jewishpumpkin In his 1898 Harper’s Magazine essay on Jews, Mark Twain contrasted the waxing and waning of the ancient civilizations with the staying power of the Jews. “The Jew,” he wrote, “saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, and no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

What would Mark Twain say today about the Jews? He was writing 40 years before WWII, when our demise was both predicted and sought, yet we have survived and thrived. Would Twain still comment on our immortality? Moreover, are non-observant American Jews going to be counted among those who contribute to Judaism’s immortality?

What does it take for Jews, or any people or civilization, to survive? It takes sustained devotion to the values, practices, customs and stories of the community. It takes a commitment to live within the norms, however the community defines them. It takes a willingness to take part in its rituals, customs and celebrations. And it takes education to transmit the knowledge, values and practices from one generation to the next. For Jews, the rituals and customs, the mitzvot, are an expression of our relationship with God and with our fellow Jews; they are an expression of who we are as a people. When these practices disappear, the people disappear.

As Americans, we also share a language and a national story embedded with American values; we also share customs and celebrations. Imagine America without the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. Who reading this blog does not plan to celebrate Thanksgiving?

But tomorrow is another story. Tomorrow night is both Shabbat and Halloween!  Now what?

Educator Avraham Infeld has said that our Jewish rituals, customs and holidays are expressions of our Jewish identity. The celebration of Halloween may be embedded in the fabric of your family’s American traditions. So, at this time of year, when Halloween and Shabbat coincide, it is a good time to ask: what actions do we take with our children that will enliven Judaism and our connection to each other and to God? Does the action of trick-or-treating on Shabbat accomplish this goal?

By sending your children to a Jewish day school you are ensuring their Jewish education. But without bringing Judaism’s values, rituals and customs to life in your home, they may atrophy and disappear.

For those who celebrate Shabbat and also celebrate Halloween, maybe you will forgo Halloween this year, or perhaps go out early before candle lighting and still have Shabbat. But will you forgo Shabbat?

And for those who never or rarely celebrate Shabbat in the home (or any other Jewish observance or practice), here is a thought: Franz Rosenzweig, an influential German-Jewish existentialist thinker (1886-1929), nearly converted to Christianity before rediscovering his Judaism in a profound way. He committed himself to a Jewish journey where he envisioned taking on observances and practices slowly, but meaningfully. So when asked whether he wore tefillin, his answer was, “not yet.”

It is not what you haven’t done yet to bring life to Jewish living in your home – it is when!

Shabbat Shalom!

41 Responses to Shabbat-o-Halloween

  1. Jennifer Teper says:

    I think this year’s Halloween blog is much better than last year’s, but is it perfect? I quote the words of Franz Rosenzweig, “Not Yet”. Enjoy your holiday of shabbat.

  2. Andrea Trivax says:

    Perhaps this would be a good evening to talk about ghosts and demons from Jewish folklore, like the Dybbuk, Ibbur, Golem, Mazzikin and Shedim/Lillin. The 1937 classic Yiddish film, “The Dybbuk” can be found on Youtube and could replace “Dracula” or “Frankenstein” for Saturday night viewing.

  3. MAF says:

    I think the contrast wit Purim is very interesting (I know it has been mentioned many times before). On Purim, we dress up, and we *give* candy and *play* in fun skits. On Halloween, people *take* candy and possibly *play* tricks. I think the Jewish version is superior. Still, I think it is nice and harmless to give out candy to my non-Jewish neighbors, if they come knocking. Hannukah gelt works well 🙂

