Rabbi Eli Teitelbaum wrote an article which appeared in The Yeshiva World today. In it, he decries how it has become standard operating procedure to ban anything that is remotely fun. Concerts, trips, sports and other youth activities which are, in varying degrees, banned in our communities, should be allowed and encouraged in a kosher environment. He correctly points out that kids need an outlet for their energies (aside from learning) and that if one removes all such outlets, kids will find other outlets... and they will be far worse. If you don't allow kids to participate in sports or cultural activities and the like, then they will be gathering in pool halls in the Catskills. Or, as he succinctly puts it:
When sports and concerts are forbidden, and all forms of kosher entertainment are off limits, we are asking for trouble. If our kids can’t find a place to vent their energy within a kosher environment, then they will find it elsewhere.
In his article, he gives examples of times that he organized youth activities and met with resistance. In one case, he tried to have the boys in his Pirchei organization put on a play based on the book Family Aguilar. When people tried to have the play banned, the matter ended up being escalated to R. Moshe Feinstein. Instead of issuing a ban, R. Moshe gave it his blessing.
In another example, he arranged for a two-day trip to Washington at low cost for boys. The trip was going to be taken on the two days that the yeshivos gave off for Channukah. One Rosh Yeshiva wrote R. Teitelbaum a nasty letter accusing him of encouraging bittul Torah. Fortunately, R. Teitelbaum was able to fend him off.
It's very interesting that the difference between R. Teitelbaum's point of view and the point of view of others in our community is brought to my attention right now. Walter just began high school this week and it looks like he's going to have a great time there. He's encouraged about the learning programs, the secular education and the extracurricular activities. Indeed, when we went looking for a school, we purposely went looking for a place that had all three of these elements -- we wanted a school that had a great learning program that would keep him challenged and interested; we wanted a school with a quality secular studies department that would show him the possibilities that exist in our world, and a school that had supervised extracurricular activities for him to be able to channel his creative energies. I purposely didn't want to send him to a high school such as that I went to: where the learning was boring and uninteresting, where the secular studies were a joke, and the word "extracurricular" didn't exist because the school day went from 7:30 in the morning to 9:30 at night every day without variation; where the word "trip" didn't exist and the word "activity" might as well have been in Mongolian. In my old school, if it didn't involve learning, it shouldn't be done (although I suppose they did allow for some recreation -- boys were allowed to play basketball during recess). In looking for the type of school for Walter that recognizes that kids are kids and need kosher extracurricular activities, I find that I have explicitly rejected the opinions of the "banners" and embraced the opinion of R. Teitelbaum.
I can only be thankful that there are rabbis out there, like Rabbi Teitelbaum, who have not forgotten what it is to be a kid and to need an outlet for youthful energies.