Walmart taking heat over Israeli soldier costume for Halloween


Walmart is facing a backlash over an Israeli soldier costume on sale for Halloween.

The costume, which resembles a uniform worn by Israeli soldiers in elite combat units, is available on the discount department store chain’s website for $27.44, reduced from $57.62.

The Walmart Facebook page was flooded with criticism, including calls for a boycott of the chain.

One post called the costume “extremely offensive and highly insensitive, not only to the millions of Palestinian-Americans that shop in your stores, but to anyone who has an ounce of humanity in their bodies.”

On the Walmart site, under customer reviews, one commenter wrote, “Might as well sell a Hitler outfit for children as well! Pitiful!”

Another said: “Your little one can now go to his friend’s house, and take over their bedroom, and all of their toys and claim that God has given him/her the right to take it. If the friend refuses, your little IDF soldier can respond with force, and if they fight back, claim anti-Semitism, the right to defend their new room full of God given toys and level the whole family and neighborhood block!”

Walmart has not publicly responded.

A “Sheikh Fagin nose,” a latex prosthetic nose which the Walmart website deems “perfect for an Arab Sheik,” has likewise generated criticism for its name, the stereotypical greedy Jew in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” the BBC reported.

At Halloween, kosher candy rings the bell


This Saturday night, after waiting for three stars to become visible in the sky and observing Havdalah, the departing of Shabbat, with candle, wine and spice box, I will prepare to perform another ritual: I will pour gobs of candy into a large bowl to hand out to the sporadic stream of trick-or-treaters who will ring my doorbell.

Call me “orthodox” in my observance of this not-so-Jewish day, but this Halloween, I wanted to make certain that the treats we were handing out to the assorted ghosts, princesses and living dead who rang our bell were kosher.

Why? Kosher creatures are we, and I didn’t want anything unkosher — horror of horrors! — treifing up the house. I also wanted to show our undying (but not unhallowed) support for the companies that produce treats for the $2 billion Halloween candy market that were taking that extra step of making their products accessible to kosher consumers like me.

But during a late-night trip to the supermarket, I was surprised to find that there were almost too many hechshered treats from which to choose: M&M’s, Butterfingers, Dum Dums, Nestle Crunch, Baby Ruth and AirHeads all were kosher certified. Snickers, Three Musketeers, Twizzlers and even my favorite, Almond Joy (which my wife won’t eat because her dietary laws don’t include coconut. Pity; more for me.), were all deemed munchable by a higher source.

Not that I was kvetching, but I wondered: Why was so much of the Halloween candy kosher? After all, most Orthodox Jews, who do keep kosher, don’t celebrate Halloween. That’s because, according to an essay that appears on the Orthodox Union website, its origins are “a combination of Celtic, Roman and Christian holidays. All three are distinctly non-Jewish.”

For me, I see it more as an American holiday, one that I grew up with and enjoyed, and have chosen to integrate it into my Jewish life. But I was never sure if I was in the majority for doing that.

So why the kosher Halloween candy? Was there some religious shift of traditional Jews afoot unknown even to Pew? Were people who kept kosher quietly stocking up on low-priced Halloween candy for use on Hanukkah, or even Purim? Or was it an odd outcome of Halloween falling in the Jewish month of Cheshvan, sometimes called “mar [bitter] Cheshvan” because there are no Jewish holidays, and Jewish folks just needed something sweet to nosh on to keep up their spirits?

Still pondering this imponderable while studying the ingredients printed on a giant bag of Hot Tamales, I felt something staring at me. Looking slowly left, I found the culprit: a bag of candy called Creepy Peepers — round chocolates, each wrapped in a cartoonishly bloodshot eyeball foil wrapper. My own eyes widened as I realized they were kosher.

As I was to discover, all of the Halloween offerings produced by the R.M. Palmer Company of West Reading, Pennsylvania — from their fudge-filled “Mummy Munchies” to my favorite, “Dr. Scab’s Monster Lab Chocolate Body Parts,” a bag of fingers, ears, eyeballs and mouths — are kosher. (Better yet, the “body parts” are dairy.) In fact, Palmer’s entire line of chocolates, including Easter bunnies, are kosher.