  4. Jack-O-Lantern says:

    Why is there a need for continued admonishment over Halloween from our head of school each year? It can be easily surmised that a majority of our children will be partaking in some kind of trick-or-treating experience tomorrow night. Many would also argue that the experience is just as much a part of the Americana fabric as the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving (and there might in fact be members of our community who choose not to celebrate Thanksgiving for a whole range of sound historical reasons so the rhetorical question posed in this blog is misplaced.) This year July 4th fell on a Friday yet we didn’t receive any parental like blog advice making us ponder whether or not we should allow our children to go out and watch or partake in fireworks. Each year Michigan and Michigan State play each other on Shabbat and many of us take our children up for this statewide tradition yet we also don’t get grief from our school leaders over that either. There is in fact no actual shabbat violation so far as I can tell in walking amongst our community with our children on Shabbat. My family plans to have a Shabbat dinner and then we plan to go out our front door and walk amongst our friends and neighbors trick-or-treating. I certainly don’t need a lecture each year or an attempt made at guilt induction that by doing so I might be jeopardizing the future of the Jewish people.

    • Jennifer Teper says:

      I fully agree with you. This year’s blog is much less stringent than last year’s which was telling us not to participate in trick or treating. That is why I said the blog was better, much less harsh.

    • MAF says:

      I think it is a good reminder that Halloween has some conflicts with Jewish tradition. In fact, if you look into halakah, Jews are prohibited in participating in festivals of non-Jewish religions.

    • MAF says:

      “Each year Michigan and Michigan State play each other on Shabbat and many of us take our children up for this statewide tradition yet we also don’t get grief from our school leaders over that either.” Not only should you get grief from your school leaders, but your Rabbis should be reminding you that Shabbat should trump sports games EVERY TIME. I personally never understood the attachment to college sports. Besides, U of M can’t beat MSU lately anyway.

  5. Adam Baker says:

    I celebrated Halloween every year as a child. Living in Windsor and commuting to Hillel and spending every summer in Israel, NO ONE questioned whether we were Jewish enough or didn’t have Jewish values…the donation plaques around Hillel certainly reinforce that.

    My children have been to Israel 8 times and counting and love Halloween. They love Israel more. (Ironically, American friends in Israel will be celebrating Halloween tommrow.) They are already different enough from our non Jewish and mixed Jewish/non Jewish neighbors who see us attending a Jewish school and going to Israel every summer. You can be a light onto the Nations without taking every opportunity to draw a distinction and withdraw from the Nation. Shtetl life didn’t work out well for us 70 years ago and I don’t think it works well now. If Halloween isn’t your thing, I respect that. You can be the best Jew and celebrate Halloween. I spend my parental energies on ensuring my children will be life long Zionists and do not intermarry. I don’t think anyone questions our Jewish commitment.

  6. Adam Baker says:

    By the way, I remember Rabbi Groner (z”l) on Kol Nidre 1984 starting his sermon by noting that there was a crucial Tigers’ Playoff game that night and he would be brief because he understood people wanted to get home to see Game 3 of the ALCS.

  7. akiva goldman says:

    I too agree that the blog falls short. It shouldn’t read in nearly apologetic tone, “Maybe you will forgo Halloween this year…” It should say ” Take a stand and show your kids what it means to be a Jew, what Jewish priorities are, and forgo the paganistic ritual of Halloween. If your kids don’t want to miss out on the candy and the dress up, they can put on a costume and go to Shul on Purim!!”

    We all send our children to a beautiful school that is characterized by Jewish pluralism, where all different levels of Jewish observance exist. Some are more stringent in their reverence of Jewish ritual and some less. But there is a common thread to it all. That thread is that we are all operating within the boundaries of Judaism. Halloween is far beyond those boundaries. It is not in any way related to matters Jewish and unlike Thanksgiving or the fourth of July, actually pays homage to christian paganistic ideology.Its celebration, particularly by Jewish families and children, is a function of assimilation. This is the opposite of Judaism. But it is also an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to teach our kids a valuable lesson and strive to deepen our spiritual commitment. Let us strive to take these steps and let us all enjoy OUR Shabbos.

  8. Jennifer Teper says:

    I don’t think you will find agreement over the trick or treating issue.

    What I would like to know, is instead of telling us not to participate in community activities,which I feel trick or treating is, why doesn’t the school encourage us to attend services for all the holidays we are off of school? I attend Shaarey Zedek and it is pathetic that there are no other Hillel families in attendance for the holiday services. During the four days of the last holidays, there was 1 other Hillel family there for only 1 of the days.

