The holiday, which marks the end of the annual Torah cycle and the beginning of the next cycle, typically features dancing with Torahs, and festivities, which often include alcohol.
For the next four years, while Rabbi Burg was living in LA, he and his wife, Rachel, hosted an annual, alcohol-free Simchat Torah bash in their home. Despite the absence of liquor, hundreds of teens showed up each year to celebrate. Rabbi Burg encouraged NCSY Regions across North America to follow suit and throw similar parties marked by a complete lack of alcohol.
Simchat Torah falls this year on Tuesday night, October 21 and Wednesday, October 22.
Rabbi Burg, now the International Director of NCSY, said that all NCSY Regions have instituted alcohol-free parties for teens who commonly attend NCSY meetings and programs.
He declared, “I think the Jewish community needs to not only be aware that teens will be drawn to alcohol on Simchat Torah, but we also need to offer viable alternatives for them – we can’t just leave them with nothing.”
The Orthodox Union has made a sincere effort in combating teenage drinking in the Orthodox community – with special efforts being made at Simchat Torah and Purim – and has done likewise with adults, criticizing the concept of the “Kiddush Club.”
The OU’s anti-drinking efforts are part of its comprehensive “Safe Homes, Safe Shuls, Safe Schools” campaign, which seeks to ensure that Jewish youth can find a safe environment in the main locations in which they live their lives — home, synagogue and school — as a bulwark against the influences of the society around them.
In a letter to rabbis and presidents of OU synagogues across North America, with the intention that the letter be shared with parents and teachers, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and Rabbi Bini Maryles, Director of the Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Services, declare:
“The reality is that no one should overindulge in alcohol on Simchat Torah, as it is not conducive to the spirit of the day. Even adults should be careful that their celebrations do not go counter to the appropriate decorum of our synagogues. But when it comes to our youth, we must be extra zealous, for additional matters of safety and law.”
The full text of the letter is as follows:
“As we stand on the cusp of Simchat Torah, we wish to draw your attention to a serious problem in our communities: underage drinking. The Orthodox Union has addressed this issue over the past several years, particularly as it pertains to Purim. The problem may not be as widespread on Simchat Torah, but neither is it as well-recognized. The reality is that no one should overindulge in alcohol on Simchat Torah, as it is not conducive to the spirit of the day. Even adults should be careful that their celebrations do not go counter to the appropriate decorum of our synagogues.
But when it comes to our youth, we must be extra zealous, for additional matters of safety and law. Parents should know where their children — including teens — are, with whom, and what they’re doing. Synagogues should not make alcohol available to minors. Authority figures should not turn a blind eye if they see underage members of their community drinking. Working together, we can ensure that all of our congregants and family members enjoy a happy and safe Simchat Torah.”