NCSY’s Rabbi Lightstone on Teen Shavuot Safety
By Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone
Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone is Regional Director of New York NCSY, based in Cedarhurst.
It is 3 a.m. Do you know where your teen is?
This Shabbat, your teen will undoubtedly inform you that he or she will not be sleeping at home Motzei Shabbat. In fact, the teens won’t be sleeping anywhere. That’s right -- Shavuot night is the perfect excuse to use the “get-out-of-curfew-free card.” The former Simchat Torah trend has turned into the newest Shavuot trend -- a night when dozens, if not hundreds, of teens notify their parents that they’ll be out all night in honor of the holiday.
Over the last several years, I have spoken in a handful of synagogues throughout Long Island on Shavuot night. On the walk/run between shuls, as I rush to make sure I am on time for the next shiur or chabura, I bump into countless teens roaming the streets of our community at all hours of the night. These teens wander aimlessly, with little regard for passing cars, personal safety or their reputations. On any other night of the year, perhaps other than Simchat Torah, this would be inexcusable behavior and the vast majority of these teens would not be caught “out on the town” after 10 p.m. on a weekend and even earlier on a school night.
Clearly, these are issues we must address. First and foremost, this is an obvious safety concern. Staying out all night, without supervision and with the knowledge that no one will be expecting them until the morning, creates an extremely dangerous recipe for any teen, from the most mild-mannered teenager to those that often push the limit. Even though it is natural to expect the occasional lapse of judgment from our teens, this expectation becomes a harsh reality when their judgment calls rarely improve after midnight.
Secondly, these wandering teens have drastically altered the shape and feeling of Shavuot night. As I glance at various congregations each year, I see that fewer and fewer teens are actually inside the shul learning Torah, spending time with their fathers or rabbeim, or even reading non-Torah subjects. It is hard enough for the average teen to spend the entire night learning Torah, but when many of their friends, or at least the perception that many of their friends, are hanging out at the park or down the street, they not only feel that they are missing out on sleep, but they are also missing out on doing the “cool” or “popular” thing.
Questions For The Teens
As parents, we must ask our children not only where they are going, but also what they plan on doing when they get there. What are their goals for the evening? Where are their friends going to be and what will they be doing? It is crucial that our teens know someone will be checking up on them to see if they are where they said they would be. Parents must also be very honest with both themselves and their teens. If you know your teen is not interested in regularly learning Torah, going to shiurim, or studying for finals, you should be pretty sure that when it comes to staying up on Shavuot night in a shul, there isn’t any magic pixie dust sprinkled on their heads which enables them to suddenly sit and learn all night. If you wouldn’t normally allow or encourage your child to stay out all night without any responsibilities or curfew, why should this night be any different?
The risk/reward quotient is simple. As a community, we must change the concept of staying up all night for the sake of staying up all night. It is our duty to bring back the feeling of Torah, growth, and inspiration on Shavuot night; we must once again infuse meaning and purpose into this holiday for our teens. As adults, we are role models and educators. As such, it is our responsibility to rededicate ourselves to learning with our teens and teaching them in an exciting and engaging way.
Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility. For the sake of this conversation, I would like to argue that the opposite is true, as well -- that great responsibility gives teens great power. When your teen informs you that they will be out all night on Shavuot, please ask them where they will be, what they will be doing, and please, check in on them. In the morning, ask them what they learned and who they learned it with. When you send a clear message that Shavuot night is a privilege and a responsibility, and not a right, they will take the opportunity to have an inspirational, meaningful, and most importantly safe, night.
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