    I have people calling to make plans with my children on our days off and I inform them we will be going to shul and many times the response is for what? I let them know that when we are off of school for a holiday it means you should be attending services. Many parents are clueless. Informing and encouraging them that shul attendance on our holiday days off is encouraged would be welcomed. When congregants see children there it makes them happy, and it makes Hillel look good. Having no Hillel children at services makes the school look terrible. I rarely read this blog, and only did because of last year’s Halloween entry. I would hope that for Passover an email or entry in the weekly newsletter encouraging a Hillel contingency at all temples and shuls will be featured. Maybe even some extra credit if you attend services would be a good idea too. Let’s get Hillel students out for services. I think that’s a better cause than telling people to stay home and not go trick or treating.

    • Birdie says:

      Oh my goodness, how cute is that pink bunny??? I love boulce yarns for stuffed toy making – it makes them extra soft and huggable. I also prefer buupe/slkyr bulky yarns for baby blankets – they stitch up so fast and the end result is always something super soft and squishy!

  9. Adam Baker says:

    Jennifer, we too attend Shaarey Zedek and I remarked to my family how I saw so many Hillel families at HH services. In the family service, we were surrounded by my kids’ 3rd and 6th grade class mates and their families. I am sorry your experience was different.

    • Jennifer Teper says:

      I am not speaking to High Holiday services. I am referring to all the other holidays. Succot, Shemini Azeret, Simchat Torah (during the morning, not at night) and Passover. It is very rare that any other Hillel family is in attendance on those holidays.

      • Jennifer Teper says:

        My son is now attending FJA and they have a requirement that each student attends 10 services throughout the year. This year for succot and shemini Azeret and Simchat torah he brought his friends. The Rabbi acknowledged the FJA students to the congregation and gave them all parts in the service. An Academy teacher from Young Israel even came one of the days to see all the students. One day there were about 10 academy students and it was wonderful!

      • Adam Baker says:

        Well, I am always shocked how many Hillel families don’t travel to Israel on a consistent basis or support the IDF. I have ZERO interest, however, in imposing my values upon other Hillel families.

  10. Adam Kaplan says:

    Halloween or no Halloween, the deeper issue here is how do we as Jewish families create rituals in our childrens lives that are meaningful and impactful to who they are as Jews and as human beings.

    Shabbat is perhaps the most important Jewish ritual in this regard as in this age of instant information and gratification, it coaxes us in a weekly basis into a more thoughtful, community-driven and more essentially human place.

    Don’t get me wrong — I have my beefs with Shabbat. My biggest is that on Shabbat afternoon I can’t wait for it to be over so that I can reconnect. But is that Shabbat’s fault or a reflection of my inability (or lack of comfort) to simply be with myself and my family for 24 or so hours.

    There are many wonderful reasons to send our kids to Hillel day school and struggling with these issues is one of them.

    Shabbat Shalom and for those of you trick or treating — be mindful and safe.

  11. Adam Baker says:

    A ritual imposed by someone else is an obligation and can be a burden that breeds resentment. I don’t see the free will, nor the virtue, in forcing people to attend services. When I went to Hillel these were non issues and rightfully so.

    When I was at Tzuk Manara this summer with my son, I ran into a religious Jewish Family from Miami. The father wanted me to put on teffelin with him at 4:30pm and drive from the Golan on Friday to the Kotel and back 5-6 hrs of driving!) so I could experience Friday Night at the Kotel (again). He refused to take no for an answer.

    I then pointed that out my son and I were going to an IDF base in an hour to sponsor a BBQ for soldiers at an isolated position and invited him to come and support the soldiers. “That’s a mitzvah! Oh, no…we can’t do that.”

    I asked him ” By the way, are you Chabad?” “Yes”, he replied. “How did you know?”

    The biggest bike riding day in Israel is Yom Kippur.