From corresponding with the company’s marketing director, John Kerr, I learned that kosher certification is very common in the candy business. Palmer’s O.U. certification, which “requires additional inspections and standards for product quality,” provided “independent reassurance to consumers and retailers” that their “confections are high quality,” an email read.

I bought a bag, and after sampling a few eyeballs, I had to agree.

Another manufacturer, the Madelaine Chocolate Company, whose Halloween candy I found online, also offered crunchy chocolate eyeballs as well as caramel-filled ghouls — all kosher. Madelaine also makes chocolate coins for Hanukkah, chocolate turkeys for Thanksgiving and chocolate eggs for Easter — again, all kosher.

Speaking with Jorge Farber, the president and CEO of the company, I learned that Madelaine, based in Far Rockaway in the Queens borough of New York City, was established in 1949 by Holocaust survivors. Though gearing up for the busy holiday season, Madelaine was still recovering from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which reportedly had destroyed its equipment and inventory.

After nearly closing in 2014, the company received $13.2 million in government recovery funds in January. At that time, only about a quarter of its peak season workforce of about 450 had been hired back. Today, as Madelaine brings its new equipment online, Farber said the chocolate maker is hiring more employees.

When I asked why their products were kosher, Farber — whose products are available at “higher quality” candy stores — explained: “There’s sort of a cache about being kosher.”

My basket of kosher candy was quickly filling up, but like a kid out trick or treating, I wondered if I should dare knock on one more door.

The Equal Exchange fair-trade organization sells a Halloween kit that consists of 150 individually wrapped, bite-size milk or dark chocolate bars and an equal number of illustrated information cards. Headlined “Chocolate Can Be Scary,” the cards presented the reasons for choosing fair-trade products: We “pay farmers a fair price for their cacao,” as well as “make improvements in their communities, and help protect the environment.”

“Faith-based groups get our message,” Susan Sklar, Equal Exchange’s interfaith manager, told me.

With “a Jewish audience in mind, many of our products are kosher,” she added.

Sklar noted that some of what Equal Exchange sells is also distributed additionally through two Jewish organizations: Fair Trade Judaica and T’rua, a human rights organization whose members are rabbis and cantors of all denominations.

Pointing out that most of the chocolate sold in the U.S. is the product of West African “young boys who are used as slave labor,” Sklar, who is Jewish, thought it was important for “Jews to support fair trade,” she said.

As for me, at this last stop for kosher trick-or-treating trail, I had found a Halloween candy that reached a different level of kashrut: It was not only pure in production, but in spirit as well.

R.I.P. boring Halloween decor


I took Stewie out of storage on the first of October. The eight-foot-tall scarecrow with a massive, mutated pumpkin head (he may have grown in the abandoned gardens near Chernobyl) is always the first prop I put up in my Hallowe’en yard display.

I debated for a minute whether “Uncle Albert,” a “groundbreaker” zombie that jerks out after visitors step on a pressure-triggered mat, should make an appearance this year. But who was I kidding? He gets the most screams, so of course, he was joining this year’s graveyard scene!

I’m an artist and potter, not a professional haunter, but I love to do up my own house in Folsom, California, for Hallowe’en (I use the old-fashioned spelling to remind myself of the origins of “All Hallows Even,” the first name for the holiday.) And I enjoy helping others make creepy scenes as well, via my segment, “The Charmed Pot”, on the monthly podcast, Hauntcast, and, most recently by teaching a class at the ScareLA convention.

What are the lessons you’d learn in Hallowe’en 101 so that you can scare other people’s children on October 31?

First, haunt with what you know.

I love to use monsters because my own love for Hallowe'en began in the 70s, a “golden age” for monsters. Kids around me in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley were wearing masks of skeletons and the Creature from the Black Lagoon made by the Collegeville costume company. Most of us owned the vinyl record of Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, and we’d listen to Alfred Hitchcock, Vincent Price, and Boris Karloff narrate creepy urban legends and ghost stories on their own storybook LPs.

