Emptiness

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According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Israeli teens are turning to alcohol because their lives are empty.

A national program to get teenagers interested in productive ways to spend their time is needed to reduce the “emptiness” that causes a growing number of them to drink alcohol, according to a Bar-Ilan University sociologist.

Dr. Yossi Harel-Fisch, director of the International Research Program on Adolescent Well Being and Health at BIU’s School of Education’s criminology department… told The Jerusalem Post in an interview this week that he is very concerned about the phenomenon… “I have been saying for years that Israeli society is running after risky behaviors rather than dealing with causes and trying to prevent them. The rise in alcohol use comes comes from a lack of positive content in children’s lives. School should become a positive experience; clubs, youth movements or volunteering can help fill the void. We don’t offer them alternatives, so instead of offering something constructive, they look for new risky behaviors and things to occupy them.”

The observation about teenagers turning to alcohol when they feel emptiness in their lives is not surprising. That’s something we all know — or should know — and must address. The unexpected part of this report is the blunt recognition that this emptiness is such an endemic part of Israeli adolescent life. The early Zionist dream was all about meaning and purpose. It’s all gone, and Israelis know it. With tens of thousands of Israelis searching the mountains of Tibet for enlightenment, this is also not surprising in and of itself — the surprise is that they recognize the problem.

Then again, the report comes out of Bar-Ilan… perhaps the professor is Dati (observant) himself. Also, note that the news isn’t all bad: teen drug use (excluding alcohol) is at the lowest rate in Europe.

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18 Responses

  1. cvmay says:

    Drinking is ONE misdemenor!
    DRIVING while under the influence DWI is fatal!

  2. mycroft says:

    ” Adolescents whose contributions to the family are needed rarely get involved with drugs and alcohol or risky behaviors. Think of the kid on the farm who helps out in the fields after school”

    According to those who I work with who came from that background there was plenty of drunk driving among those wo grew up in farm families.

    “but a Torah life makes it that much more likely that your kids will be good kids.”

    Is there data for that-keeping socioeconomic factors equal? BTW an interesting question is what is a “good kid”

    “R Yakov Horowitz has written in Mishpacha that he has seen the worst possible scenarios (i.e. suicide) as a result of Charedi teens going off the derech.”

    Sadly in my general area-ie can easily walk in Shabbos-there have been two different suicides in the past couple of years of MO background kids-both RWMO background.

  3. Steve Brizel says:

    I am not sure that we should be basking in any mode of triumphalism about this article. R Yakov Horowitz has written in Mishpacha that he has seen the worst possible scenarios (i.e. suicide) as a result of Charedi teens going off the derech.

  4. ES says:

    Ori – there’s a subtle trend in education that slightly prolongs the school years too.

    It goes something like this: the cutoff date for the school year in Israel is approximately January 1st (1st Tevet). The educational specialists encourage a majority of children born October-December of that school year to repeat a preschool year rather than go ahead with their class.

    This has the effect that the grade level expectations go up, so more children are subject to being held back, etc. So in the long run a child graduating from 12th grade is almost certainly 19 rather than turning 18.

  5. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    Another correlation is probably the breakup of the family unit. In the present generation even in the ortho population there is a large increase in divorce. A child growing up in a single-parent family, PC for what was once called a broken home, lacks the reassurance of having two functioning natural parents. You can’t say Avinu Malkeinu properly without a relationship to a father. The malkeinu half has been compromised for a couple hundred years already.

  6. Toby Katz says:

    Ori has a very good point. Adolescents whose contributions to the family are needed rarely get involved with drugs and alcohol or risky behaviors. Think of the kid on the farm who helps out in the fields after school, or the kids in a Korean family who all take turns working in the family grocery nights and weekends. Those kids are mature and useful members of society.

    B’H very few of us these days actually /need/ our adolescents financially (IOW for the vast majority of us, our teens are a net financial drain!) — but there are so many things teens can do to make themselves useful, volunteer and chessed activities, working with kids and the elderly, helping out in their shuls and schools. The kids who are involved in chessed projects are rarely the ones getting drunk to fill in their empty hours.

    One reason Orthodox communities have less of a problem with drugs and alcohol is that our teens have so much to do, in school, shul, family, community.

    Another factor is that even in laid-back families with lax discipline styles, Orthodox families tend to have rules that they will not allow kids to transgress. Even at an early age, Orthodox youngsters are hedged about with rules — about Shabbos, kashrus and so on. Kids who never have to follow any rules and whose parents let them rule the roost are by far the most likely to end up with meaningless lives, which they sometimes fill with drugs and booze. You don’t need Torah to produce disciplined and mature teens — after all, non-Jews don’t have Torah but they often have nice kids — but a Torah life makes it that much more likely that your kids will be good kids.

    BTW — to change the subject slightly — I suspect that one reason for the increase in kids’ drinking in Israel is the higher proportion of Russians in Israeli society compared to earlier generations. This is a cultural artifact: Russians drink a lot. Even in Orthodox society, the group voted “most likely to get drunk at a kiddush” is Chabad, the most Russian of all chassidim.

