will listen. Maybe some parents will reverse course and not let their kids go out unsupervised and unrestrained. It’s probably because of working many night shifts on a city ambulance and seeing more than my share of such young people die or get mangled from drunk driving.
After one nightmarish tour of duty, the director of the emergency room once asked me, “Why do we have so many Jewish intoxicated teenagers here?” How do I explain Purim to this doctor, or better question - how do I explain irresponsible parents letting their teenagers go out without proper supervision? “Doc, the only thing I could tell you is that when I was ‘their age,’ neither my parents, nor the parents of my classmates, let us roam the streets unattended and unsupervised.” Even though my folks knew I hated liquor and beer, on Purim day, unless my rebbe was having something going on, we stayed home. Often our rebbes in Chasam Sofer had Purim shpiels and I was escorted to and back from his house - door to door service. Back then, parents’ orders were sacrosanct.
Can someone please tell me why parents provide their young ones with limousines and money on Purim night to go around galivanting and disturbing the tranquil night? To trespass on people’s private properties? I witnessed this a number of times. Let’s take chilul Hashem out of the picture (not that it’s not very important). But how about the safety of our own children? Spending 24 hours locked up in a basement of Nassau County Jail is no picnic, provided they escape death or serious injury. Crying after it happens is too late!!
Every Labor Day, I look forward to going to the Muradis for their annual Labor Day BBQ, which raises money for a very worthy cause, Avigdor’s Helping Hand. In fact, it has been a tradition to eat fine cuisine, which I never eat year-round, mingle with friends and acquaintances, and enjoy a relaxing evening under the stars. No one throws a party like Mr. Muradi! No speeches are given. Pleasant music fills the night air. People are not in a rush to leave.
I had a great evening, even if I couldn’t talk a teenager out of trying to hustle the partygoers for a drink. “Can you just get me a shot of tequila? I’m very stressed.” Stressed from what? Family? Work? Responsibilities? I asked, “Why do you need to drink?” “I just need one shot, please.” I spoke very gently to this young man like he was my son, explaining the dangers of drinking. “But I am not driving. I live close by,” he replied.
We sat for a while, schmoozing about school and the stresses of life while stuffing ourselves. His interest peaked when I told him what drinking does to the liver. I said, “You can’t live without a liver but you could live with one kidney or lung.” He asked, “How about a liver transplant?” I told him the waiting list for liver transplants can be many years and people have died waiting, and even if the patient gets the liver, many times it’s not successful. “Are you a doctor?” he asked. I told him no, but “I’ve been around the block and saw my share of tragedies related to drinking.”
Presently, I am learning about the “wayward child” with a talented chavrusah. The wayward child eats like a glutton and drinks uncontrollably. The parents bring him to the Beis Din and he gets the death penalty. Before some of my layman readers (I consider myself a layman too) jump all over me, there are many restrictions and rules that have to be in place before this happens - so much that in the entire Jewish history, there has never been a wayward child brought to Beis Din.
I was thinking that perhaps a wayward child never existed or was brought to Beis Din is because maybe, just maybe, the parents have some blame. Why is this teenager at a party so late at night without proper supervision? Is someone going to tell me because it’s a different generation today? Why is any teenager at a fundraiser? Shouldn’t they be home getting ready for school the next day or at least be under the watchful eye of their parents?
Of course, the next day is no picnic for the teachers because he is going to be too tired to do any work. He will have his head down sleeping during class or bragging about the good food and quite possibly the liquor he managed to drink. Most likely the student will be restless and boisterous after his class nap. This Purim, rabbis and teachers don’t have to worry because the teenagers that drink have a long weekend to deal with - or should I say parents, who have to deal with their hangovers.
Once, I heard a well-known rabbi speak of the alcohol problem. He didn’t paint a rosy picture. Cemeteries in Monsey are filled with young men and women because of drinking and driving, among other things. Years ago, I was in the Emergency Service Academy. On the first day, the cadets saw a video of horrific crashes as a result of drinking. Back then, you didn’t have to wear seatbelts. Most people, including me, didn’t wear them because the police never ticketed us. On the second day, the instructor asked us, “What is the first thing you did when you went into your car? “We all replied: “We put on our seatbelts!”
After talking to the young lad, we separated. I went a distance to observe him. He went back to the bar, still asking the partygoers if they could get him a drink. As far as I could see, no one got him a drink. Thank G-d, all declined. As I was walking back to my car, I looked up into the beautiful tranquil night and said, “Dad, thanks for always watching over me and leading me on the right path.”