When I was in my mid-teens, my dad became a visual effects coordinator on feature films such as Dune and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I was able to go onto working movie sets and was floored by the whole process, from model-making to the mechanics of how to “make it go.” While we only carved a single pumpkin with a goofy face for our Hallowe'en decor at my childhood home, observing all this movie inspiration and attention to detail have shaped my Hallowe’en approach.

After my husband and I moved to Folsom, 20 miles east of Sacramento in the foothills of the Sierras, eight years ago, I upped my game. I now had a house to decorate — and more disposable income, so the single grinning jack-o’-lantern was joined by leering pumpkins, a string of eyeball lights, a 450-watt, hand-triggered fog machine.

The Internet is scary useful.

Halloween is huge on the Internet, full of ideas that can fuel experimentation. I I’ve found sites for how to make tombstones out of insulation foam purchased at Home Depot (safety tip: always wear a respirator when carving tombstones, or you'll be hacking nasty pink gobs from your lungs for the foreseeable future). I’ve learned about the best juice for the fog machine (Froggy's Fog, for instance, is made from pharmaceutical grade chemicals). I made Stewie, my first prop, as the son of The Grumble created by a haunter named Spooky Blue. I made a “Beloved” tombstone from a tutorial by Terra Lair. If I had questions, I asked online forums like Haunt Forum and Halloween Forum.

A yard is a great canvas for telling a story.        

Yard displays can be as simple as a mass of carved pumpkins, or as complex as a full light and sound show with animatronic and pneumatic props and projection effects. The key is to tell a story. For example: the bride waiting for her beloved, who will never return; Lizzy Borden and her murdered family; the miner perpetually searching for a vein of gold; a hitchhiker who asks for a ride home. And while there's nothing wrong with what I call the “Heinz 57” haunt—where people throw together a bunch of scary props bought at the local Hallowe'en store in the spirit of the 57 varieties of Heinz products—a story can keep you and your haunt focused, avoiding a cluttered, disparate mess.

One master of storytelling is a guy who calls himself Pumpkinrot. His themes include Scarecrow Catacomb and the Swamp Foetus. He builds his props around each year’s idea, paying close attention to assaulting all the senses: eerie lighting, crunching leaves, clove-scented candles, toasted pumpkin smells. The Davis Graveyard, House Bloodthorn, and The House at Haunted Hill also inspire me.

Once you have a story, you need a mood.

The right mood makes your victims’ lizard brains feel uneasy. I have small children who come to my house, so I try to stay away from blood and gore and concentrate on a creepy atmosphere. Lighting, sound, and a thick and creeping fog are characters in my haunt as much as Stewie is. At my display this year, visitors hear the constant sound of a grave being dug and the dirt dropping onto the lid of a coffin. By the time Uncle Albert roars and jumps out at them, they're ready to scream!

Lighting is particularly important for mood. Blue or cool lighting makes your props and shadows appear farther away. Red or warm lighting makes props seem closer. And, as Robert Brown wrote in a lighting tutorial I return to over and over, haunt lighting is as much about creating shadows as it is about lighting your significant props. So this year, I wanted the blue of a cold night to wash over the tombstones. At the same time, I lit Stewie, who is closest to the house, from below in red, giving him a sinister, demonic look while creating a massive Stewie shadow that reached to the top of the roof.

Safety cannot be emphasized enough.

If you build a walk-through, you must be aware of tripping hazards and fire safety. You also must plan for a panicked victim to swat at your walk-through or run through it when he or she bumps into it. Make certain power cords are taped down or in an area where the public can't get wrapped up in them. Do not skimp on the cost of potentially dangerous items, like pneumatic cylinders or fog juice. You don’t want to use a screen-door cylinder that isn't designed to deal with the weight of a heavy prop and you don't want to get sued for an asthma attack or worse.

