Latest update: July 2nd, 2013
In last week’s Jewish Press, an op-ed column of mine – “It’s One A.M. Do You Know Where Your Children Are? – described the “scene” in and around the pool hall in Monticello, New York, where hundreds of unsupervised teenage boys and girls were hanging out, drinking, and using drugs. I noted that some of the kids in the pool hall said they and their friends rent bungalows in non-Jewish colonies or motel rooms throughout the Catskills where they regularly party from Thursday night until Monday morning – including Shabbos.
If any readers needed further validation that things were as described, it came in the form of an article in The Middletown Record, the newspaper serving the Catskill Mountains area, the very day The Jewish Press hit the newsstands:
Five Arrested After Cops Break Up South Fallsburg Party
South Fallsburg – Police arrested five men over the weekend after getting complaints about a house where kids were being served alcohol and people were smoking marijuana.
Fallsburg police got the calls Saturday night, and between 9 and 10 p.m. they went to the address on Laurel Avenue in South Fallsburg. Police say they broke up a large party at the house and arrested five males, all between the ages of 17 and 21. Police said that those arrested were among the oldest people at the party, and some of them had supplied the alcohol to the younger partyers. Police said the partygoers were summer residents [emphasis added].
The five men were freed pending appearances in Fallsburg Town Court.
Those arrested were all frum kids from Brooklyn and Monsey, and their names were published in accounts of the arrests in other newspapers. (Shabbos ended well after 9 p.m. that week, so if the police received calls and responded “between 9 and 10 p.m.” and found at that time “a large party” – well, you do the math.)
No doubt some of you are wondering how things turned out this past Motzoei Shabbos. I’m pleased to report that things were far better than the previous weekend – in no small part due to the awareness generated by my Jewish Press op-ed.
Countless parents whose teens are spending the summer in the Catskills shared copies of the column with each other in print and e-mail formats. I know of several bungalow colonies where the article was clipped from the paper and posted on the shul’s bulletin board. Two popular frum bloggers wrote essays about the issue last Wednesday and more than 1,100 people reviewed the article on my website alone (www.rabbihorowitz.com), not counting those who forwarded it to their e-mail lists.
Additionally, concrete steps were taken to improve things on the ground. Quite a few bungalow colony owners called staff meetings with their day-camp counselors and initiated curfews for those traveling off grounds on Motzoei Shabbos. A Brooklyn rav and his lay leaders made arrangements with the pool hall owner in Monticello to have the hall’s use limited to boys after midnight. He also rented Liberty Lanes, a popular bowling alley in Liberty, for the exclusive use of girls. The rav arranged for adult supervision in both locations and provided homebound transportation for the girls after their time in the bowling alley.
As I see it, there are several important lessons to be learned from this evolving episode.
To begin with, awareness matters. As difficult as it is for us to write and publish columns of this nature, it really is the only way to generate the type of awareness that allows parents and community leaders to proactively respond to the challenges we collectively face.
Additionally, we need not throw up our hands and feel resigned to accept things as they are. We must feel empowered to parent our children effectively and set limits for them that will keep them safe – and alive. We also need — with our time and our financial resources – to get behind the efforts of the rabbis and lay leaders who are working to help save our children
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we should resist the seductive route of merely “banning” places and activities for our growing teen population. It is entirely appropriate to declare certain areas off-limits for our children, but if we do not create healthy, safe, and enjoyable venues for them, we delude ourselves into thinking we’ve solved the problems and thereby set the stage for far greater challenges later on.
Ten years ago we “banned” Woodbourne, for some very good reasons. There were pronouncements in a variety of Jewish publications forbidding our children from appearing in Woodbourne on Motzoei Shabbos. There was also a concerted effort made by Hatzolah leadership and camp directors to limit the driving of teenagers who spend their summers in camps and bungalow colonies.
Those initiatives were effective in taming the environment in Woodbourne and reducing the number of horrific car crashes. What we have not done, however, is really address the core causes that are driving so many of our young men and woman to the fringes of our society. Nor have we been creating enough supervised, appropriate venues in which our children can spend their free time.
Our disenfranchised kids, some of whom may not be that book-smart or academically gifted, managed to figure out the “new math” pretty quickly.
Woodbourne, no. Monticello, yes.
Frum pizza shops, no. Non-Jewish pool halls, yes.
Public areas, no. Motels and apartments in non-Jewish neighborhoods, yes.
Somehow, that doesn’t add up to me.
About the Author: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and founder and director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S.
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