    Hillel isn’t Akiva. Enjoy your rituals.

    • MAF says:

      Adam, no one is “imposing” anything. Steve’s purpose here is to set tone for the Hillel community, to emphasize what he sees as being important.

      Yasher Koach to you for supporting the IDF, it’s wonderful.

      As for what you derisively call “rituals”, some people call “Judaism”. If there was no Judaism, there would be no state of Israel. For sure there are different levels of observance, but what is important is to be clear on what our reasons for doing things are.

      Shabbat comes from the Torah. Halloween does not.

  12. Michael S says:

    We were friends and congregants of the Freedmans in Philadelphia, and took our early Jewish parenting cues from their example with their children. As such, when Halloween came around we didn’t decorate the house, didn’t dress up our toddlers or go trick or treating, but did happily give out candy at the door and did watch Halloween-themed movies on television. As our daughter grew and encountered Halloween customs, we started letting her and her brother wear costumes (but not death-related or scary), and eventually, when they were literally the only children in their day school not going out, we succumbed and let them go trick or treating. We’re thankful this wasn’t until maybe fourth or fifth grade, and it never trumped Shabbat, and did not turn into an obsession-driven extravaganza such as I imagine public schools are like (parades, classroom parties, decked-out neighborhoods). Now that we are at the other end of child-raising, I am so proud of what values we were able to instill. Our college-sophomore daughter has planned to come home for Shabbat this week and we will go together to our monthly neighborhood-based Kabbalat Shabbat, then return home for an extended family Shabbat dinner. We’ll give candy to the little visitors who come by, but it is Shabbat, shul, Yiddishkeit, mommy’s cooking, love of Israel and, overall, pride in being Jewish – everyday Jewish, not only occasional Jewish, that our children remember and value about our home. We thank our role models the Freedmans, and our shul, schools, camp and community for helping us reinforce these Jewish values, without having to build higher and higher symbolic walls against the prevailing secular culture.

    • Adam Baker says:

      Jennifer, you stated that JFA requires 10 Shabbat service attendances per year. Akiva used the term “Jewish ritual”.

      Hillel students pray every day at school. My daughter’s Hebrew class only meets 4x per week.

      I draw no comfort from requiring someone to give to the Jewish charities of my choice. It is supposed to come from their heart. I don’t believe my decision as to a level of observance of Shabbat affects any other Jews’ Shabbat observance, ritual and/or experience. If you choose to go to shul every Saturday, my hat is off to you.

      Nor do I believe that if my children choose to trick or treat it affects another Jew’s private decision.

      I am more concerned with Jews treating others as they wished to be treated.

  13. Steve Teper says:

    Am I being told that I am a bad jew if I choose halloween over shabbot? I did not have the luxury of being sent to a private jewish school, in fact, I did not attend hebrew school, but rather, I was taught my haftorah, just enough to become bar mitzvah, but I am still a jew. I do not regularly attend shul on Saturday, usually only for bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings, but I am still a jew. We do not have shabbot dinner every Friday, but I am still a jew. Your message should have been short and sweet, “enjoy halloween, but don’t forget about shabbot”, but you took the opportunity to do something I would only expect from my mother a “guilt trip”. As a parent it is MY responsibility to teach my children right from wrong, good from bad, and to instill the jewish values I see fit. It is your responsibility to teach the children math, social studies, history, english, hebrew, etc. You are there to teach the children the ways of Judaism, but not to judge them or me. I will be out tomorrow night walking with my daughter as I have every year since she was 2. This maybe the last time we will have this fun experience together, so I am going to skip shabbos dinner and enjoy our time together, and yes, I will still be a jew..