That said, I don’t want my display—which I expand each year—to feel too safe. I want my neighbors to experience the kind of creepy Hallowe'en that I remember from before it was sanitized. A lot of people here now do a “trunk or treat” in a church parking lot, where children go from trunk to trunk to get candy because it's “safer” than trick or treating house to house. There are often bouncy houses in these parking lots, which, let’s face it, make Hallowe'en easier for tired parents.

That’s too bad. Hallowe'en should be like the opening of the animated film based on Ray Bradbury's book, The Halloween Tree, all shivery and delightful. When I see people drive slowly by my house to take in the scene, and hear the shrieks of trick-or-treaters, it makes all the hours, money, and mashed fingers worth it. 

Shelley Spranza is a potter, sculptor, and Hallowe'en enthusiast living in Folsom, California. She can be found making Hallowe'en year-round on her blog, ShellHawk's Nest,  by subscription to the Hauntcast podcast, or in the documentary, “Halloween Home Haunts”.

This piece was originally written for Zocalo Public Square.

My job is to scare you


I always knew that writing and visual arts would be unpredictable career paths. But I’ve discovered that there is one thing that I can always count on: dead bodies.

As the art director for the “Scare Zones” at Universal Studios Hollywood’s Halloween Horror Nights, I oversee the zombies and ghouls that overtake sections of the park every October. I was just 18 when I started working at Universal. In the fall of 1980, I graduated from high school in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and was trying to find a job. My sister heard the theme park was hiring so I went in for an interview. Later that same day, I was being fitted for a costume for a full-time job playing the Phantom of the Opera.

It was a perfect job for me: I grew up on horror movies and made haunted houses in backyards and basements with my childhood friends. Over time, my character resume grew to include the Wolfman, a mummy, and my crowning achievement, Beetlejuice. That was a speaking part, which meant no rubber mask and a pay bump. Life was good.

During this same period, I was trying to write the next Great American Novel. By the time I hit my 30s, I realized I wasn’t Steinbeck or Kerouac. I sold a few bad low-budget horror scripts that I knew would never be made into bad low-budget horror movies.

But I was getting promotions at Universal. I took off the mask and put on a tie to become a talent supervisor, which basically meant I got to babysit the Phantom and his friends. The park was growing and so were the creative opportunities. I started building props for the performers and created a few small street shows. At the time, we had a lot of classic Hollywood look-alike performers. So my job could involve finding a giant rubber fish for “Laurel and Hardy” or enlisting park guests to do a screen test with “Humphrey Bogart.”

A seed for my current work was first planted in 1996 when I saw an Ed Kienholz exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown. Kienholz was an installation and assemblage sculptor who took found objects—car parts, broken dolls, damaged furniture—and reassembled them into works of art. He relied on a screw gun, not a paintbrush. That was a concept I could wrap my hands around. So I started to create my own assemblage work. The mixed-media artists Lee Bontecou and George Herms (with whom I took a class at the late, great art school that the Chouinard Foundation ran for a time in South Pasadena) also inspired me.

I took classes in stained glass, welding, and screen-printing. I added printed text and old photographs into some of the pieces. My goal was to tell stories with visual art as I had with the written word and, especially, to connect with an audience the way that only a good story can. 

By the early 2000s, I was a part of a small department at Universal called Entertainment Production that creates special displays and events in the park. No event is more special than our annual Halloween Horror Nights, where I have the opportunity to scare up to thousands of people a night.

In addition to the usual rides, weekend nights in October feature mazes based on movies or TV shows, such as The Walking Dead, Alien vs. Predator, and An American Werewolf in London.

There are also five Scare Zones that act as “warm ups” to the mazes. These productions go well beyond the bedroom-sheet ghosts, tin-foil robots, and toilet-paper mummies my friends used to set up at our houses to spook our parents. Universal’s Scare Zones are dimly lit, fog-filled streets overrun with actors (or “Scare-actors” as we call them) who have one job and one job only: to scare the crap out of you. And it’s my job to ensure that happens.

