Sunday, January 08, 2006

Exhausting Responsibility

Why are yeshiva and college students between 18 and 23 years old so irresponsible?!

In and now out of high school, I have always been impressed with WITS' dedication to developing students with incredible middos and derech eretz (personal charachteristics, manners, proper way of acting, et al). When I got to Ohr Yerushalayim in Israel (OJ), a number of us were talking with a rabbi on the first day. When I mentioned I had been to WITS, he noted "I'm not a fan of their style of learning; it's too picky for me. But I must say, every student I've met from there has been a mensch." The rabbeim in WITS took turns giving a very good mussar shmuess (speech about proper way of acting) before Maariv (evening prayers) on Saturday nights - but most importantly, they led by example.

Serach and I got married on a Wednesday in New York, and our last set of Sheva Brachos was to be in Cleveland on the following Monday (Tuesday was 17 Tammuz, a fast day). Rabbi Yehuda Cheplowitz, a rebbe whom I admire very much, was unable to attend my wedding, having another wedding to officiate in Toronto the same night. He felt bad about this, and as he comes to collect for WITS every summer in Cleveland, he and his wife decided to drive all day from Chicago to try and make it in time for the Sheva Brachos. It's about a 7-hour drive - they drove with (IIRC) just one stop the entire way, and got there in the middle of Sheva Brachos. When they arrived, a family friend was speaking, and though I heard them walk in, they didn't say a word and remained out of sight of everyone who was there for the duration of the speech - almost ten minutes. This entire time, they waited at the entrance rather than walk in so as not to disturb either the speaker or the attention of all those who were listening. That is true derech eretz.

Contrast that with what happened today. Lander has an intramural football league. This league has 4 teams, and each team has 8-9 players. The game is played as a 6-on-6, so there should be a couple of substitutes per team. In the preseason, it was a bit tough making sure everybody got plenty of time on the field, but it was manageable. Now, I understand that people have good reasons to miss games sometimes - often, very good reasons. But you've made a commitment to play, and unless you have one of those good reasons, you better be there. It is unfair to sign up, have a number of teammates counting on you, and then just not show up. If you do have a good reason to not make it, so call and let them know.

I was running late today, and was getting ready for the game at about 1:59. My friend called and asked if I was coming, and I said I'd be there very soon (game starts at 2). I got there at about 2:05, and almost nobody was there yet - from our team, there was just me and him. Over the next couple of minutes, 2 more guys showed up. One guy had called and said he had a sheva brachos he had to go to, but said he would try and make part of the game. He came running, but told us he had to leave at halftime. This guy I not only have no problem with, I am actually impressed with: He came even though he had more important things he had to do, knowing he'd only be able to play one half.

It's the other four people I'm wondering about. One never showed up after Week 1, and essentially told us he wasn't playing anymore. It's a bit annoying that he originally said he'd play, but at least he was honest. The other three showed up most games during the season - but today, they were nowhere to be seen. I have no clue if they had legitimate reasons not be there or not, and I won't pre-judge them. What I find disturbing is that our team had 5 players for the first half, and four for the second half: And we weren't outnumbered. The other team also had 5 players, one who had to leave at 2:50 (the game started so late, this was the beginning of the 2nd half), and that's what really gets me. I find it incredibly hard to believe that of 18 players on 2 teams, seven were never heard from and never came. Sure, some may have had good excuses - but seven?!

What resulted was crazy. We played five-on-five for the first half, which is exhausting. The field is meant for six-on-six, which means it's a lot easier to move the ball and there's a lot more time for the quarterbacks, which means more running. Add in the fact that neither team has any substitutes, and you have some very exhausted players. Throw in a terrible field, which causes lots of falling when you make cuts (despite cleats), and you've got the wind being knocked out of you a little bit every once in while, too. Finally, cut it to four-on-four to start the second half, and it just becomes unbearable. A few minutes into the second half, I could no longer move, and I could barely even breathe. I've played hours upon hours of tackle football in the freezing cold with little air, or full-court basketball in the searing heat, and not had a problem. Sure, I'm not in the shape I used to be, but I'm still in far better shape than I was a few weeks ago. I called a timeout, sat on the side and drank some Powerade... and we realized that we were down 27-12 and not having an ounce of fun. Both teams decided to just call the game.

I don't understand how people can be so irresponsible and selfish. If you sign up, you play. If you volunteer to do something, you do it. If for some reason you can't, then tell people that you can't. Don't sign up and show up when it's convenient for you; do everyone a favor and don't sign up in the first place. A good friend on one of the other teams had been frustrated all year to go out of his way to travel here on Sunday afternoons from Far Rockaway, only to find out that half his team wasn't there - and then see them milling around, doing nothing. Today, he had a wedding in Rockland County, and was running late - but he still came, took a shower at my apartment after his game and got his tuxedo on to go to the wedding.

When I was in Baltimore for a weekend, my sister and my wife wanted us to stay Sunday afternoon and go back Sunday evening or Monday morning so we could spend time with the kids - but I said that wouldn't be right. We went to take an 8:30 AM bus... but it never showed. The company 'suspended operations'. I tried to find a ride, but to no avail. I called my friend, and told him I was really sorry but I wouldn't make it. Not only did they understand, they won the game, too. But at least I tried to make it, and called!

When I was in WITS, we had an intramural football league. There were something like 78 students in the high school, and all but seven of them signed up. Every week, every team had enough players to play, and almost always had all their players. There were no "no-shows", and a lot of guys played very hurt. Some guys had to be told they were not allowed to play by rabbeim or the gym coach, they were so injured. High-school kids are so much more responsible? Is it education? Poor parenting? Sheer selfishness?

I don't expect Lander College to be teaching responsibility to students who have been through about 15 years of yeshiva and schooling. These are people who, at this point in their lives, should know better. They could mention it in shmuessim, and there is definitely not the sense of camraderie and friendliness from and among the rabbeim that WITS and OJ had, nor those shining examples of how to be a mensch - but they are very nice, friendly when you go to them rabbeim. I'm also quite certain that Lander being a place that has a heavy percentage of New Yorkers affects things - there seems to be a lack of derech eretz in the NY/NJ area in general, and a lifestyle of "Me First" that corrupts people's ideals. I do believe that I've picked up certain attributes from being in New York that have negatively affected my own actions and attitudes - and I am very conscious of these when I get out of New York, and generally lose them (thank God).

But none of these excuse this shunning of responsibility. People must learn to grow up and be responsible for their actions and for their words - if you say you will do something, DO IT. These are guys in their late teens and early twenties, and while they are not expected to be perfect, they are expected to have a sense of maturity and responsibility.

I don't know all the causes for this selfish attitude, and would be very interested in what they might be. More importantly, how does one teach people responsibility and selflessness at this point in their life? Or is it just too late?

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