By Yosef Rosenfield, Features Editor
During the Spring 2020 semester, I took an excellent course with Rabbi Beny Rofeh titled Psychology, Relationships, and Halakhah. The class required that each student choose a number of personal challenges to complete over a few-week period, with the hope that we would grow spiritually, emotionally, and/or physically from these experiences. The list of challenges included options such as asking two girls out on a date, complimenting 10 different people, and listening to a complete stranger’s life story. Combing through the list, I had a particularly difficult time finding a challenge that was suitable during the socially restrictive coronavirus pandemic. I had ironically completed most of the personally relevant challenges not involving public interaction before COVID-19 forced YU to shut down, leaving very few appropriate options for my second set of challenges. But I did have to pick something, so I went for a popular choice: abstaining from alcohol consumption for 14 consecutive days. I did not expect much from the experience, but I figured I might surprise myself.
Now, I should clarify that my relationship with alcohol is not as uninteresting as my opening paragraph made it seem. Back in 12th grade, I nearly got expelled from my high school for alcohol possession and inebriation while living in the dormitory. I had already been kicked out of the dorm after 10th grade for lighting a fire in my room on Lag Ba’omer (a Jewish holiday on which there is a tradition to light bonfires), but I spent the first six months of 11th grade successfully scheming to be thrown out of my boarding family’s house, forcing the principal to put me back in the dorm. Now that I had been caught yet again, this time with alcohol, the principal gravely asked me if I wanted to remain in the school before sending me home to Rhode Island. When I returned to New York after a week-long suspension, the principal became even more furious, exclaiming that he had suspended me for at least a week. He ordered me into his office and — clearly trying to hide a lot of anger and resentment — gave me a “one more strike, and you’re out” warning.
To be honest, though, I do not blame myself completely. Unfortunately, alcohol obsession was part of the culture at my high school and likely many others. In fact, the weekend I was caught with the alcohol, my entire grade had a rare in-Shabbos (where everyone stays on campus for the weekend and spends the Sabbath together), in preparation of which a few of my classmates decided as a group to buy beer. Two other 12th graders were caught with alcohol that weekend and were both kicked out of the dorm for a week. I got the harsher sentence of an actual suspension because I had been wrongly characterized as the “leader” of the contraband clan. This was likely a result of the size of my collection: three bottles of beer, 12 cans of Budweiser, and two unfinished bottles of bourbon. I definitely had a problem — just not the one my principal thought. My problem was that I was an underage high school kid living in a dormitory with rules and regulations, while heavily influenced by an alcohol connoisseur older brother who glorified tolerance building when it came to drinking.
By contrast, my current approach to drinking is far more conservative. About a year ago, I began taking my singing so seriously that I stopped drinking all carbonated beverages — which, of course, includes beer and carbonated wines. The acidity, I learned, is bad for your vocal cords and is anyway not great for bone health. I still enjoy toasting with my dad and my brother when we are together — and I am happy that the three of us get to bond over newly acquired wines and whiskeys — but I maintain a much more responsible attitude toward alcohol consumption than I did in high school. And even though my two-week challenge was not at all difficult to complete, that itself is a valuable lesson that demonstrates just how much I have, thank God, matured over the last few years of my life and have adopted a more level-headed approach to drinking and my overall health.