That’s where the dead bodies come in.   

In mid-May or so, I meet with the event’s creative director and the head art director to hash out ideas. They oversee the creative content for all the mazes as well as the Walking Dead Scare Zone. As with the mazes, our first options are films or television shows related to the studio, which is one reason why New York Street has been overrun for the last two years by crazed mobs inspired by the Purge films. Occasionally our marketing department plays a role in the process: Halloween fans got to vote on a theme for our French Village Street this year. Sometimes I’ll do Internet searches on the history of London, disasters, notorious criminals, or ghost stories to get ideas. This year, the overwhelming favorite zone was an idea I pitched: “Dark Christmas.” Evil elves, Krampus (the half-goat demon who frightens children into being nice), and a scary Santa Claus all run amok down our version of London’s Baker Street.

Over the years, New York Street has been infested by mutant soldiers, radioactive zombies, and killer clowns. French Street has been consumed by the plague, sideshow freaks, witches, and killer clowns with a French twist (harlequins with hatchets). Baker Street has hosted Jack the Ripper, zombies inspired by the cult film Shaun of the Dead, and demonic toys like a man in a bloody rabbit costume wielding a chainsaw. As they say in the Industry, the bunny was a real crowd-pleaser.  

In the lead-up to Halloween, dozens of craftspeople build sets, design costumes, and create props in a vast warehouse not far from the studio. If we can’t build something ourselves, we buy it from specialty vendors, many of whom we encounter every year at the TransWorld’s Halloween Convention. The four-day trade show has hundreds of exhibitors selling everything from simple plastic masks to animatronic creatures that cost thousands of dollars.

I typically work on a much smaller scale. My budget is tight so I reuse a lot of stuff year after year. For example, I once repurposed some killer clowns into zombie hookers. Some of our dead bodies are brand new, but we also have “veteran” bodies held together with tape and hot glue. There is nothing you can’t accomplish with a screw gun, a roll of gaff tape, and a bag of zip ties.

I often work high-art or folk-art flourishes into the designs. The concept that received the most audience votes for French Street this year was “Mask-A-Raid”: a horde of cannibals masquerading as French aristocrats. I arranged French aristocrats at a massive table laden with fruits, vegetables, and human body parts in the spirit of 17th century Dutch still-life paintings and the grotesque tableaux of contemporary photographer Joel-Peter Witkin. A string quartet of skeletons is playing violins and cellos behind them. 

In 2010, I created a Scare Zone inspired by the Mexican folk legend “La Llorona,” the “Weeping Woman” who is searching for her dead children. I created two large backlit metal silhouettes mounted on wagons based on the Dios de los Muertos illustrations by Jose Posada. A few years later, I converted them into an altar that was featured in a Dios de los Muertos festival at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach. 

Being the Scare Zone art director allows me the luxury of making stuff just because it’s cool.

But viewers move on after they see something to the next fright. I try for the opposite with the mixed-media art I create in my spare time so that viewers will linger and wonder about the story I’m telling with vintage photographs, an old desk, and scrap metal.

This year’s Halloween event is winding down. All I do now is periodically walk through to check for damage and readjust the lights. I can relax until November when it all gets packed up for next year. I plan to use the downtime to start a new piece for a possible gallery show next month.

For some reason, all of my ideas involve dead bodies.    


Patrick Quinn is a mixed-media artist living in Los Angeles. More of his art can be seen at http://www.patrickquinnartist.com/ . Universal City’s Halloween Horror Nights continue through Nov. 2. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

Shabbat on Halloween: Horror of horrors or wonder of wonders?


With a borscht-curdling geshrei, Halloween this year falls on Shabbat. On a Friday night, trick-or-treaters, even Jewish ones, will be knocking.

Should we open the door? Or should we be spooked about joining the celebration?

