Thoughts about Halloween

We just returned from taking the children out trick or treating. As I have just finished inspecting my son the pirate’s booty I wanted to riff off of the comments David made about Halloween at Treppenwitz.

In it David writes about a loss of innocence that accompanied the holiday as more and more parents inspected the loot from the night’s haul as well as that more children were chaperoned by their parents.

It made me think about things and what has happened and I have a couple of thoughts to share about whether we have lost our innocence. I think that nostalgia always makes us wax sentimental about the past. Sometimes this leads to our viewing things through rose-colored glasses and sometimes it is accurate.

In effect I think what happens here is that I am going to straddle the fence somewhat. I think that the monsters of the night have always been here. If you read through old newspaper clippings you find horror stories of children who were raped and murdered, same as today. Psychotic behavior is not a new phenomena, it has always been there.

The difference is that we have instant information available to us, a media glut. As I write this post I know that there are people on my blog from across the US and the world. In seconds what I write here is read by people in Israel, Singapore, India, Chile and Australia. In theory I could create a media “windstorm” that sweeps the globe in as little as moments.

Which is just a verbose way of saying that with the access we have to information I think that it can make it appear that there are more incidents than there were in the past. Obviously without data it is impossible to say with any certainty.

But like any parent I worry about my children and when in doubt I err on the side of safety, so I make sure that I am along for the ride and that no candy is eaten without my approval. Not to mention the “abba tax” which mandates that I receive payment in Three Musketeers, Candy Corn and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

As I sit here with a mouthful of chocolate I am thankful for Halloween for the lessons it offers my children.

  1. Greed/gluttony
  2. Safety
  3. Community

The first point is a simple lesson about when “enough is enough.” How much candy do you really need? Why is it important to share with your little sister and parents/friends.

It is a moral imperative to teach your children about safety in the home, school and the streets. Halloween gives us an easy introduction to discussing the issues that relate to safety and why it is important for our children to be informed.

My interest in community was actually inspired by a drash given by Rabbi Ed Feinstein about Halloween. In it he says

“But something remarkable happens on Halloween, something I want my kids to see: On Halloween, we open our homes to one another. On Halloween, we come out from behind solid-core doors and dead-bolts locks and electronic burglar alarms. The doorbell is met, not with a gruff “Whose there?” and a suspicious eye in the peep-hole, but with a smile and sweets. On Halloween, and only on Halloween, we pretend we are a neighborhood again…families from disparate background who share common civic values, making life together in a common space. If only once a year, I want my kids to see what it’s like when fear subsides, and people trust one another enough to open their doors.”

That resonated with me, the opportunity to show the children what their neighbors look like without the gates and deadbolts, the opportunity to show them that they belong to multiple communities and that there are real people that are just like them living inside. It is chance to show them a glimpse of what life could be like if we all made just a few changes in how we live and how we approach daily life.

And now it is time to partake of the benefits of the tax and a good cup of coffee.

Happy Halloween.

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  1. Anshel's Wife November 1, 2004 at 5:25 pm

    I had no idea what I had to say would get such a response.

    I promise you, I do not feel superior to anyone in anyway. I might be a BT (only a few years), but no one was more liberal and open-minded than I was. I was the first girl at our shul to wear a tallis (1978—for my bas mitzvah). I went to a reform Jewish summer camp (we used to call it hippie camp). I wanted to be a rabbi. I was all for alternative-type prayer services. Nobody’s heart was bleeding more than mine. But once I learned “the truth” about Judaism, everything changed for me. For instance, when I learned about the beauty of Shabbos, I (we, actually—my husband) felt compelled to follow the laws. No driving. No telephone. No TV. No cooking, etc. Shabbos became something incredible and wonderful. Like a present that was hidden away and I could now open it up. That’s kind of sums up what becoming frum means to me. Something I always had within reach, I just had to go look for the ladder. Does this make any sense?

    I did all the holidays (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and everything else) when I was growing up and I don’t think anything my experiences were negative or affected me in a bad way. My mother loves to show me the pictures of us sitting on Santa’s lap and the Easter Bunny’s lap. We did it all. When we were really little, we even had red and white stockings up on the fireplace. We’d put out cookies for Santa and we had presents on X-mas morning. And look at me now!!!!

    Being frum, raising my kids frum, does not ensure anything for them. I know plenty of frum people who have given up that lifestyle. Happens all the time. I just want to give my kids the best chance of continuing to be Jewish throughout their lives and to also, please G-d, marry Jewish and raise their kids Jewish.