  14. Adam Baker says:

    Sorry, I meant MAF, not Jennifer

  15. Rabbi Jonathan Berger says:

    Wow! When speaking to new Hillel families, I always note that we at Hillel are proud to be home to such a religiously diverse group of families. I point out that it’s easy to create a sense of community when the members of the community all believe the same things; monolithic groups naturally share common ground. We at Hillel are trying to do something audacious, and all too rare in today’s Jewish world; we are trying to create a communal space for a wide range of religious beliefs and practices. The range of views expressed above sends a clear message: we are succeeding! Steve’s blog, read with all the comments, is a testament to how big our tent is.

    I know that some commenters have felt judged, but I read and re-read the post, and I just haven’t found any statements that support such an understanding. Rather, he was reminding us of the importance of Shabbat, and encouraging us to make/keep it part of our lives. This is what Rosenzweig meant–and what makes him such a remarkable and revolutionary thinker. “Not yet” didn’t mean “I reject the mitzvah”; it meant “I eagerly await the day when this mitzvah becomes a way for me to deepen my relationship to my Creator. At that point, I will start doing it.” He wasn’t judging himself or any other non-tefillin wearer; he was expressing an openness to growth and a hunger for meaning. Shouldn’t we all be open to growth? Don’t we all welcome meaning?

    My Shabbat might look different from yours (which, again, does not trouble me; in fact, it makes me proud to work at Hillel!)–but I join Steve in hoping that we all make Shabbat a part of our lives, part of our constant efforts to strengthen our relationships with God, the Torah, and each other.

  16. MAF says:

    On a lighter note, this is pretty funny:

  17. Jack-O-Lattern says:

    Rabbi –
    I think the reason some (including myself) feel judged is because Steve chose to again address Halloween. Re-read last year’s blog on the topic at a time when Halloween did not fall on Shabbat but came across rather harsh and had numerous parents discussing the rather parental (i.e. judgmental) tone. As I pointed out in my earlier comment the 4th of July this year fell on Shabbat but no blog post was written on the virtues of choosing Shabbat over our country’s Independence. Halloween, likely due to reasons of it’s historical origin, seems to draw the ire of the head of our school and the need to inform us as to what he thinks is right or not right. As a Jewish school I think all the parents would find it inappropriate for the school to do anything that sanctions school related activities and the American 21st century celebration of this child-centered holiday – but what we do or don’t do in our own homes on Halloween (or any other holiday for that matter) should not be fodder for discussion in such a public manner in my humble opinion.

  18. Elena Brand says:

    For more years than I can count, Hillel has underlined the importance of everyone feeling comfortable and included in this community we share. Appropriately, we make sure our parties are not on Shabbat, that our gatherings are kosher, or at least dairy, that allergies arer taken into consideration. It is also quite clear to me that this standard of acceptance is only applicable to the “truly observant” among us. Those of us that express and practice our Judaism differently are made to feel uncomfortable for our choices and told in subtle language that it is important for us to consider changing our ways. Perhaps a day will come when Hillel will truly be a community school. We are not there. Not even close.

  19. Ezra Goldman says:

    Great blog post, Steve. The point is that we as parents must be in touch with how seriously are kids are taking us. If you celebrate a holiday, be in touch with its history and values. If not, you teach them that holidays have no meaning. Don’t be surprised when they intermarry if you taught them that it is OK to celebrate the fun parts of every religion.

    To me, this is an easy call. Do you celebrate chanukah? If the answer is yes, focus a moment. The macabees would have killed you for celebrating Halloween. Be consistent and pick one. Especially this year, when the pope himself came out so strongly against Halloween. The Christians get it. The Jews whine about the annual guilt trip.

