Mindi Werblowsky Saketkhou, LCSW, Clinical Director, Madraigos
Shavuos is over. And with the last yom tov of the year behind us the final countdown to summer vacation has begun. ‘Summer fun’. Camp, swimming, sun, parks, ball… everything you imagine when you think of summer. And at the root of the excitement of summer is vacation. No school for 10 weeks. Summer is a time for children to stay up later and sleep longer in the morning. For families to spend quality time together on vacation or in the evenings without homework and studying. And for teenagers there is plenty of time to hang out with their friends.
Yes all in all summer seems to be hands down the best time of the year. But is it? Is the lack of schedule and the excessive free time really something positive? At a recent ‘Lounge Night’ in Madraigos I was discussing with the girls what contributes the most to their daily stress. One of the older teens responded that not having a daily schedule stresses her out. She explained that she feels stressed and depressed when she reflects back on all the time she has wasted and all the minutes she spent on her phone and watching television. Yet when we discussed summer plans, most of the girls admitted that they have no plans for the summer.
For various reasons, fewer children are attending camp. And fewer teenagers elect to go to sleep-away camp even when given the option. Many of them have extremely long and difficult school days and do not want to spend their summer trapped in another schedule. This is a feeling I understand and empathize with. However, a majority of these teenagers do not seek employment (even part time) and are looking forward to 10 weeks with absolutely nothing to do. Many boys do not attend minyan or learn during the summer and many girls spend their time on the beach or getting in trouble on the internet. As a social worker involved with teens on a daily basis, I would like to make the argument that a summer without any schedule for a teenager is a recipe for disaster. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) published a study stating that the human brain is not fully developed until the early twenties. Therefore, the study concluded that adolescents are most at risk for making hazardous choices. The NIMH reported that mortality and crime rates are highest among adolescents as well as substance and alcohol abuse.
Over the years I have heard many people express annoyance at the fact that the three weeks/ nine days and Tisha B’Av are during the summer. Everyone has to plan their vacation around these weeks, swimming stops and during the relaxed, carefree time of the year one of the two most serious fast days is upon us. There is no music, no shopping- nothing that is fun about summer can take place during this time. But there are no accidents in this world and H-shem did not miscalculate when He decreed that Tisha B’Av would fall out during this season. I once heard it said that it is specifically because it is the summer that H-shem made Tisha B’Av at this time, as a reminder that in Judaism there is no such thing as 10 weeks “off”. We are always on and we always have a schedule. We have set times for davening, we have specific clothing we always have to wear, we have Shabbos every week and most importantly we have an awareness of H-shem and what He wants from us 24/7 all year long.
Everyone is entitled to relax and take a break. Even yeshivas have a period of bein hazmanim in the summer. But what does our break look like? Are our lives meant to be completely hefker for 10 weeks? This past Pesach I heard of many tragedies within a very short period of time. Children who became very sick, people who passed away suddenly and couples who lost babies. I remarked on the vast number of tragedies to my sister in wonderment of what message we were supposed to be taking from this. She responded that Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, the leading gadol in Eretz Yisrael, had commented that for the entire bein hazmanim he is on edge and does not relax until yeshiva starts again. Rav Steinman stated that during bein hazmanim there is less Torah learning and therefore, less protection for Am Yisrael.
This really made an impression on me and it was something I shared with my husband and many of my friends. We all count down and look forward to vacation. But the gedolei yisroel cringe when vacation comes and wait with bated breath until all Jewish people return to their schedules. It seems it is not just teenagers who are in trouble when their lives are hefker. We all are. This is one of the main reasons for the founding of Madraigos’ GNO Summer Program. Each month of the summer Madraigos runs a separate boys and girls evening summer camp for teenagers who are home for the summer and are available in the evenings. The program is filled with supper, activities and fun geared towards teenagers.
As summer approaches I encourage everyone to spend time with their families and take the time they need to re-charge their batteries. Summer is an amazing time filled with opportunities to spend time with your children and to encourage creative outlets that perhaps there is no time for during the year. But I am also cautioning that we not allow our teenagers to spend 10 weeks wasting their time. When teenagers have nothing to do, they often end up doing nothing that we want them to do. Whether they are in camp or not it is important to arrange some sort of structure for teenagers and to have set rules and curfews in place.
I recently read a story about Rav Elyashiv zt”l. A close talmid of his came to visit with a question and Rav Elyashiv asked him to return the following week if the question was not urgent. Rav Elyashiv explained that three days earlier he had received a visitor from America with an urgent question that required his attention. Rav Elyashiv stated that the discussion had lasted an extra half an hour into his daily schedule of learning. For the last three days, since meeting with that visitor, Rav Elyashiv had been searching for an extra half an hour in his day to make up for that lost time of learning. As of yet, he had not been able to find one.
Although we are not on this level there is a message to be taken from this. We need to understand and appreciate the value of time. Ten weeks spent doing nothing is an incredibly long amount of time that we will never get back. Rav Zev Leff in his book “Festivals of Life” states that Tisha B’Av is the beginning of the Yom Kippur process. We may be off from school but we are not off from life. As Jews our eyes should always be on the future and where our lives are headed. Unfortunately, those with nothing to do, often head in the wrong direction. Let us use this enjoyable season to spend quality time with our families and as always, ensuring that our families spend their time qualitatively.
Wishing everyone an enjoyable and productive summer.
For information about our Guys Lounge and Girls Ignight programs, please contact Mindi Werblowsky, LCSW, Clinical Director at email@example.com ofrf (516)371-3250.
Madraigos, a 501c-3 not-for-profit organization, offers a wide array of innovative services and programs geared towards helping teens and young adults overcome life's everyday challenges one step at a time Our goal is to provide all of our members with the necessary tools and skills to empower them to live a healthy lifestyle and become the leaders of tomorrow.