Fair and Respectful
The arrest of a large group of teenagers for drug use and underage drinking at an unsupervised house party — the plurality of whom are students at an Orthodox day school — was an ideal opportunity for one of those “see, they’re no different” articles that appear from time to time. You know, the variety that extrapolates from a single incident of misbehavior by a member or members of the Orthodox community, purporting to demonstrate that such individuals are evidence of a widespread phenomenon, rather than aberrations.
In this case, such allegations could have been forgiven — precisely because drug use has encroached upon day schools to the point that it’s not uncommon, that the students arrested are in no way unique. It is, in fact, a widespread phenomenon.
I was pleasantly surprised, then, to read an article in the New Jersey Jewish News, which covered the aforementioned incident with sincere respect for the religious values of an Orthodox day school, and the special challenges that the declining mores of modern society present to young teens trying to commit themselves to a more disciplined path.
The article centers around an interview with Rabbi Yehoshua “Shu” Eliovson, “founder and CEO of In-Reach and www.thelockers.net, two attempts to address social issues with modern Orthodox teens.” Rabbi Eliovson speaks about the “spiritual disconnect” that can lead studious and committed teens to experiment with drugs, now that their use is so pervasive in society at large. “The media, targeted marketing, and the Internet” are listed as the things bringing drugs and alcohol to Orthodox teens — and, as the article points out, many experts on teens at large point to the same sources.
It’s a serious problem, not because the rate of abuse in Orthodox schools even approaches that of the general school system — and not because we imagine a “house party” one day soon where the plurality of students will come not from a mixed, modern Orthodox school, but from Ner Israel or Bais Yaakov. It’s a serious problem because even one student is one too many — and because even in Ner Israel or Bais Yaakov, only the truly naive would deny that the problem extends to far more than one.
“The media, targeted marketing, and the Internet” are listed as the things bringing drugs and alcohol to Orthodox teens ” So maybe it’s time to re-examine why modern orthodox youth are being should be exposed to these influences?
The problem with just calling things a “serious problem” when you really mean that “even one is one too many” is that the term serious problem is relative to other problems. There are all sorts of problems for which one is one too many. When considering what type of emphasis to put on this problem, and more significantly, how radical are the changes that are necessitated by such a problem, you need to have a wholly realistic idea of just how serious the problem really is, and not just the standard “one is too many”.
I found the article in the Anglo Press very upsetting. “Rabbi” Eliovson has a commercial interest in his website. I am very close to the situation and know that the statistics he cites are arbitrary and self-serving. His motives might be honorable but the fabrication of statistics is a serious deficiency. For a wonderful statement on the situation, see the letter sent to Frisch parents by their headmaster, Dr. Stein. There were two Frisch kids there, one of whom lives in W. Orange and the other who was visiting the first. Kushner isn’t taking this as seriously as it should. A rabbi in W Orange told me that some parents there think it hypocritical to punish the kids because they themselves experimented with drugs. What a sevara! Don’t we aspire for more from our children?
I sincerely hope that you can make your views heard in the Orthodox community, particularly the Charedi community – and particularly in Israel! There is a worrying tendency among the observant to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to issues like this; we may consider them too embarrassing, too shameful, too associated with liberal, anti-religious groups and individuals… However, as I was reminded in a recent conversation with a baal t’shuva Charedi man – the overwhelming tendency is just to convince ourselves that this is a problem for goyim and hilonim. Even my baal t’shuva friend, an Israeli who became observant only in middle age and is therefore worldly enough to know better, has adopted the tendency to wear blinkers. As you say, there can be little doubt that the problems of promiscuity (and its health implications), drugs, delinquency etc are far, far smaller proportionately in seriously observant communities. As I became religious I spent a year in Jerusalem. I wanted to believe in the saintliness of religious people as much as I did in Hashem’s perfection. So I was shocked to find Charedi men accessing pornographic websites at the local internet cafe, of seeing man in shtreimel and white stockings buying girlie magazines at Steimatzky, of seeing young men with peyot cruising for homosexual liaisons in Gan Ha’atzmaut, of learning about the ease of buying narcotics in yeshivot. These are the exceptions, not the rule, of religious life. But, as you say, it’s a serious problem because even one person falling into this kind of behavious is one too many. Rather than brush this under the carpet, shouldn’t we see this as an opportunity to do mitzvot – to love our neighbour, not to stand idly by his blood? By choosing not to see this, are we leaving the stumbling block in place to trip up our brethren? Are we not the ones who are blind?
“…and not because we imagine a “house party” one day soon where the plurality of students will come not from a mixed, modern Orthodox school, but from Ner Israel or Bais Yaakov”.
I hate to tell you to wake up and smell the doobies. Because such parties already exist.
I thought Rabbi Eliovson had made aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh? I distinctly saw his family’s picture on the cover of The Jewish Standard for that.
Anyway, regardless of the source of his semikhah, he is a truly erlicher Yid with only good intentions. After speaking with him for a few minutes you can pick that up. Kal va-homer someone like me who has known him for longer.
But I can only speak for his personal nature. I don’t know anything about his current venture.
As to the statement above about parties in the more yeshivish world, unfortunately, I know of such from long-time participants, almost all of whom have since grown up and straightened out their lives.
I live in an upper-middle class non-NY suburb and our Orthodox (Modern and more yeshivish)
schools also have major issues with drugs and the like. Unfortunately I think much of it
stems from KH Popper’s assertion – ‘Orthodox’ parents do not (and this is documented in my
community) care to discipline their kids for these things.
Also, how do you know the problem in our community is not as bad as amongst the non-Jews? Is it
as bad as the the drug problem in Harlem or Detriot – doubtful – but is it less of a problem
than amongst the non-Jews where I live – I have no reason to think that…
Elitzur, I have to assume you are not aware of the level of teen drug use outside our community. What I experienced in a suburban, non-sectarian prep school in the 1970’s is similar to what the most “modern” Jewish schools are experiencing today. These are influences that creep in over the course of time — and honestly have to be somewhat prevalent outside our walls in order to seep in. That is, I feel, an accurate description of what is going on today.
In Israel, Rabbi Uri Zohar produced a video (accessible via his home page) that tells Israelis to send their children to Torah schools in order to get better secular educations — in large part because the environment is free of drugs and violence.
Now does that mean that no two kids in a yeshiva have ever gotten into a fistfight? No. But it does mean that it’s a whole different world. This isn’t a naive or blind-eye perspective — the parents wouldn’t fall for a sham.
It truly is a different world outside the walls. But the higher the waters outside, the more solid your walls have to be.