According to halacha, Jews don’t participate in Halloween. This is because the holiday—originally All Hallow’s Eve—started as a Celtic rite until the Catholic Church incorporated it into the Christian calendar, and Torah prohibits Jews from partaking in “gentile customs.” That said, what’s so terrible about draping your house in ghosts and goblins, or, for that matter, letting your kids dress up as their favorite superhero to traipse around the neighborhood collecting candy? It never dawned on me not to allow, and even encourage, my own children from enjoying the occasion—and then sharing the bounty with me. (Mounds Bars, please.) Objecting to the American version of Halloween would be as useful as objecting to Walt Disney’s version of “Snow White.”
My kids are long since grown (welcome to my grandmother years!) but that didn’t stop me from handing out candy and carving a pumpkin or two. But this year, five years after the Pittsburgh slaughter and less than a month after the Hamas pogrom, I just can’t. I just can’t enjoy the (often) exuberantly creative displays of pretend-graveyards and pretend-skeletons. What once struck me as ridiculously charming—plywood tombstones proclaiming “Myra Mains” or “Ima K. Daver”—now strike me as testimony to the world’s lack of sensitivity to the endless slaughter of the innocents, especially Jews. What once creeped me out with its sheer silliness—baby dolls with bloody mouths, front-yard dogwood trees strung with ghosts in hangmen nooses, the macabre and the weird—now just creeps me out. One town about an hour south of me in New Jersey, Lambertville, puts on such a creative display of Halloween over-the-topness that it draws tourists from all over the United States.
But for me, a Jew, it all looks like: who cares about murdered Jews?
The answer of course is: a lot of people. The President of the United States, for example. Joseph Biden cares about murdered Jews. He cares so much he’s risking alienating the left-wing of the Democratic party, and possibly his political future, over his firm support of Israel. As do the many non-Jewish friends of mine who have expressed their disgust with Hamas and their desire to do something—anything—to help Israel. And countless, countless, others.
But it’s not enough. It’s never enough in a world where antisemitism springs up, over and over again, impervious to the claims of logic, history, facts, geography, or simple human decency.
A while back, my younger son and I were discussing the then-current political situation in the UK. I said that if I were a Brit I wouldn’t know what to do, not given the choice between Jeremy Corbyn (a left-leaning anti-Zionist with domestic values that dovetail with my own) and Boris Johnson (a clown who supported Israel.) I don’t follow British politics closely, but I was pretty sure that I could never vote for either of them. My son, however, said that given the choice, he easily could.
“We are a tiny, historically despised people and we need all the friends we can get.”
Anyway, back to Halloween and my one-woman protest. (One woman because over the holiday my husband will be out of town.) This year there will be no pumpkin, no candy, and no lights on in the house—or rather, there will be just one light on, in the back of the house, where I will be having dinner and then reading. And if a stray kid or two rings my doorbell, I will continue to sit in my reading station at the back of the house, my reading lamp on, my dog at my feet, and my Jewish self struggling to make sense of a world that continues to teeter on the brink of madness.