  7. mycroft says:

    “Hopefully the stats are better in the ortho community.”

    We should pray that they will be

    Unfortunately, in the US that may not be the case.

    Sadly pressures of a double program etc lead to an emptiness among those who can’t master it-and then sadly alcohol and substance abuse can often follow

    . “School should become a positive experience; clubs, youth movements or volunteering can help fill the void. We don’t offer them alternatives, so instead of offering something constructive, they look for new risky behaviors and things to occupy them”

    This should be essential for those of our children who unfortunately are unable to master Gemarrah or had trouble with Ivris -even reading a Siddur after a decade of yeshiva/day school education.
    There are mechanchim who recognize it.

  8. Garnel Ironheart says:

    This is not a phenomenon isolated to Israel. In North America children spend 13-14 years in school between kindergarten and Grade 12, yet when they graduate the only job their high school diploma qualifies them for is the local fast food restaurant. 13-14 years and that’s all they have to show for it?

    At least in Israel there once was the army which gave a sense of purpose to children growing up and knowing they would be called upon to defend the country but nowadays between Chareidi exemptions and secular never-bothered-to-show-ups, it’s a wonder there’s enough soldiers to drive all the tanks.

    The reason for the regimentation in an Observant life is that it gives a person a sense of purpose. One doesn’t simply grow up. One grows in Torah and mitzvos. One doesn’t simply sleep around. One marries and produces children to create the next generation as commanded by God. Remove this sense of purpose and you have teenagers turning 18 and wondering: What now? To which the answer is: Nothing.

    Drugs, alcohol, casual sex, these are all activites sought after to provide some kind of thrill in life to fill the emptiness created by a lack of purpose. People who are happily married, satisfied with their jobs and have a warm supportive family generally don’t turn to them. It is therefore an opportunity that presents itself here to provide these children with an alternative to the self-destructive lifestyle they have found themselves in by engaging them with the Torah’s purpose-filled lifestyle instead.

  9. Yisroel says:

    I just tuned in to the website because I was feeling depressed and know there are always interesting things here. I think Freud adequately diagnosed contemporary spiritual ailments in terms of envy. Talking amongst ourselves about how to combat spiritual anomie in a peaceful manner is perhaps the most productive use of our time we could make.

    Obviously I agree with those who see this as a global Jewish problem.

  10. Mark says:

    Anon,
    “So is the Torah based society. Both are now suffering from large groups filling their lives with alcohol.”

    Really?? Is the Hareidi world beset with alcoholics or do you have a different community in mind like MO? If you did mean some other community is it really such a problem in that society? I find that VERY hard to believe and would love to hear where you got your info from.

  11. One Christian's perspective says:

    Has anybody tried to correlate emptiness in teenager’s lives to how much their adolescence is prolonged? It seems that with every generation we try to keep them as children longer.

    Comment by Ori

    This is a complex question Ori but a good one. Growing up in an abusive home, on the surface, I appeared to be mature – I learned to take care of myself. Underneath, there was a well spring of insecurity, fear and denial. As I have moved on in life, I have and am learning that for me emptiness means I have turned from the Lord to other things. Isaiah speaks of not going down to Egypt which may represent world values and seeking security in non-eternal things. When I see my childhood fears and coping mechanisms surfacing, I realize that I am not trusting the Lord as my Shepherd and I need to turn to him. May the children of Israel find Him and rest in his shadow.

  12. Dov says:

    Anyone who goes to Kikar Zion any night of the week will see that drugs and alcohol are a problem which is afflicting all sectors of Israeli society, including the orthodox. It is not only American yeshiva boys (and girls) who get drunk there. There are plenty of frum Israeli kids as well.

  13. Phil says:

    Ori’s question is interesting. How can we quantify “prolonged”?

  14. Orthonomics says:

    School should become a positive experience; clubs, youth movements or volunteering can help fill the void. We don’t offer them alternatives, so instead of offering something constructive, they look for new risky behaviors and things to occupy them.”

    What about parents? What about family? What about coming home after school to bake cookies with Ima? Why is the answer always more activities for kids?

  15. Ori says:

    Has anybody tried to correlate emptiness in teenager’s lives to how much their adolescence is prolonged? It seems that with every generation we try to keep them as children longer.

  16. RJK says:

    Hopefully the stats are better in the ortho community. Unfortunately, in the US that may not be the case. Last year the yeshiva near me found that about 1/3 of the high school boys had used drugs in the 3 months prior to the drug testing.

  17. Rachel W says:

    That last sentence should not be of comfort to us. As Jews, we are held to a higher standard than others. And each and every Yiddishe neshama (Jewish soul) is precious; to lose the great potential that resides within every Jewish child is an unbearable loss.

  18. Anonymous says:

    We should not look at this arrogantly. The early Zionist movement was all about meaning and purpose. So is the Torah based society. Both are now suffering from large groups filling their lives with alcohol.