After reading that on Oct. 31, Urban Adamah, a Jewish-oriented educational farm and community center in Berkeley, Calif., would be holding a “Challahween Kabbalat Shabbat” — chanting and meditation plus a potluck dinner and Halloween dessert candy bar — I wondered: Should I have a Halloween Shabbat dinner as well?

Yes, I know that when it comes to costumes and treats, Purim is our holiday, and that Halloween has murky pagan and Christian origins. But the multibillion-dollar Halloween costume, decoration and candy industry has morphed so far beyond that I wondered what I could pull from that bubbling commercial cauldron and adopt to season my Shabbat.

Not that I would want to serve brisket with candy corn, but what about trying pumpkin spice challah? I didn’t have to cast a spell to find a recipe online.

But what to wear, especially since I would be greeting the neighborhood children as they came calling. Could I use the opportunity to dress up as someone more shul-ish than ghoulish?

For ideas, I hit a neighborhood costume warehouse, Halloween City, not expecting much in the way of Jewish population. Was I wrong.

Though a Halloween warehouse will never be confused with a Judaica store, I was surprised by the number of items that with a little imagination suggested ways to remember (zachor) Shabbat on Halloween, and even to keep it (shamor).

Searching for something overtly Jewish, I was disappointed at first, only finding costumes more suited to Catholic tastes. One could dress up as a Blessed Mother, priest and friar, but not a rabbi.

On a nearby rack, though, when I found a Doctor Who costume — a red fez and bow tie — I knew I was in the right place to make a fanciful connection to Shabbat. How on earth? Since according to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel “the meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space,” who would be better to have at my Halloween Shabbat dinner than a Time Lord?

Searching further in the area with costumes representing ethnic stereotypes,  I found that one could dress up as a “Big Shot Scott,” a “Mystifying Gypsy” and a “Luscious Leprechaun” complete with a “Want to get lucky?” pot of gold.

The “Tequila Poppin Dude” costume  came with two shoulder bandoliers with shot glass holding loops. Improvising, I figured on Shabbat I could put on the bandoliers and a kippah and be a poppin’ dude, too, only with Manischewitz.

On an end rack I saw some Shabbat potential, at least thematically in costumes based on the short, yellow, one- and two-eyed characters in the movie “Despicable Me.” There in clear packages were a “Minion Dave” costume complete with blue coveralls and goggles, as well as a “Female Minion” costume.

Ahhh, I could have a “minyan” at my Shabbat Halloween dinner — it would even be egalitarian.

Walking past the display of plug-in, animated skeleton fiddlers (from a Sholem Aleichem nightmare?), I found myself in the aisle of ancient get-ups. If I wanted to turn my Shabbat dinner into a toga party or night of Roman-themed excess I was all set. But didn’t we fight a few wars to get away from all that?

On the top of the rack, however, I found a blue and gold Egyptian pharaoh’s headdress.

“That will work,” I thought, trying it on, remembering that in the Shabbat Kiddush are the words “zecher litzeat mitzrayim,” “recall the Exodus from Egypt.”

Walking by an entire area of black and gray fake headstones (there were no Styrofoam pebbles to leave on them), I came to an area that seemed more heavenly.

In recent years, angel wings have become a Halloween costume staple, and the warehouse had an entire display in every shape and color. To begin every Shabbat, my family always sings “Shalom Aleichem,” wishing peace to the “attending angels.” Would they be offended, if in their honor, I wore a pair of wings to dinner?

In the next aisle over I found myself amid costumes for girls and women. Was there something here that would invoke the image of Shabbat Hamalka, the Sabbath Queen, who we greet with song on Shabbat evening?

There were costumes for a woodland fairy, a gothic temptress and a “divine goddess” that included a blonde wig and hair jewelry, but nothing close to what I imagined to be the Sabbath Queen.

Then I realized: With a Sabbath Queen, angels who visit on our day of rest and celebrations of time rather than space, we didn’t really need any help from Halloween to conceptualize the fantastic.

On Halloween, I could set the table with orange plates on a black tablecloth and wear a pharaoh’s headdress. But on that Shabbat evening, as we rise before dinner to face the door and sing the last verse of Lecha Dodi, “Come my beloved,” even if the doorbell rings, do we really need all that stuff to imagine who might appear at our threshold?