    • Jack-O-Lantern says:

      Ezra’s comments are just further proof that the ideal the Rabbi thinks is being created (one in which “we are trying to create a communal space for a wide range of religious beliefs and practices”) is far from being successful. We live in a diverse community and once Hillel dissociated itself from the Schechter Day School network it has opened itself to try and be a more pluralistic school but comments from Ezra show how far we have yet to go. When I was at Hillel in the early 80s there was never any guilt trip given over Halloween like there is today and that was at a time that Hillel was part of Schechter. I for one celebrate all the Jewish holidays and take my children to synagogue 2-3 times a month – but that really isn’t the business of Ezra or Steve or the Rabbi. I choose to educate my children at Hillel and instill in them a Jewish identity. I get to choose how to raise my children in my own house and within my own neighborhood. I don’t need others judging my decisions. The pope is not my spiritual leader so I don’t care much what he has to say about Halloween. The Macabees aren’t around so I don’t need to worry about them either – though by even mentioning that fact you are judging – you are in effect saying ‘If the Macabees were around today I would be a part of them and I might kill you’ – it is judgmental and hurtful speech. I don’t see anything harmful in allowing my children to partake in Halloween. I don’t judge or look askance at those who choose not to participate just as I don’t judge those who choose to be more religious than I am or less religious than I am. At the end of the day we are all Jews and we all would have been killed by Hitler whether or not you or I celebrate Halloween or not. Let’s find a way to stop being so judgmental over each other’s religious observances that occur outside the walls of our school (both secular and Jewish) and perhaps we can put an end to the the posthumous victories we hand the likes of Hitler by destroying ourselves from the inside with such rhetoric.

      • Ezra Goldman says:

        Jack, it is funny — seems to me that everyone is very fond of being “inclusive” until they have to include others.

        At some point, your right (and I mean “you” generically – don’t know who you are) to violate the laws and still be included steps on my right to keep them and be included. You can’t include both.

        Because when a parent makes a birthday party and serves non-kosher pizza, my kid is excluded because of her religion. It is a harsh form of exclusion that the average American non-jew would not inflict on us. They would say “I want to be sensitive to your dietary needs.” That is, unfortunately, totally lost on many a Hillel parent, who feel that they know exactly enough about Judaism and whoever doesn’t like it can stuff it, which is essentially what you have said about Halloween.

        The result is that my preteen is often forced to choose between God and delicious. So, this parent doesn’t want to be excluded because she doesn’t keep kosher. Therefore, she is foisting her non-kosher on all the kids.

        Would you like to be inclusive? Include me. I keep absolutely everything, to the extent of my knowledge and ability (and I have been studying Torah for upwards for 35 years). I am a professional but I am wearing a kippa and Tzitzit right now and there is a mezuzah on the door of my office. And I want to educate my child that these aren’t just quaint customs — that this is God’s religion to the exclusion of all others. I want to educate her that we observe Judaism only.

        Will you admit that your first thought when you read that paragraph was “why does this guy send his kid to Hillel?” It is a good question but not one rooted in the spirit of “inclusion.”

        The school is finally at a phase where the thing that it includes is “Judaism.” Good for you, Steve F.

  20. Steve Freedman says:

    I am excited by the lively and impassioned conversation that has ensued since yesterday.

    Hillel’s mission statement clearly includes “At Hillel, we inspire…..and a devotion to Jewish living.” The point of last year’s blog and yesterday’s blog was to start this conversation. We need to be thinking about how we foster, in an intentional manner, this devotion – especially since we live in a Christian society.

    Using Mark Twain’s comment on the immortality of the Jews, I posed the question what does it take for a people or civilization to survive? It comes by us naturally in the expression of our American culture; the celebration of Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and for many of us, yes, Halloween. The idea I am trying to express is, as Jews we need to think intentionally about how we express our Jewish identity in America through our customs and practices.

    Ours is a diverse community, and I celebrate that, as well as all that we share in common. Engaging with Judaism is a life-long journey; as members of Hillel Day School, we are all on that journey, and these dialogues are very much in the spirit of our tradition, as long as we remain respectful of each other.

    There is some snow in the forecast for this evening. No I am not suggesting cancelling Halloween. For those going out – bundle up. To everyone – Shabbat Shalom!

