Thank you so much for your honesty! Since you have bared your soul, I now feel I can do the same. While growing up, the Yomim Tovim were always my favorite times of the year. On Sukkos we always went sukkah hopping, to Simchas Bais Ha’Shoeva, and boy did we dance on Simchas Torah. On Purim we went collecting in fancy cars, danced in the streets to the leibedike music, and had a mesiba in yeshiva where we danced with our rabbeim. On Pesach we ate lots of delicious food and yet we still complained that we had so little to eat. We went on fun Chol Ha’Moed trips and made good wholesome memories together as a family.
Today, I am a father of six bochurim b”ah. While I love and appreciate all of my children, unfortunately the Yomim Tovim aren’t filled with the good memories as in the days of yore. You see, one of my sons got involved with the wrong crowd, and at 16 he looks forward to Shabbos and Yom Tov as simply another opportunity to drink. Now that Sukkos is almost upon us, instead of joyfully anticipating, I am cautiously fearful about what Simchas Torah will bring.
Simchas Torah is a celebration of Klal Yisroel’s completing and re-commencing the cycle of reading the heilige Torah. It is a time when we can reach great heights in our closeness to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. It is a time for parents to enjoy their sons getting an aliyah, dancing with them and watching them be showered with candies to symbolize the sweetness of the words of the Torah. All of this is greatly encouraged!
However, my 16-year-old son has graduated from candies to liquor. Last year someone had to call Hatzolah because he appeared to be so inebriated, we thought he might have had alcohol poisoning. Some of the members of our shul were concerned about adults getting into trouble for giving liquor to minors, so instead he was taken to a local pediatrician who instructed us on what to look for so he wouldn’t have to have his stomach pumped. I was hoping that this scare would make him abstain from liquor for good. Yet now, he simply recounts that incident with pride as if it’s his rite of passage to adulthood. Unfortunately, most of the young adults pat him on the back and give him high fives over this “great accomplishment.”
Just last week, my wife and I told him, in no uncertain terms, that his behavior was unacceptable. We also told him that while we try to look the other way when he takes a drink on Shabbos, we would not permit him to get drunk on Simchas Torah. We also told him that if we saw him drinking, we would be forced to take him home. Boy was I shocked by his reaction! He told us that if he were offered a drink, he would not refuse it. He said that while he will not drink on his own, if others offered him a drink, he would partake.
I know that liquor flows freely in our shul on Simchas Torah and I can’t stop it from happening. I went to discuss this with the rov, who was empathetic, yet said he can’t enforce a change to this tradition. My wife and I even considered going to our married son for the second days of Yom Tov so there would be no temptations, however, our son informed us that in his shul there are plenty of l’chaims on Simchas Torah as well. We have desperately been searching for an alcohol free or alcohol reduced shul and are unable to find one. Why do people think they need alcohol to attain a level of simchas hachaim? Why can’t we get a spiritual high through the kedushas hayom? Where have the days gone, when our primary concern was that there was too much candy being given out in shul?
A Worried Father
Dear Worried Father,
What a terrible way to have to look at Yom Tov! I actually believe that the dilemma you face is far greater than just the issue of Simchas Torah. The teenage years are chock full of episodes of experimenting and asserting one’s independence. As teens transition into adulthood, they often become tempted to partake in what they perceive as adult activities. They want to follow their parents’ lead, try the activities already done by their friends and establish their own identities. Alcohol frequently becomes a factor in this struggle. Many teens will likely turn to alcohol or other substances during their teenage years. Seventy percent of high school students have had at least one alcoholic beverage, and they are often with their friends when they drink.