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PURIM, LOTS OF ALCOHOL?

PURIM, LOTS OF ALCOHOL?

21 February 2013

When I went to Sunday school as a child I was taught that the word Purim derives from the Persian word pur which translates as “lots”. The lots from the Book of Esther, my teachers told me about, were used by the evil Haman to randomly decide on which day he would execute the Jewish people, with the 14th of Adar being chosen.

Some decades on from my Sunday school days, the Purim story I heard as a child has transformed somewhat with the word “lots” relating more to the large amounts or “lots” of alcohol consumed at Purim festivities.

The general perception of Jewish youth has long been that alcohol use and definitely alcohol abuse is either non existant or minimal, especially in comparison to the general community. Australian Jewish people like to eat not drink, right?

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) was founded in 2009 in response to the Jewish community’s concern of an increase in underage drinking, particularly in the young teens sector. Victoria Police, Chevra Hatzolah and other emergency services and drug and alcohol health services staff clearly painted a picture of alcohol related issues in the Jewish community that deserved concern.

The picture included not only binge drinking at Purim festivities or other chagim, but binge drinking on a regular basis, weekly and even daily for a significant number of Jewish youth in Melbourne and Sydney. Youth as young as 12 years of age are getting intoxicated and requiring serious medical assistance regularly. The drinking patterns of girls have increasingly becoming younger than ever before. Jewish youth are now drinking just to get drunk. Whilst it was once considered that the cool kids get drunk, there appears to be a trend for the socially less confident to get drunk to try and “fit in”.

The Australian Drug Foundation (ADF) state the following “Drinking Facts”,

86% of adolescents at age 14 years old report that they use alcoholThe average age of a child’s first drink is now 12 and nearly 20% of 12 to 20 year olds are considered binge drinkersAlcohol is the number one drug of choice for young people and kills six times more young people than all illicit drugs combined.

The JCCV YAP conducts educational sessions at the majority of Jewish schools in Melbourne, providing students and parents alike with up to date research and information in a preventative style format.  The sessions are presented by expert guest speakers including trainers from Odyssey House, Chevra Hatzolah and the Victoria Police representatives.   The sessions focus on a number of issues including,

Alcohol and your health
Alcohol and the law
Safe partying
Peer Pressure and looking after your friends
Parents role in their child’s alcohol behaviour and patterns (presented to parents only)

In the first year of YAP, I vividly recall a parent approached me and wholeheartedly thanked me after a school parent educational session. The mother detailed her concern for her daughter who in Year 6 was already getting drunk at batmitzvah parties she was attending.  Her gratitude was based on the fact that she heard other parents with similar concerns and for the variety of strategies the speakers offered her as a parent. The mother shared with me that she had never said no to her daughter for anything and did not know how to.

The JCCV YAP has published an Alcohol and Drug Resource Book for Parents, which has been developed by Trinity Grammar parents. The Resource Book is written by parents for parents in order to promote awareness about alcohol and drug use and to provide support in dealing with the resultant problems. The Resource Book is a comprehensive guide for parents of pre teens and teenagers alike, dealing with issues of communication, role modelling, family values and information on the short and long term effects of alcohol on the adolescent brain.

The main advice the Resource Book offers to parents includes,

Explain the risks
Talk early and often
Set clear rules
Set clear consequences
Know your teenagers friends
Be aware of your adolescents activities
Be involved
Develop good communication

Also our Rabbis remind us that Jewish law makes it abundantly clear that drinking alcohol in a manner that threatens the health and well-being of oneself or other members of the community, or makes one prone to behaviour which brings embarrassment and disrepute to individuals or the community in general, is completely and utterly forbidden. In addition, the providing of alcohol to those underage is not only inappropriate, it is illegal.

With Purim and associated festivities this week, I strongly encourage parents of teenagers to start implementing these strategies now. Last Purim in Melbourne, countless emergency services were directed to a Purim function to assist intoxicated Jewish underage youth vomiting in the gutters.

I wish you a safe and happy Purim, with lots of fun and happy times!

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