  21. New ECC Parent says:

    Regardless of whether you choose to go trick-or-treating or celebrate shabbat tonight (or both), I think the outrage over Steve’s column is ridiculous. For as long as rabbis have existed within the Jewish people, their role has been to encourage us to practice Jewish rituals, and to educate us as to why. This is all Steve did. I didnt notice one case of admonishment. I feel confident that many Conservative rabbis in our community would have given the same “sermon” from their pulpits, and no one would have thought twice. No matter how religious we are personally, we should appreciate Steve’s role as the Head of Hillel Day School to motivate our families’ personal observance of Judiasm.

  22. Adam Baker says:


    Jack and I feel excluded, because what seems to be espoused is a 1 way inclusiveness.

    If we ever meet, ask me about the Rabbi with 10 year old boys from a yeshiva who wanted my 8 year old in a bikini to hide at Majrasse, an Israeli National Park open to all, so his boys’ eyes wouldn’t be burnt out. He told me I wasn’t being considerate of his “rights”.

    There is a disconnect here. Steve isn’t our Rabbi. I have great respect for him. We are not discussing if it’s ok for children to wear Halloween costumes to school.

    We are discussing, ultimately, whether you can be a good Jew and let your children go trick or treating (on a non-school day).
    If not, I don’t understand the point.

    If yes, I turn the question around. Can you be a good Jew if you don’t keep kosher and don’t observe the Shabbat, but instead, respect your parents, treat people fairly, give to charity and follow the mitzvot that apply man to man, rather than only man to G-d? I say yes-absolutely.

    Can you be a good Jew if you keep the Sabbath, keep kosher and pray every day, but treat other people poorly and unethically and don’t give to charity? I say no.

    Rabbi Berger stated that “We at Hillel are trying to do something audacious, and all too rare in today’s Jewish world; we are trying to create a communal space for a wide range of religious beliefs and practices.”

    I embrace that.

    I don’t feel adding Sabbath observance and ignoring Halloween adds anything to my family’s Jewishness, as we have defined it. I am sorry, I do not. I can tell you, when my children tell me every day “I miss Israel” and they count down the days to our next trip, it warms my heart in a way that attending shul with them does not.

    My responses are merely trying to point out that the private Jewish choices we have made are just that and were not made lightly.

    We have all made a significant decision and commitment to being Jewish by sending our children to Hillel for 9 years. That commitment doesn’t get enough credit. It should be enough.

    When Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz spoke at Shaarey Zedek in 1997, the Chabad rabbi refused to go inside and hear him speak (on Jewish unity, ironically)- no mechizah (sic?). As I was talking to Rabbi Steinsaltz before the event, a member of his entourage ran up to him all excited stating “Rabbi, Rabbi, there is no mechizah! You can’t speak here! (It was a Thursday evening) With a dismissive wave he told her “Don’t be ridiculous”.

    If you want to keep kosher and observe the sabbath, I applaud you. No one is saying you shouldn’t. Do you applaud my choices?

    The Blog I would like to read is “Why My Family Vacations In Israel”. I believe connection to Israel is leaps and bounds more important to sustaining Judaism than keeping kosher and observing the Sabbath. I suspect many will disagree with me. That’s fine.

    • Ezra Goldman says:

      Adam, while respecting you as a person, I do not respect these choices. The truth is the we are not talking about the same thing when we say “Judaism.” You are taking about culture and I am taking about religion. The Jewish religion is text based and objective. The Jewish culture is based on inserting an occasional Yiddish phase in your speech, eating bagels on Sunday and loving Israel. I shouldn’t really say… You can say what the culture is based on. I can tell you with firm conviction that if not for our grandfathers’ firm adherence to the text based religion to which I refer, your kids would not love Israel. Because there would be no Judaism. And you might have to dramatically expand the definition of “Jew” for your grandchildren to be Jewish. Orthodox Jews have sustained or people for milenia; cultural Jews are gone in a generation.

      Sorry. Cultural Judaism is toxic to our people. We are Jews because when the Torah was offered to us, we said “na’a’seh v’nishma.” We accept God’s word without question. If you didn’t, you would never have been a Jew and Israel would never have been your land to love.

