I applaud Gary Rosenblatt for taking what I know will be an unpopular stance against the glorification of drinking at Jewish events aimed at college students and young adults.
I understand why such events are run. In the youth group NCSY we recognize the value of bringing our message to where the audience is and incorporating their interests. That’s no secret; it’s why we run Latte & Learning programs in coffee bars and why we maintain such a vibrant Facebook presence. Our goal is to infuse the mundane with an aspect of kedusha (holiness). But there are limits. For example, when NCSY was founded in the 1950s, detractors said that a youth movement without dances was doomed to fail. For religious reasons, this was not an option. Our founders stuck to their guns and now, 57 years later, NCSY is the largest and most successful organization in our line of work.
It’s one thing to incorporate a teen’s interests. It’s quite another to compromise one’s values in an effort to do so. That’s pandering. Doing so waters down one’s message, and teens will see right through your façade. Authenticity trumps such condescension every time.
Drinking on campus is a huge problem. Our job is to counteract it, not glorify it. Drinking in Jewish trappings doesn’t make a drunken bacchanalia Jewish; it’s just a Jewish excuse to drink. We don’t need that. It doesn’t do anybody any good: neither the students who attend such gatherings nor the organization whose message is tainted by hosting such activities.
I’m hardly calling for a return to Prohibition. I don’t think such an approach is necessary, let alone achievable. But I do feel that the job of Jewish organizations is to reach out, to educate and to lift up. By promoting, participating in or even tacitly approving of binge drinking, an organization fails in the “uplifting” aspect.
International Director, NCSY