Come Halloween, the memories of a sugar-craving seven-year old flow back: Dressing up to fulfill a childhood fantasy; being jealous that other parents put WAY more effort into costumes than your folks did; and the sting of not being invited to Ira Kugelmass’ Halloween parties (today Ira’s bald, 40lbs overweight, and it’s all deserved).
Not much has changed thirty years later, except for the strange looks people give when I’m shopping at Wal-Mart for one of those vinyl/plastic Batman costumes. Sadly, they don’t fit the way they used to, and the chemicals in the plastic give me heart palpitations in lieu of a pleasant high.
As a Jewish kid growing up in a predominantly Jewish (yet secular) neighbourhood, Halloween seemed like pretty normal, typical, everyday stuff. It was a yearly ritual that my parents were fine with.
However, when I turned 10 or so, kids became slightly more aware of the dangers of the world around us and also of our own identity as Jews. The consequence of this was that now, our beloved Halloween seemed wrought with safety concerns such as kidnappings, razorblades stuffed into apples (I never did figure out how the psychos managed to get FULL razor blades into an apple, and how they managed to make the apple look COMPLETELY un-tampered with), and most damaging, that old farkakter nemesis of mine: Jewish guilt.
“Halloween is an anti-semitic holiday!” I was told by some classmates, who no doubt heard it from the Google of the 1980’s – their paranoid parents (who had heard it from their MORE paranoid parents). “Halloween was the night that Jews were attacked in an un-named European city in an unspecified year or even century! We shouldn’t dress up and ask our gentile neighbours for candy!”.
Oh? When was this? It was one of those myths that as a Jew, I just assumed had SOME truth. That myth could explain why the Chassidic man living in my friend’s condo building, wearing a red velvet bathrobe opened the door and muttered “oy gevalt” as two eight-year olds shouted “trick-or-treat” in his face. (He gave us apples. “Delicious” apples. VERY scary!). Even eight-year olds know when they’re being made to feel like sinning heathens.
That was my first dose of “Ghoulish Guilt” – a unique form of non-parental, Jewish guilt which rises from the pumpkin patch come Halloween. It was planted there by kids from more traditional Jewish homes who didn’t go celebrate Halloween, as a result of THEIR parents’ guilt. Those kids just passed it on to sabotage the fun that the other kids were having. As a kid attending Jewish day-school, I felt Jewish, and understood that we had a unique identity and history. The skinny that I was receiving resonated with me and produced this inner conflict.
“Culture or costumes? Mitzvot or mini Mars Bars? Judaism or Jack-o’-Lanterns? I was torn – for like, five minutes. The guilt was swept away by the sugar rush that comes from eating those tiny wrapped-up sugar candies (“Rockets”).
Online research tells us that Halloween evolved out of Pagan and Catholic origins. I also found out that much about Halloween is contrary to halachic (Jewish law) values and that a number of rabbis heap scorn on the idea of Jews celebrating Halloween, and discourage us from participating. I had problems with my findings. Such reasons include:
Jews are forbidden to partake in “gentile customs” – So, let me get this straight – Jews can go camping, re-finish their basements DIY-style, and become policemen, but they can’t dress up, knock on doors, and beg for candy? Explain THAT one, Rabbi Boringstein!
On Halloween people take — in fact demand — sweets from strangers. Apparently, Judaism forbids such a practice, because it preaches receiving vs. giving. My view to the rebbes is that children aren’t aware enough to realize these things, and are quite busy, you know…being children. Besides, Jewish parents (the ones who are eager to truly comply with Halacha) end up giving candy to all kids that ring their bell. That’s gotta count for SOMETHING.
C’mon Rabbis…lighten up. Kids just had to sit through a bunch of days of synagogue, they have seven more months of school, and Chanukah’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Let the little ones have some secular fun! This adds an additional barrier between us and our neighbours. Do Jews really need MORE barriers? Is North American society SO hostile and unjust towards Jews, that we should shun a secular day of fun for the kiddies?
Besides, Halloween can be rationalized in that allowing Jewish kids to eat candy, is like giving tzedakah (charity) – to all the hard-working dentists.
Jon Selig is a Montreal wannabe comedian, writer. It’s to everyone’s benefit to NOT give him candy if he rings your bell this Halloween.