Uh-Oh Halloween

I couldn’t resist writing one last blog about Halloween as Head of Hillel. While I have never taken a position about whether Jewish children should participate in this American ritual, I have written about the importance of bringing Jewish rituals into the home with at least the same enthusiasm as celebrating Halloween. I would write these blogs especially if Halloween fell on Shabbat. There are arguments for and against participating in Halloween, and each family needs to make its own values-based decision.

Engagement is what is necessary in bringing the beauty and meaning of Jewish living into the home. It is not enough to be proud of being Jewish or feeling Jewish; it is necessary to live Jewish, and that requires actions motivated by a Jewish perspective.

This past week, I came across an article that discusses ways parents can make Halloween Jewish for children. So much of what we do is about intent. If we look at our world through Jewish lenses, and express what we see, say, and do within the framework of Judaism, we can take the secular and make it sacred.

I hope you enjoy the article, and that you utilize at least some of the suggestions made by the author.

“Five Ways Mussar Can Make Halloween Jewish For Your Kids”

By Greg Marcus

Halloween can be a mixed bag for many parents. Seeing lots of cute kids in costume is balanced by another straw in a hectic and over-scheduled life. For Jewish parents, there is the extra baggage of a grumble from Rabbis and experts who say that this tradition with pagan origins is not appropriate for our kids.

The Jewish mindfulness practice of Mussar offers an opportunity to make Halloween more mindfully Jewish. Mussar teaches how to close the gap between our aspirational values and how we act in everyday life.

Five middot, or soul traits to make Halloween Jewish.

  1. Joy/Simcha. Whenever I talk to small kids on Shabbat, I ask them “what is the number one rule of Shabbat? Shabbat is a delight.” I don’t share with them the full quote from Isaiah 58:13, which says “And you shall call the Shabbat a delight.” Since we are commanded to make one seventh of our life a delight, it is clear that Joy is a fundamental Jewish value. And if you are now thinking that your Shabbat is more about schlepping kids than joy, think of a way to bring a little more joy to your Shabbat too.
  2. Gratitude. The soul trait of gratitude is known in Hebrew as Ha’karat ha’Tov, recognizing the good. Getting candy and wearing a costume are fun things that we should not take for granted. We can remind our kids that saying thank you is not only polite, but a fundamental part of being Jewish. And, we can model being grateful for the financial means to have a home, and to buy candy and costumes. There is a big difference between saying, “You should be grateful that daddy bought you this costume,” and “Daddy is grateful that we have a home to welcome all these kids, and the money to buy candy.”
  3. Generosity. Mussar teaches that generosity is giving from an open heart, as opposed to Tzedakah, which is giving out of obligation. When you are preparing for Halloween, are you modeling generosity, or are you showing your kids a litany of stressed out comments about putting up decorations and having to buy candy? In addition, we can work with our children to find a way to give some of their candy to homeless kids or other people in need.
  4. Honor/Kavod. The Talmud teaches that Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai would greet others in the marketplace before they greeted him, even gentiles (Berachos 17a). Once I stopped rolling my eyes at “even gentiles” I realized how profound it was that a sage in a tribalistic society of 2000 years ago opened his heart to people who were not like him. Halloween is a holiday where it is ok and celebrated to be different. We can remind our kids of the importance of respecting other people’s costume choices. And by participating, we have an opportunity to mindfully decide to connect to a cultural tradition of our country.
  5. Silence. In the book of Genesis, we learn that the world was created with speech. Indeed, we assist in the ongoing creation of the world with our speech every day. Be mindful of what you say and don’t say on and about Halloween. Are you using words like “lame or schlep,” or words like “cool and welcoming?” In addition, we can remind our kids that lashon ha’ra, or evil speech is not ok. In other words, don’t make negative comments or jokes about other people’s costumes or homes. Rabbi Hillel taught that one should always praise a bride as beautiful on her wedding day (Ketubot 17a). Why? Because a wedding is a time of joy. Making negative comments about the groom’s shoes could detract from the joy of the occasion. Rather, we should proactively add joy. Similarly, we can teach our kids to praise the costumes of their friends and guests.

Finally, by taking a Mussar approach to make Halloween more Jewish, you are demonstrating to your family that one way to be Jewish is to show up as a mensch. Tell your kids that joy, gratitude, generosity, honor and/or silence are fundamentally a part of being Jewish. Wherever you go and whatever you decide to do, we can bring a bit of Jewishness simply by choosing to live according to our values.

How will you make Halloween more Jewish this year?

 

3 Responses to Uh-Oh Halloween

  1. CAROL FRIDSON says:

    Love this approach Steve! It is always hard as a teacher to know what to respond when many of the students only want to discuss their excitement. This article has great ways to think about the holiday.

  2. While I appreciate Greg Marcus’ 5 recommendations for a mussar approach to Halloween, I think he fails to mention one of the most positive aspects of Trick or Treating for our children: community. The community aspect on Halloween is very strong. Just as the days are getting shorter and we don’t see our neighbors much over the course of the next several months, Halloween gets children (and parents) to walk around the neighborhood greeting each other. My kids enjoy walking up to the neighbors’ homes and saying hello before getting a piece of candy (and of course, saying “thank you”). Now that my kids are old enough to walk around the neighborhood with their friends unsupervised by adults, I enjoy staying home with friends and greeting the neighborhood children at the door. Halloween is a night when our wonderful neighborhood truly comes alive. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors as the cold winter looms and certainly a night when both children and adults can appreciate the gift of community.

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