By CJ Srullowitz
“Trick or treat!”
I looked at the boy. Under the ghoulish zombie get-up-white and black facepaint, tattered clothes, ragged wig-was my sweet, polite seven-year-old neighbor. He is Jewish.
I was disappointed. Though I couldn’t blame him for sharing in the morbid rituals of the day, I wished more for him than this awful excuse for a holiday.
Don’t misunderstand. Having been born, raised and living in the United States, I have few qualms about American holidays. I even, lulei demistafina, look forward to some of them: July Fourth, with its barbeques and fireworks; Thanksgiving, with its parades and turkeys.
But Halloween simply disgusts me.
A holiday ostensibly created to honor the dead has somehow morphed into a celebration-even glorification-of all things macabre. And it seems as if no one can wait for the celebration to begin; the preparations come earlier each year. I had just taken down my sukkah when I began to see the makeshift graveyards popping up on my neighbors’ lawns. Clouds of synthetic spiderwebs enveloped the shrubbery. Spooky cats and jack-o-lanterns sat by the doorsteps. I find these customs gruesome (though, in fairness, a tombstone that reads “R.I.P. Van Winkle” elicits a chuckle).
Years ago, when we moved to our current house, I instructed my children not to answer the door on Halloween. I did not want to create a potential chillul Hashem by turning down the neighborhood kids’ requests for candy. At the same time, I’m not interested in participating in pagan rituals.
I was raised in a heavily Orthodox community, and I recall just one time that trick-or-treaters rang my parents’ doorbell. But I expected that in my new community, which is more mixed, that there might be significantly more foot traffic up the steps to my front door.
I needn’t have worried. Apparently the local kids are aware of, and perhaps even sensitive to, our religious differences. As a rule, they don’t come. But this one time…
Which brings me back to my neighbor. It was Friday night, October 31. My family was sitting at the Shabbos table, about to make Kiddush. The doorbell rang. I froze. My kids froze, looking at me. “What do we do?” said one. “I think they can see us through the window,” said another. So I went to the door and opened it.
“Trick or treat!” said the ghoulish Jewish kid.
I immediately had an idea. I smiled at him. “I will treat you to something very special,” I said. “But you have to come inside.” He followed me to the Shabbos table. My kids smiled at him. “Do you like grape juice?” I asked?
“Um, yeah,” he said, though I suspect he liked Snickers and M&M’s more, and would have even settled for that vile holiday staple: candy corn. But I would give him none of that.
“Okay here’s the deal,” I said. “I’m going to say a special prayer. You listen and say ‘amen.’ Then you can have all the grape juice you want.” He sat between my two boys, heard kiddush, and got his grape juice, which he gulped down. He stood up to leave.
“Good Shabbos,” my son said to him.
“Good Shabbos,” said the zombie before heading out the door and returning to his rounds.
So this kid had come into my house and seen the lit candelabra. Close by were two loaves of strangely twisted bread. And by their side, a tall goblet of blood-red wine, over which I, wearing my ceremonial black hat, had just chanted an ancient invocation.
I hope he wasn’t too spooked.