    I should also have said that as Jews, we are obligated to help anyone in need. Not just other Jews. Our homes are open to everyone. I made a mistake in what I said originally about that.

    As for Jack having more Jewishness in his pinky than any BT or FFB, any Jew can say that. If you are Jewish, then you are Jewish. Doesn’t matter if you keep kosher or Shabbos or even if you don’t even know you are Jewish or don’t consider yourself Jewish. You still are just as Jewish as any ultra-orthodox rabbi or any reform rabbi. If your mom is Jewish, you are Jewish. My mother, who is not frum, tells me, quite defensively, that she is a good Jew whether she is observant or not. And we agree with her 100%. There are plenty of very religious Jews out there who are not nice. Real jerks.

    So, I apologize for offending anyone. That was not my intention at all. I just wanted to say how I feel. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? If it’s a problem, Jack, please tell me and I won’t comment here anymore.

    A gut voch.

  2. Jack's Shack November 1, 2004 at 4:25 pm


    You are right, loved the cartoon.

    The difference is that kids today talk. Kids back then didnt. They had a different sort of respect for adults. The kind that said you did whatever any adult told you to do without question. Robyn,

    Agreed. I remember seeing adults belt their kids in public and no one said anything. Do that now and it is a different story.

  3. Jack's Shack November 1, 2004 at 4:23 pm


    I don’t think that we are all that far off in our positions on this. It definitely feels different to me than it used to and it is not just because I am a parent. I noticed the change many years ago.

    I was an infant when Charles Manson and company were running amok here in LA in ’69. My father remembers some incidents from the ’40s and ’50s and my grandfather had some stories from earlier yet.

    So what I am sure of is that there is nothing new with monsters in the night.

    But what I most wonder about is when these things changed, when did we start to become more afraid and is it something that we can attribute to greater awareness of these incidents. That is, if they were always there did we just not really know about them, or have things really turned the corner and this is where we are at.

    Theoretically I could see this as being a problem that we created. As we absorbed more news we began to have more fear and that is how we got here.

    I am not sure.

  4. A Simple Jew November 1, 2004 at 3:38 pm

    There is a funny cartoon about this issue on:

  5. Stacey November 1, 2004 at 3:11 pm

    Robyn, I think your comments are right on the money. I am 36 years old and there were psychos way back when. It is nothing new. There were murders and missing children when I was a kid. The same for my parents. My mom talks about how spooked she was when she was in 5th grade and a youngster her age was murdered.

    And back in the 70’s when I went trick-or-treating my father used to break up every single candy bar I got to make sure there were no razor blades in them.

    It pays to be cautious, but Halloween and neighborhoods still do exist and children still have the fun that we did when we were kids.

  6. Robyn November 1, 2004 at 2:48 pm


    I dont know how old you are but I am a child of the seventies and eighties. I am sure you like myself can remember the faces of children on milk cartons. Yetta must not have been paying attention. I was in fourth grade when we had the strange van driving around our nice quiet neighborhood trying pick kids up. My sister was flashed when she was only nine. I think you make a valid point about instant communication. We could have used amber alert, it just wasnt thought of yet. There was no Oprah to expose all of a families dirty little secrets on national TV.

    I was molested by my gradfather as my mother and aunt had been. They had never told a soul. I being the next generation did tell. We know for a fact that my great grandfather liked little boys. Wow he would be well over 110 right now had he lived. I guess crimes against kids go way back.

    The difference is that kids today talk. Kids back then didnt. They had a different sort of respect for adults. The kind that said you did whatever any adult told you to do without question. I think the wisdom gained from that lost innocence works very much in our favor.

    I am willing to see my nephews learn a little earlier that there are bad people. Not everyone who smiles at you is your friend. If a teacher or adult friend asks you to do something you dont want to do, you can say NO. I like that they know they have a voice, they have a right to tell an adult NO. They will be the better for it.

    sorry about the rant. Ignorance pisses me off just a little. As does religious superiority, but I think you know that Jack.

    Love and Light

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  8. Anonymous November 1, 2004 at 9:12 am

    on Halloween, we pretend we are a neighborhood again…

    Jack, right there the Rabbi sort of makes my point. There once was a sense of neighborhood that is largely gone today. When I was growing up I never had a key to my house because we never locked the door! Nobody I knew locked their doors. I knew the names of every family on my street and I could almost always mooch a snack in someone else’s kitchen if my parents weren’t around.

