Changing our kids’ attitudes about how to enjoy themselves

So what is a parent to do?

Group of young friends drinking beer (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Group of young friends drinking beer
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
 How do we invite our friends out for a get-together? Classically, it’s “Let’s go out for a drink!” As adults, we find it challenging to sit in a social setting without drinking alcohol. We go out for a beer or a glass of wine, which is harmless at face value. However, those of us who don’t enjoy the buzz but merely want to socialize feel uncomfortable ordering a Coke or a lemonade.
That’s us as adults, who are supposedly immune to peer pressure.
Consider our kids. As we know, peer pressure is one of the main reasons our kids make poor choices. They desperately need to fit in and feel a part of the crowd. When socializing with their peers, they often find themselves in situations where they need to choose between their values and being accepted.
Take Jerusalem as an example: I have encountered kids as young as 13 heading downtown, looking forward to encountering hundreds of kids their own age, which in itself is very exciting. “Crack Square” on Jaffa Road is also called Kikar Ha’Americai – the American Square. It is a gathering place for dozens to hundreds of mainly American teens and young adults, many of them yeshiva boys who spend their day studying and their nights hanging out in the streets drinking and often drugging. Rumor has it that the drug MDMA, which is both a stimulant and a psychedelic, was brought to Jerusalem by American kids coming to Israel to study.
Other corners in downtown Jerusalem that are highly populated by teens and young adults at night are Cat Square at the bottom of Hillel Street, Kikar Hayareach next to the Italian Synagogue and Zion Square at the bottom of Ben-Yehuda. The bar scene on Rivlin Street hosts a dozen or so pubs offering hookah smoking and drinking to youth, many of whom are underage.
Then we have the new phenomenon of Cofix bars, which offer shots of alcohol and full glasses of beer for only NIS 5. Their signs declare “Happy Hour all day, every day.” Add to this that every festival for youth over the age of 18 is sponsored by alcohol companies, and beer taps populate every street fest. We are basically telling our youth, “If you want to have fun, you must drink.”
And it doesn’t end there. Synthetic marijuana drugs such as Hagigat and Mr. Nice Guy – called Spice in the US and around the world – have until recently been sold openly in stores and are easily available on the streets. Use of these drugs can cause damaging and often irreversible effects on the brain, kidneys and other organs, stroke and even death.
Ironically, drug use does not compare to the damage caused by alcohol use and withdrawal. Cold turkey cessation from heroin, while painful, is not deadly; however, sudden cessation from drinking alcohol is. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as two hours after the last drink, persist for weeks and range from mild anxiety and shakiness to severe complications such as seizures and delirium tremens (DTs). The death rate from DTs is estimated to range from 1 to 5 percent. Alcohol poisoning is another common result of excessive drinking.
Teenage drinking is a serious problem worldwide, but on the streets of downtown Jerusalem it is a particularly dangerous one. No city in Israel has such a concentrated downtown area where hundreds and even thousands of teens and young adults gather every week to get drunk or high and engage in dangerous behaviors. Reviewing police reports for over the past five years, it is astounding to see the lack of arrests in downtown Jerusalem. The police simply don’t go into that area, often because without a warrant they cannot enter private businesses. So our kids remain unprotected, and a sense of anarchy prevails in the center of our holy city.
So what is a parent to do? Tie our kids down? Force them to go to the movies or bowling every Thursday night? Close our eyes and believe that “our kids” would never be caught downtown partaking in dangerous behaviors? While it is certainly easier for us to live our lives in denial, we do not have the luxury to do so.
This month, for the first time in Jerusalem, we have the opportunity to be part of the solution. The Sobar project, which has involved hundreds of teens and young adults in alcohol-free musical activities over the past three years, is opening a permanent home for youth. Located on Shoshan Street, with a view of city hall and the Old City, the Sobar is slated to open its doors this month with the help of parents and community members. Finally our youth will have a safe and exciting place to spend their time and pocket money during the summer months.
To achieve its financial goals, the Sobar is producing Jerusalem’s first alcohol/smoke-free Community Woodstock Festival with well-known entertainers such as Libi Hart, Michael Greilsammer, Pritzat Disc, Fixed Stars, paying tribute to such bands as Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead, King Crimson, Janis Joplin and other 1960s-era bands. The Sobar’s own youth band will be performing alongside these stars. Adding to the entertainment of the festival will be activities such as tai chi, yoga, juggling, tie-dye workshops and healthy food, including Sushiada, Nagila’s vegetarian treats, Ethiopian food and healthy snacks.
We often pass through our kids’ teenage years on a wing and a prayer, feeling helpless to do anything to make their lives safer. Now we have the opportunity to say we helped create an alternative.
The Jerusalem Community Woodstock Festival takes place on June 8 from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Have a great time, buy raffle tickets for great prizes, purchase memberships for the future Sobar Music Center at a discounted price, make a donation and feel the satisfaction of knowing that you helped make it all happen. 
For tickets to the Woodstock Festival, contact Tracey Shipley at 054-810-8918 or The writer counsels families and their troubled youth. An addiction counselor, she is the founder of the Sobar alcohol-free live music bar project for teens and young adults.;