Kudos to Gary Rosenblatt for exposing the overindulgence in alcohol under Jewish communal auspices. (“Back Off The Bacchanalia,” April 1). As he points out, universities are a place of particular concern because college life already has a drinking culture associated with it. The phenomenon of binge drinking continues to be a problem, and many universities are frustrated at being unable to stop it.
Stony Brook University, where I serve, has an ambitious educational program that teaches students about the dangers of binge drinking and the destructive effects that alcohol can have. We even have the Red Watchband Campaign, a peer “watchdog” program that trains students to assist others who appear to be in medical danger from alcohol consumption. It was founded, tragically, in memory of the son of a faculty member in our School of Medicine who died after an overdose of alcohol.
Yes, there are Jewish organizations that use alcohol to try to reach students by providing alcohol to minors (most undergraduates are under the legal drinking age). That is not only unethical, but it’s illegal and also violates the conduct policies of most universities. There are some cases where Jewish organizations have been asked to leave a campus or otherwise run afoul of university administrations for violating alcohol policies or appearing to be contributing to the problem. Still, this behavior persists among some groups who believe that it will make them appear “cooler” or more acceptable among students.
There is yet a larger issue that should also concern us about these organizations, as well as those whose philanthropic dollars support them. If they believe strongly in what they are providing for our college students then they should not need alcohol to “sell” it. Some students are going to drink and experiment with less than productive behaviors, and they don’t need our help to do that. There are more than enough Jewish students who are seeking a meaningful and fulfilling way to learn, grow and live Jewishly that we do not need to fuel the fire of alcohol abuse on campus to reach them. We must model behaviors that are ethical, legal and, most of all, which honor and preserve the sanctity of life, one of Judaism’s highest values.
Rabbi Joseph Topek
Director, Hillel Foundation for Jewish Life
Stony Brook, L.I.