Many of you may have heard of the new law Israel is trying to pass: Alcohol to be sold only to those over 21. The logic behind this is that 18 year olds are still kids, and not responsible enough to drink.
The sad truth is that Israel suffers from a large amount of DUI’s most of which seem to be committed by people under the age of 22. The even bigger problem is that adolescents UNDER the age of 18 already consume large amounts of alcohol, since they can easily pick up a bottle at any corner makolet (grocery store).
The law still has to pass through the “Knesset”, but the motion has already created a buzz.
Until now, the legal drinking age in Israel was 18. And why not? After all, as soon as Israeli youth finish high school, we pack up our “young adults” and shift them off to the army. They undergo brutal physical training, psychological trauma’s and experience exceptionally harsh conditions. We expect our youth to be Zionistic and enlist out of sense of loyalty; to be gung-ho, protect and fight for their country. But the truth is, neither the kids nor the government really has much of a choice. Israel is surrounded by potential annihilators and our standing army is sometimes the only thing that keeps them at bay.
While in the USA most 19 year olds are living it up at frat parties, or sight-seeing Europe, Israeli “oldalescents” are government property. Their body, choices and everyday routine are controlled by the army for at least three years after they finish high school. A post-high school kid quickly learns responsibility and takes on the trappings of adulthood way before his U.S. peer. That’s a lot of pressure for an 18 year to be under, wouldn’t you think? So the question is, do you have to be sober to do it?
I remember what it was like for one of my brothers who fought in an elite unit in the army. There was a point during the first Intifada when he was fighting in Jenin, doing God-knows-what. I remember noticing his face beginning to change. Not only did he lose weight, his complexion darken from the repeated frost-bite, but he became withdrawn and quiet, and the sparkle in his eyes all but vanished. He reminded me more of a loan wolf, than my older brother. Thank God he survived his ordeal, but not without significant trauma.
In those trying times, when he finally came home for the weekend, I recall him going out with friends. Drinking seemed to be a major pastime, and an obvious way to ease the pain. And though it was only momentary relief, it was an opportunity to take the load off, just the same. A well needed, and earned, break.
On the other hand, I know a 16 old girl who recently played a part in a high-school student film. Her character was supposed to be that of a young girl drinking beer. Not knowing any better, she abided by the 17-year-old director’s instructions, and consumed a whopping 2 liters of beer throughout the takes.
She called me to the set, to see her in “action”.
“Don’t worry,” the toddler on heels reassured me, “I’m a professional. I can handle my liquor.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I told her, looking around at the table of teens shouting “Chug! Chug! Chug!” as the co-star was preparing to get into character. “Remember, you want to be a member of the acting profession, not a member of AA,” I admonished her.
“But Tiferet,” she argued, “don’t all professional characters have to get into the role? Mine is supposed to be a girl who’s drunk.”
“For pretend,” I reminded her. “Do you think actors always get high when their characters are supposed to be smoking a joint? You think they actually have real-live sex for a sex-scene?!”
“They don’t?” was her amazed response, and I like to think I saved her from a life of porno flicks.
“Hey,” a pimple-faced 15 year old called out, trying to impress me with his metal braced smile. “Wanta’ have a contest? I bet I could drink more shots of Arak than you.”
“I bet I can PRETEND to drink more shots of Arak than you,” I countered.
Now switch to Los Angeles where I once tried to buy some sweet kiddush wine for a family who had invited me for Friday night dinner. Imagine my shock when I was “carded” at the supermarket, and the bottle of wine confiscated.
“Believe me,” I told the teller. “If I were going to get drunk, it wouldn’t be on Manischewitz. This is just a gift. I can’t go empty handed.”
But she wouldn’t hear of it, and I was forced to buy Sparkling peach wannabe wine. Alcoholic content minus 20%.
And was I ever surprised when, in L.A., sharing a bottle of wine on a date, the pub-owner called out “Last Call”, and the crowd paid their bill and went home. I couldn’t get over how disciplined everyone was. I could never see something like that taking place in Israel.
Of course, you’re right, 18 is not the age kids should be drinking. And sure everybody’s worried about the scourge of drinking, both here and abroad. But unlike the U.S., in Israel it seems to make more sense to allow those who are risking their lives to control their lives, at least as far as liquor is concerned. After all, if you’re giving a kid a gun, dressing him in army fatigues, sending him on dangerous missions and telling him to kill or be killed, then I think when his R&R time comes it should be – drinks all around.
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