What do we do about Halloween?

Dear Friends,

The beginning of the year is filled with so many wonderful beginnings. For Jewish schools and organizations, we have all the holidays that come one upon the other without a minute to spare (although this year the holidays were LATE). We have been sooooooo busy! And now, the holidays have ended, ALMOST…

Each year, I make sure to comment on a very special “American” holiday. Oct. 31 is a holiday that we do not celebrate at most Jewish schools and Jewish organizations. Halloween is not a Jewish holiday and although the religious aspects of the day have been long forgotten, Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day which also was called All Hallows’ Eve. All Saints’ Day had its origins in 837 CE when Pope Gregory IV ordered the church to celebrate a day in honor of all saints. Over time, the holiday focused on witches, death, skeletons, etc. Today, however, the day is very much an American experience for most of us. The roots of the day have long been lost yet the debate among Jews continues.

I have read many articles on Halloween from every point of view imaginable — from the most observant to those arguing as to what the big fuss is all about. The bottom line is best expressed by Rabbi Daniel Gordis in his wonderful book “Becoming a Jewish Parent” (which I highly recommend). As is typical of most rabbis, more questions are raised about the many issues than answers given. However, we know that the questions are really the most important, and even about this crazy American holiday, the discussions with our children and each other are the point! Rabbi Gordis completes the chapter with this: “In the final analysis, what we do about Halloween may not be important. How we think about it, how we talk about it, and what our kids’ reactions to the issue tell us about their identities — those are the crucial issues about which we ought to think and speak very carefully.” Rabbi Gordis questions: “If not participating is going to make our kids resent being Jewish, are we doing enough to fill their lives with positive Jewish moments, with a deep sense of identification, with supportive and loving Jewish community?” We want our children to have a positive Jewish identity and we, the adults in their lives, need to think and plan for wonderful Jewish moments to create memories and reasons to be proudly Jewish.

How you choose to handle this holiday is a family decision but I do have my yearly recommendation. On Nov. 1, RUSH to every store that sells costumes and get great ones for dress-up and especially for Purim — our time to dress up! The sales are fantastic!

Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.

Laura Seymour is camp director emeritus and Jewish experiential learning director at the Aaron Family JCC.

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