A pub to call their own

Israel's first alcohol-free bar for youth is now open.

youth put 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Jerusalem Municipality)
youth put 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Jerusalem Municipality)
In response to the growing trend of teenage alcohol use, alcohol-free pubs for youth have opened in various countries around the world. In Israel, the first pub of this kind opened on February 19, at the Lugar Bar and Restaurant in downtown Jerusalem. The pub is also scheduled to host special arts and culture events and serves decorative, non-alcoholic cocktails for all. The establishment and facilitation of the pub is a joint effort of the Lev Ha'ir Community Center and the Jerusalem Municipality, which share the budget. The municipality's involvement is key, as it indicates Kikar Safra's recognition that more activities for youth are needed in central Jerusalem. The motivation to create the pub was born at the grassroots level. Netanel Mazeh, youth coordinator for Lev Ha'ir, told In Jerusalem that the idea for the project came from the community center's Youth Forum, a group of Jerusalemites aged 16-18 who hail from various religious and socioeconomic backgrounds. "The kids were demanding alternative nightlife options in downtown Jerusalem. It's an answer for them - there is a vacuum here," Mazeh said. The project's emphasis is on a locale where the teens can enjoy themselves in a different sort of venue. "The goal is for them to have an alternative outlet [for socializing] where alcohol is not the central element." By law, minors under the age of 18 are barred from entering bars and pubs. However, the youth of the Lev Ha'ir community center commented that they see no serious enforcement of this law. They claim that, though they are legally underage, local teens are often able to enter bars and pubs without showing identification. "All of my friends and peers know that we can enter several bars in the city without showing our identity card," said Shimon, a 17-year-old involved in the Youth Forum. "Once we enter, we order and are served alcohol, no questions asked." Another teen from the Youth Forum, who identified herself as Tehilla, confirmed that many teens freely enter bars, or they buy alcohol from stores and "sit in the local park and drink late into the night." "The people who work at many of the pubs and bars downtown intentionally overlook the fact that they are admitting minors. All they want is business, at any cost," she explained. One teen mentioned that he thinks that many of his peers today in Jerusalem are "in distress. They don't really know what to do or where to go with their free time. As a result, many get involved with alcohol or drugs..." Netanel, 16, active in the group, echoed this sentiment, adding, "I see that one of the biggest problems for Jerusalem teens today is boredom. There is not enough to do in Jerusalem for people our age. We can just wander around the city‚ or sit in a coffee shop with friends, but this quickly gets boring. My friends and I want something more interesting to do." "There is certainly a problem with alcohol and [on a lower scale] drugs," Tehilla said. "I think that drinking alcohol under the age of 18 has become mainstream - the norm - among my peers. I would say that this is because most of my peers are apathetic. They don't care about what's happening around them; they only think about themselves, and this leads them to engage in these sorts of activities." The teens of the Youth Forum emphasize that the new alcohol-free pub is targeting all Jerusalem teens, irrespective of their current involvement with alcohol or drug use. "I do not feel that it is my role as a member of the Youth Forum to educate my peers not to drink or to continue drinking," Shimon said. "Those who do it know that it is not good for them, and it's not my place to tell anyone what to do. This pub that we're starting is an additional... place to spend time as a teen in Jerusalem." Tehilla added that "in my eyes, the goal of the alcohol-free pub that we've established is to be an alternative to the day-to-day reality of my peers‚ where drinking alcohol plays a central role." Teen Netanel disagrees that it is an alternative, per se. "I wouldn't call it an alternative place because those of us involved in the Youth Forum are not out to change the behavior of our peers who drink or do drugs. I simply think that the alcohol-free pub is a great option for people my age to pass their time in a different type of way." Following its launch on February 19, the alcohol-free pub was supposed to become a weekly event every Monday evening. Due to logistical problems, however, it has been delayed since the first night. The next event is planned to take place on Monday, March 26. The youth of the Lev Ha'ir Community Center have assumed responsibility for publicizing the weekly event to their peers, putting up posters and distributing flyers, both at their schools and popular hang-outs. "We want as many teens as possibly to come to the weekly event," one teen said, "so we are telling our friends and classmates about it, and are telling them to tell their friends and so on. We want all sorts of people our age to come and enjoy the environment." Each week, the organizers of the alcohol-free evening at the Lugar Pub and Restaurant plan to host a cultural event, including poetry slams, film screenings, debates and musical performances - all to be facilitated by the youth themselves. "The environment that the teens hope to create is classy, comfortable and sociable. That is, a place where they would rather be," concludes Netanel Mazeh. When questioned as to plans for more bars of this kind to be established in Israel, Rafi Shamir, a Jerusalem Municipality spokesman, notes that "this is a pilot program. The plan is to see how well the program goes, expanding based on the success that it garners. If it is found to draw a great weekly turnout, the days of operation may be extended beyond once a week. If it goes over well in Jerusalem, it is possible that more alcohol-free bars for youth will be established elsewhere in Israel."