    Yes, there were always crimes and violence against kids and adults back then. But once-upon-a-time, children felt a sense of ownership and autonomy in their neighborhoods that they don’t feel today. Also, I agree, without statistics it is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. However, when we were kids they didn’t have pictures of kids on milk cartons, and there was no such thing (or the need for) an Amber Alert System.


  9. Stacey November 1, 2004 at 5:36 am

    There is no benefit to coffee. The benefit of hard cider speaks for itself….I’m too shitfaced on it right now to explain it, though.

  10. Jack's Shack November 1, 2004 at 5:03 am

    Oh, and Jack — you don’t drink coffee on Halloween.Spoken like someone who doesn’t understand the benefit of coffee. You Texans are strange.

  11. Stacey November 1, 2004 at 4:47 am

    Oh, and Jack — you don’t drink coffee on Halloween. You drink warm cider with a dash of cinnamon in it. You Californians are weird.

  12. Stacey November 1, 2004 at 4:44 am


    I think it is more than a little presumptuous of you to assume that one must be frum to have a strong Jewish identity.

    I am Jewish and took my children trick-or-treating tonight (as my parents did when I was a child), but this does not mean I will have a Christmas tree, bush or celebrate that holiday in any way, shape or form. What a sweeping and incorrect assumption you will make.

    I do not fear holidays that are not my own. If my children want to go to the neighbors with presents for them on Christmas Day, then so be it. They know that we do not celebrate this holiday in our home in any way, shape or form. It is not ours. But we can respect that others are different.

    My children are young, but their Jewish identities are already forming, in the same way that my own strong Jewish identity was formed — by being active at shul, leading a Jewish life and living it at home.

    And as Jack said, Halloween is not just about receiving, but about giving as well.

    Our home is steeped in the rich and beautiful traditions of our Jewish heritage. And there is no confusion. My kids are Jewish. Period.

    Already my 3-yr. old knows that we do not celebrate Christmas and that we have beautiful holidays of our own. And she is looking forward to frying latkes and sufganiyot with me, lighting the menorah, eating the chocolate gelt and playing dreidel with her friends — both her Jewish and Christian friends.

  13. Jack's Shack November 1, 2004 at 4:11 am

    But one major difference between the two holidays is that on Purim our children our GIVING treats to each other. It’s about giving, not receiving. As for this rabbi’s comment about opening our doors to our neighbors, well, as Jews, our doors are always open to other Jews. That’s part of our tradition. Why do Jews always have to look outside of Judaism to find answers and fun?My tzedakah is not based upon religion. I don’t only give to Jews and my son hands out candy at the door as well. This is not about just receiving, he gives too.

    And just so that it is clear, I have more Judaism in my little finger than many of the BTs and FFBs I have encountered. The Besht told a great story about the little shepherd boy, perhaps you have heard of it.

  14. Anshel's Wife November 1, 2004 at 3:59 am

    We went out to dinner tonight so that we wouldn’t be around when the kids came knocking. We don’t do Halloween for 3 reasons. 1) We have enough Jewish holidays to keep us busy, why do we need to add goyishe holidays to our repetoire (sp??), 2) MOst of the candy the kids get will not be kosher anyway, so why bother? 3) My husband is Russian and hates these stupid American holidays and this is a holiday of shnorers(his words).

    I hate to compare Purim to Halloween, because besides the costumes and treats, there is no comparison. But I love Halloween because the next day I can go buy costume stuff cheap and use it for Purim. But one major difference between the two holidays is that on Purim our children our GIVING treats to each other. It’s about giving, not receiving. As for this rabbi’s comment about opening our doors to our neighbors, well, as Jews, our doors are always open to other Jews. That’s part of our tradition. Why do Jews always have to look outside of Judaism to find answers and fun?

    Sorry to take anyone’s fun away, gei gesunt hay! Just some things to keep in mind when you children want an X-mas tree and you don’t know how to explain why you don’t have one. Just saying we are Jewish isn’t a good enough answer for kids. And then when you have a Chanukah bush and your kids are more excited about that than the menorah, what will you say? I’m not saying all Jews have to run out and become frum (as nice as that would be!), but think about what you are teaching your kids. Yes, we are Jewish and yes we partake in these goyishe holidays, but they don’t mean anything to us. Kids are pretty smart. If it doesn’t mean anything, why do we do it?

    Okay, I’ll go to bed now.

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