First Response Team in Monticello

My wife and I took a drive to Monticello last week. We went to get out of camp for a few hours, and to get some pizza, but I must admit that I wanted to see a bit of the ‘scene’ thar these bungalow capitals are famous for. I had only heard about these scenes, and I hadn’t yet read Rabbi Horowitz’s article about it. It was a weekday afternoon, and therefore relatively tame, but it was nevertheless pretty amazing to see just how Brooklynized that part of the country becomes during the summer.

Today, I received the following email about this issue:

It is been brought to our attention that there are gatherings of hundreds of kids taking place in the mountains. At these locations boys and girls are getting together in homes for “parties” and are behaving in a completely un-tznius and indecent manner. Our children are at risk more than ever before. Many of them are finding themselves in situations that are beyond any of our imaginations and are dangerous to both their RUCHNIUS and GASHMIUS. These are children from homes in Boro Park, Flatbush, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Monroe, Staten Island, Lakewood, Monsey, Five Towns, many out-of-town cities, and Eretz Yisroel and WE WANT TO SHOW THEM THAT WE CARE AND THAT HASHEM LOVES THEM. Regardless of whether they are your children or not, they are Hashem’s children and we must take responsibility for them!

Therefore based on the Psak and behest of Rav David Feinstein Shlita, two organizations have stepped forward to finance the renting of two of these major hangout locations beginning this Motzei Shabbos and every Motzei Shabbos through Labor Day. The pool hall Hi-Cue in Monticello will be open exclusively for boys and Liberty Lanes will be open exclusively for girls from 1am to 4am, free of charge with free food provided. Our primary goal is to have you come out and show support, love and compassion to our children and help them realize that Hashem loves them.

We will need all our married members to come help staff and provide vital assistance in these locations from 11pm to 5am. We will also need members to make themselves available to provide assistance in other locations (i.e. Walmart, Pizza Stores, etc.). We will need married couples to be drivers, mentors, general assistance, and most of all a smile throughout the night. There will be a briefing on Friday afternoon at the Irvington Bungalow colony from 3pm to 4pm. Mechanchim and Mosdos who deal with children at risk and mental health professional will be coordinating this operation. At the behest of the Rosh HaYeshiva, HaGaoan Rav Dovid Feinstein Shlit”a, we encourage everyone’s attendance (married members only). This is truly a matter of Pikuach Nefoshos.

I thought this response was pretty good, yet incomplete. It’s kind of like Arkady Gaydamak trying to buy out the ‘Tiv Taam’ supermarket chain in Israel, and making it Kosher. It would never stop those who want trayf from obtaining it and eating it, but it may help the undecideds or those who are simply going with the flow. I’m not sure there is a complete solution, or even of the degree that there needs to be one. Kids will be kids. Of course, I have no idea what it means that these kids are being ‘un-tznius’. Does it mean the girls are wearing short skirts? The kids are holding hands? Kissing? Having unprotected sex? Why is this being left to the reader’s imagination (‘beyond any of our imaginations’)?

Reading this letter, though, I noticed the glaring absence of the mention of drugs at these hang-outs. That was the focus of Rabbi Horowitz’s article. Let’s face it, behaving ‘un-tznius and indecent’ is small potatoes next to hard drug use. The only reference to dangerous behavior, as opposed to religious breaching, is the reference to “situations that are beyond any of our imaginations and are dangerous to both their RUCHNIUS and GASHMIUS”. Perhaps that means drugs, or its milder and less taboo forms of smoking and underage drinking.

I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry at the equation between immodest dress and drug use. I have been taught that in order to be a good Jew, one must first be a good human being. Being Jewish does not absolve one from being a mensch. All of the behaviors discussed are symptomatic of the ‘at-risk’ youth. And I ask: at risk of what? Becoming Modern Orthodox? Intermarrying? Dying of a drug overdose? Contracting STDs? I think that a hierarchy of ‘risks’ must be catalogued, and fast, lest mountains be turned into molehills and vice versa (like in the old ‘it leads to mixed dancing’ joke).

To clarify: I think that this response is admirable and a good idea. I am critiquing certain assumptions about WHY kids do this kind of thing and the value judgments between the lines of the letter.

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