Purim is the “topsy-turvy” day of the Jewish calendar – the day of v’nahafoch hu. Boys and girls wear costumes, and we expect children to make noise in shul. It is a festive and happy day. But Purim may also be the day a Jewish boy or girl takes his or her first drink and the first step toward alcohol abuse.
For generations, American Orthodox Jewry denied the existence of aberrant behavior in its midst. The shikkor was “not one of us” – it was someone belonging to another ethnic group.
The old men in shul would enjoy a shot of Canadian Club, kichel and herring after davening. They would think it was funny to tell a child to try a small amount of liquor in a schnapps cup and watch as the kid spit out the drink in disgust. By and large families’ liquor cabinets contained the same unfinished liquor bottles from one simcha to the next. Teen drinking consisted of boys having some beer at a shalom zachar.
Then times changed.
Today Orthodox teens and young adults drink. Even otherwise staid young men and women with excellent reputations develop drinking problems. Alcoholism does not differentiate between shtiebel and Young Israel, Bais Yaakov/cheder or day school.
Sometimes a shul’s Kiddush Club may be the cause of that first drink. Despite the efforts of rabbis and ba’alei batim to eradicate these clubs, many still exist. And in shuls where they do not exist, a regular Kiddush or a Purim still serve as an easy source for that first drink.
I remember when Purim was the excuse for ordinarily sober people to over-imbibe. Each year on Purim, in my grandparents’ building, one or two inebriated chassidim would ride an elevator floor to floor wishing everyone they met “simchas Purim.”
When I attended mesivta, one or two talmidim got drunk each Purim; usually they became so ill there was never a repeat performance. Today, some yeshivas no longer have a Purim chagiga and some have had to hire security to prevent drinking – especially underage drinking. At Shabbatonim, where there is responsible supervision, teens still drink. Unless each suitcase is inspected, no Shabbaton is safe.
Parents must supervise their children when liquor is served at a simcha. Yeshivos should not serve liquor on Purim or Simchas Torah.
Parents must also set proper examples for their children. While “ein simcha elah b’basar v’yayin, (there is no simcha absent meat and wine), I don’t believe there is a source requiring a person to get drunk and sample every brand of single malt scotch at a Kiddush.
The very nature of Kiddush is to make the day holy. Drunkenness, even on Purim, when sleep can fulfill the obligation to be unable to differentiate between Haman and Mordechai, does nothing to sanctify the day.
At weddings, a person is likely to see young men and women with several ounces of Scotch in a glass. They may not have a designated driver for travel after the simcha, even if they have children waiting for them at home.
When my wife and I planned our children’s weddings, our mechutanim agreed with usto limit the liquor. We placed a bottle of wine at each table. The video shows no lack of simcha. None of my guests even asked why we did not have an open bar during the entirety of our simchos.
In response to this problem, some shuls have shut down their Kiddush Clubs, restricted access to liquor at shul events – and even outlawed liquor altogether on their premises. Parents must take responsibility as well. They need to be responsible drinkers themselves. They also need to discuss drinking with their children before they permit them to attend a Shabbaton or a simcha. Before Purim every parent is obliged to take steps to ensure that his or her child will spend the chag in a safe environment.
Parents must become aware of the dangers that lurk behind what passes for convivial, social drinking. Too many l’chaims can turn dangerous.
Megillas Esther begins with the participation of the Jews at the all-you-can drink party of Achashveirosh. As a result of that party, Haman came to power. Haman’s decree affected people of all ages. It took v’nahafoch hu to save them. Teen drinking on Purim can only commemorate the party that caused all the problems to begin with.