Let me preface this blog post by saying I am not the type of parent that forbids her kids from eating candy or enjoying sweets.
And if anyone thinks religious Jewish kids in the U.S. are deprived of candy because they don’t celebrate Halloween, clearly they haven’t been to my neighborhood.
For one thing, we have Purim, where we deliver packages of mishloach manot to families’ and friends’ doorsteps while navigating roads filled with minivans doing the same activity.
We have Simchat Torah, in which kids get bags of candy handed out to them in shul and other treats following a night of dancing around the Torah.
And then we have the sukka hop: an organized phenomenon found in large suburban communities with observant populations in which kids “hop” with leaders from their synagogue from sukka to sukka, ostensibly for a snack and some words of inspiration about the chag.
I had the opportunity this year to accompany my nine-year-old on one such sukka hop. I knew the kids would be more interested in the candy and treats than in visiting an actual sukka, but figured the practice was harmless enough and even a way to form positive holiday memories. He also promised to share his spoils with his brother after returning home.
Let’s just say that after this year I am rethinking the whole concept.
My son left the first stop with a small Ziploc bag that he started to fill with candy. Harmless enough, right?
Then came the next stop, with more treats. No problem.
The group seemed to grow larger with each stop, as if a Pied Piper was luring children along the route with visions of junk food in their heads. It was hard to keep up with the “mob,” and after reaching the next stop, I was dismayed to find a group of kids actually leaving — shortly after arriving there. Apparently the selection wasn’t to their liking, not to mention that the next and final stop had a reputation among the kids for having the most treats.
My nine-year-old was in that group, and when I asked him what he was doing, he said he knew it wasn’t right but didn’t want to be abandoned by the group. I was tempted to go home right then, but knew the last stop was close by and that he would only take enough to fill his small bag.
I was overwhelmed by what I saw there. Kids were rushing into the sukka, taking not only candy but juice boxes and bags of chips and filling up plastic shopping bags — some of which were brought from home. One girl’s bag was so full she was practically staggering under its weight. Thankfully my son stuck to his small bag, and acknowledged the craziness of the situation.
On the way home we again discussed why he had ditched that house with the pack of kids, and again he said he knew it wasn’t right — but didn’t see an alternative. Wow, peer pressure starts really young these days!
I know the families in charge realized the whole set-up was not in keeping in spirit with the chag, and that the whole operation would be run differently next year. And the kids’ behavior clearly is not reflective of any one synagogue or community. But the whole episode signaled to me the lack of perspective and gratitude for the privileged life that we lead.
Perhaps this attitude is part of the price of living in such an affluent metropolitan suburb, but I suspect it takes place elsewhere, even in Israeli communities.
But until our community rethinks our priorities and the lessons we impart to our children, the only memories of Sukkot that will stay with them as adults will be those mad dashes into the sukka.
There must be a better way, even if it involves the kids “tithing” some of their treats (or cash value of) for others, such as sick or hospitalized children. Or simply having more educational (but engaging) programming in the sukka itself.
May we get through the rest of the chagim without our bellies aching from too much candy. Hag sameach!!