Monday, June 22, 2009

Kiddush Clubs - Revisited

It was refreshing to read a piece in V.I.N., June 16, 2009 in which the case was made, once again, for doing away with the infamous Kiddush Club syndrome. Apparently there is a demonstrable rise in alcoholism among our orthodox young people. They make a good case for abandoning this practice because of its negative message to young people. The way the Kiddush Club works is that after the Torah portion is read, this “elite” group finds its way to the social hall and makes Kiddush and kibbitz as they would in the local neighborhood tavern.

As a youngster accompanying my father and uncles to shul on Shabbat morning I recall this practice – with a significant difference. Most of these men were seriously intentioned Jews and while not recognized Torah scholars, sought the opportunity to study; thus excusing themselves from the balance of the tefillah in order to attend a shiur or just study (study sacred text) b’chavruta. Unlike the current practice, their intention wasn’t to evaluate the different liquors on the table; to compare one single scotch malt to another or to compare the quality of one blended scotch to the other. By making Kiddush these serious “balhabatim” were “yotzei” and were able to eat something lite (since breakfast was a non starter), thereby alleviating their hunger so they would be able to concentrate on learning. Their Kiddush Club was probably a positive influence for most of us youngsters who understood that Torah study played an important role in the lives of these men. The little whiskey they drank was there to serve a specific purpose – nothing more.

But those were different times. They were financially difficult times; these men weren’t snobs, nor did they view their club as elite; they probably had no idea what a single malt scotch was much less afford it. They were welcoming of anyone who wished to join them in brotherhood and learning. Today, most of those attending a Kiddush club use it as an excuse to absent themselves from shul with no intention of learning torah text, but use the time to catch up on local gossip – and to strut their stuff. As such, this kind of irreverent gathering isn’t so much for Kiddush but an excuse to drink. Not a very good example for young people for two reasons: It encourages drinking and doesn’t elevate scholarship and study. On the contrary, those who are at the Kiddush club are “cool” while those who are on the side lines, studying are nerds. What kind of message does that send our youth?

But there is another matter regarding the Kiddush syndrome that ought to be addressed. This isn’t in connection with the Kiddush Club, but rather with the general Kiddush after services. There seems to be an over abundance of foods laid out at the Kiddush that is shameful. I’ve witnessed many bar and bat mitzvah celebration Kiddushim where people physically fight to get to the table, pushing and shoving others out of the way. It’s as if they haven’t eaten in years. It’s a disgraceful exhibition of poor manners that are inappropriate for a shul. These food fests aren’t occasional but have become routine weekly binges resulting in very fat men and women. It’s quite a sight to see a rolly polly woman bedecked in a humongous, large hat, waddling next to her pot bellied husband.

I’m not sure which is worse: the Kidush Club or the routine after davening Kiddush; it’s a close call. Just as there is an awareness of the devastating effects alcohol has on the body there is a growing body of scientific knowledge that preventable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and even some types of cancer can be related to obesity. So while we concern ourselves with the negative impact the Kiddush Club may have on our young people we ought to pay closer attention to the quantity and quality of foods that are served at kiddushim.