A Sobering Experience

July 2, 2014
BY Ben Sales/JTA
A night out with Tel Aviv’s drunk-teen patrol
Two inebriated teens in Tel Aviv sleep it off on a “blanket” made of bubble wrap by Parents Awake. (Provided)

Two inebriated teens in Tel Aviv sleep it off on a “blanket” made of bubble wrap by Parents Awake.
(Provided)

TEL AVIV — It’s midnight here and two balding men in blue vests are on the move. Someone has sprayed tear gas at a club two blocks away.
Outside a club known as The Mossad, located in a warehouse in the dilapidated Tel Aviv neighborhood of Florentin, groups of high school students mill about sporting stylish haircuts, revealing clothes and dazed expressions.

A boy in a black shirt and jeans lies passed out on the sidewalk, as a woman in a blue vest makes sure he has not suffocated on his own vomit. Nearby, two girls in black tank tops sit on the curb drinking water from plastic cups.

“How old are you?” another blue-vested woman asks one of the girls. “Where are you from? How are you getting home?”

Fifteen. From Modiin. She would be going home on the same bus that brought her here.

“When?”

5 a.m.

It’s the middle of a long night for the blue vests, members of a group of Tel Aviv parents who patrol clubs looking for kids who need help — anything from a cup of water to a call to emergency services.

Known as Parents Awake (Horim Erim in Hebrew), the group was founded in 2009 after four teens died in a drunk-driving accident on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Freeway. In the Tel Aviv area alone, some 200 volunteers split into six patrols each weekend. There are 150 such squads across the country.

The squads typically patrol areas where they are likely to find groups of inebriated teens. But on nights like this one, when two clubs in the same neighborhood are holding massive parties for teens at the end of the school year, the volunteers converge on one spot.

“Stay in pairs,” Tzvika Koretz instructs a team of 18 parents, most of them middle-aged and graying. “We don’t want anyone alone in a dark alley. We’ve had someone stuck alone with a vomiting girl. That’s not healthy.”

Koretz, 50, is the founder of Parents Awake. By day he’s a north Tel Aviv lawyer. But wearing his vest and a no-nonsense expression, he looks like a beat cop about to break up a house party.

After Koretz’s pep talk, the parents split into two groups, each heading to one of the two clubs hosting parties that night.

Outside The Artist, a club housed in a gray brick building with steel beams and no outside marking, Koretz’s wife, Einat, cordons off a rectangular area with police tape and sets down her supplies. Next to her, three 16-year-old boys wearing matching T-shirts and identical haircuts with the sides shaved stumble around arm in arm.

“This is a banging party!” yells a boy named David, insisting he didn’t drink.

Soon, one calls the other a son of a whore, and they begin fighting.

No alcohol is served in the club — most of the crowd is under Israel’s drinking age of 18 — but Koretz says many of them drink en route to the party on buses organized by the clubs’ publicists. If they want a couple more drinks, they’ll step into an alley to polish off a bottle before heading inside.

In the club, a bass beat pounds so hard it vibrates up one’s leg. Neon strobe lights flash down on kids grinding against one another. A bar sells soft drinks, but it’s nearly deserted. In a room behind it, couples are making out.

After a quick trip to the bathroom, Einat Koretz says that couples have taken up the ladies’ room, doing more of the same.

“The problem is the whole culture of the atmosphere,” Tzvika Koretz said. “There’s not a lot of positive energy here.”

Ideally, Koretz tells the volunteers, police would have met the party buses as they arrived, located the alcohol and poured it out — standard operating procedure for nights like these. But the police presence in the area is thin, and teens arrive from outside the city with the alcohol already in their bloodstream and out of the cops’ reach. At the club, police only intervene when the situation grows violent.

While it unequivocally opposes underage drinking, Parents Awake is a volunteer group with no power to enforce the law. The group is funded by the city and the national Public Security Ministry, but it has no official legal standing and cannot force anyone to stay with them or even to stop drinking. The most they can do is call the police or paramedics.

Outside The Artist, David, the boy who an hour earlier insisted he hadn’t imbibed, is throwing up on the pavement. When he’s done, volunteers lay out a strip of bubble wrap for him to lie down on and offer him a cup of water. Now he admits having had “nine or 10 drinks of Finlandia” vodka.

Next to him, a boy stretched out on bubble wrap begins twitching
and drooling. Parents Awake dials an ambulance, and when the paramedics come, they call his mother to get permission to put him on a stretcher. Instead, she sends his grandfather to take him home, along with his 13-year-old brother, whom they extract from the club.

By 1 a.m., the teens have cleared out from in front of the clubs and some of the Parents Awake volunteers go home. At The Mossad, the only one left on the curb is the girl from Modiin waiting for her 5 a.m. bus.

“You know you helped kids,” Koretz said. “If you weren’t there, they would have been thrown onto the street without anyone to help them.

“But you also go to sleep with a stomachache. It’s not the most pleasant thing in the world. It’s hard to sleep after that.”

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