The ‘Costume Dilemma’

Every year in the fall, just about the time we change our clocks, Jewish families in the US are confronted with the ‘costume dilemma,’ when the Halloween question rears its ugly head.

Whether to allow Jewish children to dress up and join their friends to ‘trick or treat…’
Whether ’tis against Jewish custom and teachings,
Whether ’tis just a benign autumn holiday,
The connection to paganism left unmentioned,
and only the joyful collection and enjoyment of sweets, and the carving of pumpkins, considered…
A mere expression of post-Sukkot “community camaraderie.’
Is it entirely unacceptable, the ‘dressing up’ having nothing to do with Judaism,
which should be reserved exclusively for Purim.

   END OF STORY! Or is it?

This year, there is a new edge. Setting aside the right/wrong aspect of Jewish children participating in the American Halloween experience…

Once upon a time, the ‘dressing up’ with a costume by all who participated in Halloween might have entailed creative brainstorming, perhaps weeks in the making, using a sewing machine and input by grannie, and a library book for costume authenticity.

Or, it might have entailed merely a quick trip by mom and children to a local convenience store for a hopefully decent selection of pop culture icons, to finally select a ‘complete-with-mask ‘costume,’ hopefully in the right size, cheap enough, and guaranteed to last at least through the end of the day without disintegrating.

Who would believe the dilemma could now take an ugly political turn, by those with a political agenda?

The ‘Halloween question’ has always been heavy enough for any Jewish family, and doesn’t need more baggage. When I was a ‘young-Jewish-child’ I, too participated in the, then acceptable, Bronx-apartment-building-Halloween ritual of “Collecting for UNICEF!” Armed with my group of friends, toting my PS 28 given orange UNICEF box [with a few pennies already inside to create a hopeful noise] we would clamor from door to door, building to building, shouting, “Trick or treat for UNICEF!” Yes, a few wore costumes, a few collected candy. Not me! My goal was to end the afternoon with the heaviest coin filled UNICEF box. We would all deliver ours to school the next day, and tally that loot. … for UNICEF! Now these many years later, there is the additional nasty baggage of the “UNRWA connection!” The Jewish community has sadly lost its trust of much connected with the UN!

This year it’s more complicated!

Most recently, it’s been reported that the mega-store, Walmart, offered children’s IDF costumes for Halloween. A $30 bargain! My first reaction to this news was – “Great! I’m proud of the IDF! We should buy them up, sell them at Purim! What a deal!” I must have been dreaming. Complaints to the company pulled the item off the site within hours. Though I think Walmart had no ulterior motive regarding offering this product, speculation continued for a couple of days. Interestingly enough, the complaints were from both sides: Despite my original Purim idea for these costumes, the ‘Jewish/Israeli side’ thought the costumes were mocking the IDF, and the ‘Arab/Palestinian side’ claimed the costumes represented a war mongering, hateful army, and worse.

Perusing the topic on Amazon, I noted costumes representing armies of many countries, in addition to heroic and fictional characters of all sorts. To date, it appears that Amazon is continuing to offer the IDF costume. What sidelined me, were the nasty comments [cited below] in the “reviews” section, usually reserved for ‘product satisfaction’ by customers. Here’s where it gets ugly and political, where the story of ‘yes/no’ for Jewish Halloween turns into much more.

Here are two comments from that “Reviews” section, where customers [or just anyone] can write their ‘two cents’ and become political pundits, or rather – inciters:

  • Question: Is this a fairly authentic replication of the actual uniforms worn by the men and women who are protecting civilization from 7th century barbarians? Answer: Yes, in fact, this costume comes with its own Palestinian, where-by he/she can practice torture, excessive force, racism, and the like while trying to dehumanize the Palestinian and steal his/her land. 
By ia on October 29, 2015
  • Question: Is it true that the cloth is made from clothes stripped off of the bodies of Palestinian children used as non-voluntary organ donors by Israel? Answer: Yes! And before being sold, it’s washed in the tears of Palestinians that have lost their homes, land, and family, for that extra authentic feel. 
By Yasmeena B on October 28, 2015


It is my feeling that children who wear a costume on Halloween are not celebrating a pagan ritual, whether they are Jewish, or Muslim, or Christian, or atheists. … I believe that they are participating in an ‘autumn childhood’ in America.

HOWEVER, on the question – should Jewish children dress up for Purim, and with gusto, and know the story of Purim, and attend services at synagogue and hear the recitation of Megillat Esther, and be familiar with the stories of all our Jewish heroes and heroines backwards and forwards? Should adults, too, and even college students wear costumes and celebrate Purim fully. YES! A resounding YES!  Should Jewish children participate with their families in creating and distributing packages of ‘mishloach manot’ at Purim? YES! A resounding YES!

The larger question becomes: Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 3.05.11 PM

  • Should a costume representing the IDF be for sale on a site like Amazon which is international?
  • Should a Jewish family be able to purchase it so their child could wear it, proudly, either on Purim or Halloween as well, if the family permits it?

I don’t think that anyone should be forbidden or afraid to buy, or wear, a costume that represents a member of the IDF, an army of a Democratic country. After all, on Purim we are ‘masquerading’ as whatever hero or character we choose to be; we are flattered to ‘be’ that character, just for that short time. An IDF soldier is someone we should certainly be proud to emulate.

Just as Americans are patriotic enough to hold the American flag high at national monuments and at patriotic meetings and at sporting events and parades, just as we, “Jewish-Israel-loving Americans,” also proudly display the Israeli flag alongside the American flag at synagogues and Jewish organizational  meetings, so too, this is our right! If we have two [or more] children, are we questioned about ‘dual loyalties?’ Aren’t they both in our hearts? When we visit Israel, we often buy IDF ’T’ shirts and kippot emblazoned with the IDF logo. If we are lucky enough to visit close to Purim, we find all manner of pop culture costumes for sale in addition to Queen Esther, including costumes of pirates and Disney figures, of ‘Israeli policemen’ and IDF soldiers, and we are pleased to find them. These costumes are by no means, war mongering!

I find the saddest part of this entire issue to be the angry instigation caused by this recent news as cited in an article in Israel National News.

CAIR and other organizations like it promote hatred and the old ‘narrative’ and erroneous history. The complaint still keeps to the original agenda and promotes hate.

Perhaps instead of checking on American Halloween stores and costumes, they might instead read and move forward the remarkable and honest words of the courageous and intelligent Palestinian, Bassem Eid.

In a Times of Israel article, We Palestinians Hold the Key to a Better Future,February 2015, Bassem Eid writes:

It is time that we stopped listening to Muslim radicals or Arab regimes that use us to continue a pointless, destructive, and immoral war with Israel… We need to accept that Israel’s security is a key to any solution…What we Palestinians need is a strong civil society and strong democratic institutions, and we need an end to human rights violations, including those perpetrated by Palestinians and other Arabs.”

The Israeli IDF keeps all Israelis secure, whether they are Jews, Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bedouins, and that includes Palestinians, too.

Israel already has a prosperous Democratic peace loving society, including a strong IDF army, one to be proud of. It’s enough- DAYAYNU – that American Jewish parents agonize over the ‘Halloween’ question altogether! Since Amazon offers army costumes of France, England, Germany, and other countries on its site – why not Israel’s IDF?

Compliment Amazon and others who sell the IDF costume; buy and have children wear the IDF uniform costume proudly!

About the Author
Sandy Wasserman is a wife, mother, grandmother- LOVER of Israel and all things Jewish! She is a retired teacher and children's author.