Remembering Debbie Friedman

I was thrilled to read Joseph Kaplan’s column remembering Debbie Friedman, zt’l. (“The silence in between,” March 5.)

Because I was a Jewish journalist (OPTIONS, The Jewish Resources Newsletter — 1974-2000) and a fan of her music, we had many encounters in many venues. I once asked her how she dealt with hearing her songs mangled by voices that could not sing. She replied very matter of factly that she didn’t care if people couldn’t sing well, as long as they continued to sing. So, as Debbie listens from on high, I suspect that she is as pleased with Joseph Kaplan’s voice singing her songs as with anyone else’s. Just keep singing!

Betty Singer

What messages do we give?

Lianne and Etiel Forman and their Communities Confronting Substance Abuse organization deserve our gratitude for their honest and courageous struggle against substance abuse and addiction among Orthodox adolescents. (“The devil is in the details,” March 12.) Their work is cut out for them: The data Ms. Forman highlights from a study of yeshiva high school students — showing above-average rates for some dangerous behaviors and near-average rates for others — are not encouraging. And, as she notes, the statistics for the current year are expected to be even worse. To fight this serious problem, Ms. Forman advocates community awareness and prevention by educational programming.

As part of our communal self-awareness, we ought to ask ourselves: What messages do we, as parents and teachers in the Orthodox community, give our children and students about alcohol use and gambling?

Here again, the evidence, though anecdotal, is not very encouraging. We are bombarded weekly, especially before Passover, by glossy advertising for wine and hard drinks in “frum” periodicals. Fundraising events for Orthodox causes are planned around poker competitions and mixology classes. Family-oriented publications flood our homes with articles about wine selection and kosher-for-Passover cocktails.

Only one or two decades ago, such tolerance for drinking and gambling was unheard of in our community. For a supposedly conservative branch of Judaism, which resists societal pressures, this is a distinct shift; a shift coated with a sheen of “frumkeit” that has more to with crass commercialism and imitating our surrounding culture than with observing mitzvot.

Do we really expect Orthodox adolescents to avoid potentially addictive behaviors when we ourselves normalize them?

David Zinberg

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