Elster's World

Monday, January 14, 2008

Running The Gamut

One of the local Jewish papers had an "expose" article this past week regarding a letter that was supposed to be sent home to all high school age students in the Five Towns and Far Rockaway areas. The letter was a stern warning about proper behavior during upcoming winter vacation breaks - acting properly, dressing properly, etc. Basically it can be loosely translated to say that just because your parents let you go to Miami alone for a week doesn't mean you should be doing copious amounts of sex, booze and drugs will walking along the boardwalk virtually naked.

According to the Jewish Star, every principal in the FT and FR agreed in principle to the letter and it was supposed to go out, in some form or another, to all students. Each school could tweak it as they say fit, but the message about being on vacation doesn't mean you are on vacation from Judaism remains. However, it appears a few of the principals of certain righter wing yeshivas dropped out at the last minute and momentum ground to a halt as the wheels came flying off.

For starters, I personally think the letter was a good idea. I've been to Miami during intersession and there is a free for all - type element that does exist there. I'm not saying that every teenage kid down in Miami is acting in an inappropriate manner, but what I am saying is that there is a very decent sized population of orthodox kids who are behaving in a way that defy any religious rationalization.

The sad thing is, the "evildoing" kids are simply written off as "oh, those kids are from Haftr/Halb/Flatbush/Ramaz etc." Sadly, despite being a silly oversimplification about who the "problem children" tend to be, it's completely untrue. It is my understanding that many children in even the more right wing schools are not immune to sowing their wilder oats during vacations with girls, drugs and booze.

So the question I have is, why did these yeshivos pull out? Why would ANYONE be opposed to this idea? Even if you are a good kid, does it ever hurt to be reminded not to act like a jackass?

It got me thinking. Perhaps some of the principals pulled out for fear of being associated with the letter. Perhaps Yeshivah ____ ____ did not want to be grouped into the same association with a Haftr or Halb type school. Perhaps by not agreeing to be included in the letter, the principal believes the message he is sending is, "yes we recognize there are issues with teens acting inappropriately, but that type of behavior doesn't happen in MY school so there's no reason to be included in this letter". To me, that's misguided thinking. I understand it, but I disagree with it. And of course, once one school bugs out, others are sure to follow.

Of course, I don't know what's going through anyone's head - if this is the reason why a Minahel would decide against a letter (some of the rabbanim who pulled out were quotes as agreeing with the letter's contents and saying it was a fine idea - well if it's such a fine idea, put your name to it?) but I was struggling to come up with plausible alternatives. After all, our society is almost as much about perception as it is about reality. No yeshiva wants to be included into anything which even whiffs of looking bad.

The reality is, however, ALL our kids need to be warned about proper behavior. The Yetzer Horah, as far as I can tell, attempts to thwart the deeds of all kids, not just Modern Orthodox ones. And yes, I certainly am aware that the wrongdoers on frolicking on the beaches of Miami in full view of the public tend to be the more modern kids, but don't kid yourselves into thinking more right wing kids are immune. I guaranty you they are not. I could fill a book with just my own personal knowledge.

If it were up to me, this letter would have been put in every knapsack and sent home to every parent. Parents need to be aware there are problems, especially those exceptionally blind ones who think their kids can do no wrong. But it won't be - another good idea tossed to the side of the road like a used wrapper.

People are quick to forget. They are quick to forget the tragedy that took place last year during intersession when a kid committed suicide (quickly swept under the rug after it happened) and they forget the distaste they had seeing all these kids whooping it up like they were participants in the MTV beach house. They forget that in order to fix problems you first need to admit there ARE problems.

End rant. Here's wishing everyone who reads this (or doesn't read this) a wonderful winter break.

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