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Jewish teens get sauced at shul

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Teenagers all over the country experiment with alcohol, but kids in Orthodox Midwood are doing it at their local synagogue.

It’s known as “shul-hopping:” boys in their early teens spend their Friday nights going from temple to temple attending Shalom Zocher parties — where men come together to celebrate a newborn boy’s birth — and get drunk on free booze.

But these teens aren’t just sipping wine: some of them have gotten so drunk at these parties that they’ve been rushed to the hospital — prompting a handful of Midwood synagogues to change their party policies when teenagers are involved.

Julius Derdik, a member Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin on Avenue L, said his congregation banned hard alcohol at its Sholom Zocher parties after two children attending separate Friday night parties passed out from too much drinking and were hospitalized. The synagogue has also stepped up its supervision of beer and wine consumption, Derdik said.

Medical professionals in the community agree the shul-hopping trend is a problem — and part of a larger teenage drinking trend that hasn’t been adequately addressed in insular Orthodox communities.

“This has been going on for years, unfortunately, but there’s more of it because there are more kids out there,” said a local emergency medical technician, who requested anonymity. “It’s a taboo topic, that’s always been swept under the rug for some reason.”

The issue has slowly been getting the attention of local bloggers, community leaders and rabbis.

“The most troubling aspect of the phenomenon of alcohol abuse throughout our community, but especially among the youth, is that alcohol consumption is condoned within the context of our religious celebrations and on the premises of our religious institutio­ns,” wrote Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, in a recent article titled “Why I Dread Purim,” a holiday in which alcohol is also freely available, in the Jewish Press. “Alcohol use is sanctioned, and in some cases encouraged and even idealized, by many of the leaders of our community.”

Many are thankful the problem is finally getting addressed — and a few noted that a lot less alcohol was served at local Purim celebrations than in years past. “It takes time for communities to get used to talking about things that are uncomfortable to talk about,” said Ruchama Clapman, a social worker in the community and the founder of Mothers and Fathers Aligned Saving Kids. “But more and more organizations are talking about it. People are ready to hear about it now.”

Yet neighborhood teens are characteristically non-chalant about the trend and the crack-down.

“It’s more of a guy thing,” said Tali, a teenage yeshiva student in Midwood, although she said shul-hopping doesn’t always involve alcohol. “It’s just some kids doing stupid stuff they’re not supposed to.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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