      • Adam Baker says:

        Wow…you’ve proven our point…in a simplistic, presumptuous, offensive and demeaning manner.

        I think you have strayed from knowing what you are talking about to wishful thinking. You know nothing of my family and your interpretation of history is interesting.

        For the record, Orthodox Jews didn’t stop the Holocaust, establish Israel or win any of the wars. They didn’t even establish Hillel Day School.


        I won’t be replying again-no need to be further offended by someone who deems their Jewishness to be superior to mine.

        • Ezra Goldman says:

          I know you said you wouldn’t respond but hopefully you will read. These are difficult things to confront but they are worth discussing.

          Let me first mention that I never said my views represent this of the school. That is for those who say that school has a long way to go. This translates, again, into “the school shouldn’t have people who think that way.” Way to be inclusive.

          I didn’t say my Jewishness is better… If our mothers are Jewish, we are equally Jewish. I did say that cultural Judaism is toxic to the continuity of our people and I think you proved my point. The holocaust, the creation of Israel and the founding of Hillel day school can not be the cornerstones of one Jewish identity because… What would you have supported 100 years ago? Let me say it differently… Do you know what the binding Jewish theme of cultural Jews of the 1910s was? No one knows. Because they are gone and their great grandchildren are not in Hillel day school.

          And by the way, when you say that orthodox Jews did not establish the school, what do you really mean…

  23. Andy Kollin says:

    I have to admit that I don’t read all of Steve’s blog. This edition discussing Shabbat and Halloween has certainly been interesting and lively. My wife Elena posted earlier – and I agree with her statement that Hillel is not yet a community school.
    I have been at Hillel for a good portion of my life. I am a Hillel graduate and my siblings also attended. While Elena and I have always lived in good school districts – we made the decision fifteen years ago to send our son Elijah to Hillel – and again for our daughter Lily. Elijah is a Hillel graduate and Lily will be graduating this year.
    We chose Hillel because we decided we wanted our children to have the best Jewish education possible. We are members of Temple Israel and active in our reform congregation and in the Jewish community. We have always believed that Hillel would lay a strong foundation for our kids – and then they could make their own choices about how they live as Jews.
    We have seen many changes at Hillel over the years. The move from Solomon Schechter to a community school was exciting for us. We felt that the school would be more inclusive and welcome differing opinions.
    If you look at the Hillel website – you will see this language throughout that speaks to community and inclusiveness.
    Steve Freedman states in his welcome on the website: “As an academic community open and welcoming to children from every Jewish affiliation,”
    And in the Mission & Core Values on the website it states: We believe in the ultimate unity of the Jewish People. We feel a deep sense of connection to Jews around the world and throughout the generations. Recognizing the variety of beliefs, affiliations and observances that exists in our community, we seek Shalom Bayit—peaceful coexistence based upon mutual respect and shared values.”
    I support these ideas and goals – and I hope that one day soon – Hillel Day School is truly a community school.
    As Hillel parents, we all come from different affiliations – Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. We might all practice our Judaism somewhat differently – but we all have beliefs based on the same religion and values. Preaching one over the other to each other is insulting and disrespectful.
    As a Reform Jew, I am tired of snide remarks made by other parents and members of the community about my religious affiliation.
    We are all Jews and Hillel parents. I hope that we can be supportive of each other and our individual choices.

  24. nomi joyrich says:

    Andy pointed out that the Hillel community is comprised of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. But I would add that we are also Reconstructionist, Humanist, and Renewal Jews. We are also comprised of converts and interfaith families. And each of us are equally Jewish and our children are equally deserving a desk in the school.

    Ezra, you say that Cultural Judaism is toxic. I would say the opposite is true. As more and more people assimilate, many would have no Jewish identity at all if it were not for the strong cultural Jewish movement. If Orthodoxy were our only option, how many of us would still be part of any Jewish community? If it were not for the rise of the Conservative and the Reform movements, I fear there would be few traces of Judaism anywhere.

    Thank Gd there are so many options from the Lubavitch to the Atheist!

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