The Unpleasant Truth About Purim

In past years, in the weeks prior to Purim, we published strongly worded editorials about the disastrous effects of out-of-hand inebriation on Purim. We wrote about the horror stories related by members of Hatzoloh, the serious risks caused by inappropriate and excessive drinking.

We recognize that it takes courage for mechanchim and parents to institute strong restrictions on bachurim; on the other side of the issue, we noted that it’s challenging for a bachur to say “no” to the proffered glass filled by a well-intentioned but misguided acquaintance.

We stressed that it takes moral fortitude not to offer alcohol to youngsters who come around collecting, and to bear in mind that “only one” glass in each house adds up to quite a bit. Of course, all of us want be the “good” parent, and it takes strength of character to insist that we know in advance where our children — even when they are already young adults — are at all times on Purim, and whom they are with. It is our obligation to train our children in the art of refusing to participate in dangerous or inappropriate conduct — even when they face considerable peer pressure.

This year, we assumed that since we had addressed this important topic in the past, year after year, it would have been repetitive and perhaps even irritating to some for us to broach it again.

Last week, we received a painful letter from a mother that made us rethink this decision.

She wrote to us to describe how at 11:30 p.m. her doorbell rang. A responsible friend of her sixteen-year old son had come to inform her that her son had passed out. The frantic mother rushed over to her son’s dormitory room and found him unresponsive, shaking, lips purple, teeth chattering. She called Hatzoloh and he was taken to the local emergency room.

“The doctors there discovered that he was suffering from hypothermia and his hands were frostbitten. They explained that the extreme cold, combined with drinking, had caused a severe and highly dangerous reaction.

“The doctors explained that when a person drinks they don’t feel cold and the body can’t regulate as well in extreme temperatures, which is why so many hypothermia cases were brought in that night — they found boys lying on the street. They added that had another hour gone by without medical intervention my son could have lost his hands [due to hypothermia].

“His heart started racing every time he tried to get up, and he kept passing out, which is why we were in the hospital overnight,” the mother related.

For members of Hatzoloh, Purim is the busiest day of the year. Sadly, this year was not an exception.

Again and again, the calls came in, and sirens blaring, volunteers left their own family gathering to take an unconscious youngster to a nearby hospital.

Some were found on the street, others in their yeshivah, a local shul, and even in the homes of strangers.

They were all out cold, unable to communicate, and required urgent medical attention.

It must be underscored that for the majority of bachurim in our community Purim passed relatively uneventfully. Yet the number of cases in which something went wrong this year and in the past are far too many to allow us to delude ourselves into a false sense of complacency unless we want to wait for the occasional tragedy to wake us all up.

Furthermore, while Purim is a time when the largest number of incidents are reported, unfortunately, abuse of alcohol, not only by teens, is a very real year-round issue.

During one recent Shabbos seudah in a yeshivah, one bachur was so intoxicated that he couldn’t see where he was going, and suffered serious injuries after falling. His friend became violent from the amount of alcohol he consumed and had to be physically restrained in order to prevent harm.

We can no longer sweep this issue under the rug.

We must consider the hard questions that many of us are thinking but are afraid to ask:

Who takes responsibility for the safety of bachurim at yeshivah Purim gatherings? Is there a sober and authoritative adult who is monitoring each bachur’s drinking? Who is ensuring that each student gets home safely when the gathering concludes? If, as many would assume, gatherings are inherently risky and uncontrollable, perhaps they should be eliminated altogether?

While a Maggid Shiur can try to keep tabs over how much wine he is — or preferably isn’t — serving in his home, how can he ensure that his students won’t get a hold of alcohol from other sources, before or after they visit him on Purim?

Which member of the hanhalah is responsible for the talmidim in the Yeshivah building — either in lunchrooms or dorm rooms? How are parents and mechanchim coordinating the responsibility for the boys’ safety on this auspicious day?

We cannot afford to wait until Purim is almost upon us to deal with our own personal or institutional experiences. Now, when the memories — and impact — of this year’s mishaps are still fresh in our collective minds, we have to act decisively. Roshei Yeshivah have the authority to institute measures — perhaps somewhat drastic — to eliminate the tzaar, chillul Hashem and real potential danger of unsupervised drinking of boys, even top boys. Parents will gladly and gratefully follow suit.

V’nahapoch hu! May we be zocheh to eradicate this scourge from our midst with proper planning.