Of Bar Mitzvah Boys And Beer
However, that these kids would think it's terribly cool to walk around with alcoholic drinks in their hands doesn't surprise me. Since the days that I was a teenager, the dangerous and illegal practice of underage drinking has not been able to shake its image of being a really cool thing to do. What does surprise me is how the culture of drinking has gained more and more of a foothold in our communities. It's one thing to have a drink (or a couple) when eating dinner out with adults, and I'm not even against adults sharing a L'Chaim at a simcha. But the drinking has become constant. I have been at peoples' homes for meals on Shabbos, where hosts and guests alike have gotten raucously drunk polishing off bottle after bottle of booze - with their children sitting at the table. I was at a Bar Mitzvah recently where there was tray after tray of designer cocktails being passed around - and that was in addition to a full open bar, with 6 different types of designer beer. It was no wonder that the kids present had figured out how to beat the system and score for themselves some of the funky-looking flourescent drinks that barely taste alcoholic at all. I was actually recently at a Bar Mitzvah where there was no alcohol served at all, due to the party's hosts having been at a Bar Mitzvah a few weeks before where a fourteen year-old guest ended up passed out on the bathroom floor of the shul, after sneaking far too many drinks from the bar. I have even heard of a disturbing trend of serving the adults mixed drinks at children's birthday parties and Upsherens (boy's first haircut). Is that really necessary? I certainly don't think it's appropriate to do a large amount of recreational drinking while supervising children.
A friend was telling me that she brought her son to a local school for his Upsheren, and when she asked the Rebbe performing the Upsheren what she should bring for the party, he gave her a list that included cake, honey for her child to lick off the hebrew letters (a tradiitonal part of the event) - and some alcohol for the Rebbes to make a L'Chaim. She said she was grateful for the receiving line of Rebbes coming in to say Mazel Tov to her and her family - but somewhat uncomfortable when they helped themselves to a shot in honor of her son's first haircut, with a passel of 4 year-olds looking on. Not that anyone imbibed inappropriately - no one had more than a shot apiece. But still, is it appropriate for Rebbes to be drinking even the tiniest drop of alcohol on the job? In front of their students? Do you think it's even legal? And I fully understand that the practice of drinking a L'Chaim has traditionally accompanied the marking of lifecycle events in the Orthodox world. But in today's day and age, when the drinking that goes on in out communities has progressed so far beyond a quick shot (or a few) of schnapps drunk out of a plastic shot glass to accompany herring and kichel, to wine, beer, mixed drinks, and hard liquor served everywhere from parlor meetings to Sunday Tzedakah brunches? Maybe the drinking of liquor at every event has to be reassessed. Perhaps the quick drinking of L'Chaims that used to acceptable at every Simcha has now, due the increase of public drinking in the Orthodox community, become no longer appropriate.
I am aware that many shuls have instituted alcohol-free kiddushim. And while I applaud that move, I am not even sure that I think that would have been necessary - had the drinking just remained a the simple making of a L'Chaim with friends and family to commemorate a special event. But it hasn't. It has become a part of life. I always remember my father pouring a small shot glass for his guests on Shabbos between the fish and the soup course, as his father used to do. And it certainly never seemed to me, as a child, like anything I wanted to partake in. But change the scene to men laughing wildly while pouring shot after shot throughout the Shabbos meal - and suddenly it seems a whole lot more attractive of a habit.
Now don't get me wrong. I love a good glass of red wine or a well-made appletini as much as the next girl. I just question whether our kids' birthday parties and Upsherens, Shabbos meals, and Bar Mitzvahs are the appropriate place to imbibe.
Update: Here are a couple of links on the subject of modeling the proper behavior for our children from the always wise and well-written Rabbi Yakov Horowitz: I, II