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Simchas Torah Does Not Equal Johnny Walker

By: David Mandel

O.K. Guys, we’ll start Hakafos at Rabbi M’s Shul, he’s usually got good booze. Then we’ll go to Shimee’s house, his folks will be out late so we can hang there for a while, then we’ll go over to the Yeshiva after midnight when the action starts. You know the kind of stuff we can get there on the street. That should be good till about 4:00 a.m. This should be one of the best nights we’ve had in months.

How many times will this scene be repeated on Simchas Torah night in such neighborhoods as Flatbush, Crown Heights, Kew Gardens, Boro Park, Far Rockaway, the Five Towns, Monsey..?

The neighborhood’s Hatzolah and Shomrim patrols, unfortunately, will have a busy evening on Simchas Torah with boys and girls who’ve had too much to drink, who’ve dabbled in other illegal substances, who may still be out at 4:00 a.m. or 6:00 a.m., who can’t find their way home or who don’t want to go home.

There are certain locations in several neighborhoods that have late Hakafos that attract a crowd of teenagers who come there with no intention of participating in or enjoying the dancing or of being jnan with the Rosh Yeshivas, Baal a Batim or the Talmidim. Simchas Torah to them is the ultimate party night. Where can they get the best booze? How many locations can they hit? Who will they see that evening? The idea of holding a Sefer Torah and dancing around the bima for several hours is not on their agenda.

Is there a way to confront this problem? Can we succeed in finding a way to include these boys and girls in one of the most fulfilling Yom Tov traditions we have? Is it possible for these youth to have a good time by dancing, singing, laughing and sweating without an excessive amount of liquor and beer?

Many shuls have a long established routine for the Hakafos. The general order of the ohsuchf is the Rav, the Kohanim, the Leviyim, the "Chashuve" Baal a Batim and finally all other men in Shul. Simple arithmetic dictates that there usually aren’t enough Sifrei Torah and Hakafos to give to everyone. So the single boys and certainly the teenage boys generally don’t have a Hakafah. For those boys who come to Shul feeling disconnected to the spirituality of Simchas Torah this simply reinforces their belief that they don’t need the ,uhnad of the cuy ouh only the ,uhbjur. For these boys, singing and dancing with other boys is not cool, it’s not hip. There are more important ways to spend this evening.

Reversing a Trend
Can we experiment with a very different concept? Can we encourage the Gabbaim in Shuls to reverse this? Can we begin the Hakafos with the youth in Shul? Would any parent object to having their thirteen or seventeen year old getting a Hakafah first? Can we set aside a full Hakafah for the boys? Is there a way to show these kids that it’s possible to have fun without an excessive amount of drinking? I know there will be some Baal a Batim in every shul who will object to a teenager having a Hakafoh before him. But as adults we are role models and if we explain our reasons most people will be understanding.

During the late night Hakafos in the Yeshivas how can we turn the activity on the street in front of the Yeshivas into a more positive Yom Tov environment ? It may be helpful to view our efforts as kiruv work and have responsible young men and women fanning out into the crowd to encourage those who are watching, who are drinking, and who are misbehaving to participate in the simcha. Invite these teenagers in. Cajole them to come in. Give them a Hakofah even if they’re not dressed appropriately for Yom Tov. Work with them in a positive way to make them feel that they are wanted or important. Let’s take advantage of the fact that these kids are in shul or in front of a yeshiva. Physically they’re there, now we just have to bring them in spiritually. These kids should have memories of Simchas Torah as it was always intended, as a cuy ouh celebration of vru, and of the ,utkpbu ohohb that lrc,h v bestowed on us.

Big Brother/ Big Sister
At OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services, one our most successful programs is the Big Brother/ Big Sister Volunteer Program. A young man in Kollel, a young man or woman in college or any adult assumes responsibility generally for a thirteen to seventeen year old. This interaction could be for a few minutes a day or several hours per week. They could spend the time talking, walking, learning, tutoring, playing ball, lending an ear. You can become a big brother or big sister in your own shul or yeshiva on Simchas Torah. Be on the lookout for a teenager who is not participating in the dancing, or who is standing off alone. He may be wearing a yarmulke that identifies him as not being regularly Shomer Shabbos. She may be fifteen years old and smoking a cigarette. Speak to them about participating. They’ll probably "blow you off" on your first attempt so you’ll need to try your approach more than once to be successful. The goal of a Big Brother/ Big Sister is not to become a therapist, rather in a casual and relaxed way to befriend this person and let them feel that they too can belong. We want them to feel that they can successfully belong to a crowd engaged in celebrating the cuy ouh with Torah, that there are other ways to have fun besides "hanging out" with their own chevra.

As you’re reading this article, please consider speaking to the Gabbai in your shul. Ask if it would be possible to reserve at least one of the early hakafos for these teenage boys. Make a special effort to give hakafos to the boys who would typically not get them. At least one person in shul should be designated to watch over the flow of liquor to the younger crowd.

We’ve heard of too many stories of young boys and girls drinking gsh tk rat sg.

Contests of four of more shots with chasers on this evening was never intended to become part of our customs.

By taking a firm, positive approach we can work to ensure that Simchas Torah is a celebration that can be enjoyed by everyone, even those who didn’t necessarily come to shul or to the yeshiva expecting to participate in the cuy ouh ,jna.

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