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Zero tolerance drinking policies

All local Jewish youth groups are affiliated with national movements and have strict policies against drinking and illegal substances.

NFTY, which has chapters at congregations Beth Torah and B’nai Jehudah, requires its members and their parents to sign a B’rit K’hilah — Code of Conduct contract. These rules cover a variety of issues including the pledge not to “possess, consume or distribute alcoholic beverages … even if I am of legal drinking age.” The same goes for illegal drugs, tobacco products, firearms and any other activity that can be considered an illegal act. United Synagogue Youth, which is affiliated with Congregation Beth Shalom, and BBYO, also have similar policies.

Three local youth directors — Debi Tozer of BBYO, Marcia Rittmaster of Beth Torah’s NFTY and Stephanie Williams of USY — say they rarely have issues with teens and drinking. But they all take the issue very seriously and make sure that their members know the rules before an event and the consequences they will face should they break them.

BBYO has about 175 members here and is the largest of the local youth groups. Director Tozer said she rarely has to deal with teens drinking. Recently, however, she did punish teens for breaking the rules.

“I don’t think I’ve had to do it more than once a year,” she said.

Tozer said BBYO teens caught drinking are automatically dismissed from the program and their parents are called to pick them up. They also face suspension from activities and removal from board positions.

Tozer said a second offense results in permanent removal from BBYO. The consequences are no surprise to the teens and, Tozer said, if discipline is required parents are notified via the original phone call which is followed up by a letter.

Williams said USY luckily hasn’t faced many problems with teens abusing alcohol. In 12 years she’s only had to send a teen home from an event twice. That happens at parents’ expense.

Williams said most USYers respect the no drinking policy.

“I was in youth group growing up so I know it definitely happens behind closed doors and some people just get away with it,” she said. “But at USY conventions we are very diligent about trying to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

The last time Beth Torah’s Rittmaster had to deal with a teen drinking at an event was more than 10 years ago. She attributes that to the code of conduct and the fact that members are reminded of that contract over and over again.

Rittmaster also believes NFTY programs are alcohol free because many of their programs are synagogue based.

“It brings a certain amount of respect for a program when rabbis are there,” Rittmaster said. “We also have very strong adult participation and nothing happens without an adult present.”

The timing of USY programs, according to Williams, is another reason why she sees few problems.

“We do our programs in the middle of the week,” Williams said. “With a dance you tend to associate more problems with drinking than you do a Wednesday night when you sit around making social action packets.”

Programs are often presented to teens to dissuade them from inappropriate activities. Williams said that USY has presented programs at conventions that concentrate on “Jewishly-acceptable” behaviors. BBYO has done so as well.

This year BBYO hopes a representative from Beit Teshuvah, an organization that runs a 12-step program based on Jewish values, will present programs at the spring regional convention.

“They are really awesome to talk to the teens because they talk on their level,” Tozer said.


Teens seek peers to sign pledge

Jewish teenagers from the major International Jewish Youth Movements are taking on bullying and standing up for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer peers. In addition to publicly committing to end bullying and creating an inclusive environment in their own movements, the Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders — the presidents of the International Jewish Youth Movements — has set a goal of getting 18,000 Jews to sign Keshet’s Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives.” This goal has been echoed by the executive leadership of the movements and their staff.

“It is really exciting to see Jewish teen leadership take a strong stand against homophobia and to promote a vision of the Jewish community that fully embraces all forms of diversity. When Keshet began the Jewish Community Pledge campaign, we hoped that it would lead to exactly this type of action. As important as it is for Jewish adults to take a stand against bullying and harassment, the most important voice for Jewish youth to hear is that of other youth. I know that there are GLBTQ teens in each of these youth groups as well as unaffiliated youth who will see

To sign the pledge visit http://salsa.wiredforchange.com/o/1285/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=2580