LivingSocial apologizes for party decorations following anti-Semitism complaint


The LivingSocial website apologized for a Halloween party it sponsored in Washington following a complaint that some of the decorations were anti-Semitic.

LivingSocial, which offers discount deals at area businesses throughout the country, decorated its “greed” room with dreidels and gold coins at its “7 Deadly Sins Halloween Party” on Oct. 26.

“We have looked into it and determined that the inclusion of dreidels with the other games in the gaming room was not a smart choice, and we are very sorry to have upset anyone,” said Kevin Nolan of LivingSocial’s publicity department. “Certainly this behavior does not reflect who we are as a company.”

Nolan said the customer who complained was “offered a full refund and explained that any offense was unintended” and was given an apology.

That customer, who did not want her name used, said, “I was very offended. I just thought it was completely inappropriate.” She said she considered the room’s decorations “clearly anti-Semitic.”

For $59, guests were invited to “indulge in a silent disco, movie screening” and fun in seven different rooms. Each room’s theme revolved around the seven deadly sins: lust, pride, wrath, gluttony, envy, sloth and greed.

The greed room was described as “a shimmering room full of silver and gold” in which people “get greedy challenging friends to a plethora of games.”

My last Halloween


These days it creeps up on me like an ache — the occasional pumpkin in a front yard, the synthetic cobwebs in trees, the subtle turn in the weather and, yes, there’s that feeling in the pit of my stomach, the hollowness of those dreams in which you’re lost in a white tunnel, with nowhere to go but forward, though you know that every step will take you farther away from home. 

I know why Lot’s wife looked back. 

From early September, the discussions begin. What am I going to be this year, and when are you doing to decorate the house, and do we have enough candy for the trick-or-treaters, and why don’t you dress up as well — my friend’s mom wears a costume every year and my teacher painted her feet green. Throughout October, negotiations revolve around which stores we’re going to shop at and how many trips we’re going to make and how many hours in total we’ll spend looking for “the same as last year, but different.” My older son is a ninja redux, the younger one wants to dress up as a cowboy, even when it’s not Halloween. My daughter, who likes fine clothes and red lipstick, has been a ballerina three years in a row and wants to be a ballerina again, “only not the same kind of ballerina,” she says, and the boys join in the chorus, “and not a ballerina that has to wear a sweater if it’s cold.” Ninjas and cowboys, needless to say, don’t wear sweaters either. 

Our neighbors are mostly young families with small children. The house directly across from ours is one of those haunted mansions that spits out fog and echoes of laughter, with the shadows of headless corpses popping out of open coffins every 60 seconds. The owners have the whole decorating thing down to an art, so they don’t have to start until the weekend before the big day, but the rest of us, bumbling pumpkin carvers and clumsy spider-web spinners, get to work in mid-October and are still “perfecting” the set at 5 o’clock on the 31st, when the first few kids with their parents appear at the door. By then, my little cowboy has been dressed and ready for a couple of hours already, and has posted himself, basket of candy in hand, in the foyer. The ballerina is waiting upstairs for her cousin, Cleopatra, to arrive for hair and makeup, and the ninja is setting boundaries for me as to how much of the evening’s spoils I’m allowed to take in the name of tooth decay. 

So much of my remembrances of motherhood is traced with guilt — at the mistakes I made thinking I was doing the right thing, the chances I missed because I was focused on the wrong thing, my impatience and arrogance and just plain ignorance. So much of it, too, is condensed into a cluster of midnight feedings and birthday parties, school trips and beach outings and, “Alex, stop working and go to bed”; “Kevin do your homework and go to bed,” seven nights a week. Amid it all, those early Halloween memories sparkle — bright, fleeting, untainted, brimming with anticipation, rife with possibility. 

When did I last put my children to bed with the makeup still on their faces and the candy tucked under their beds? Close the door behind the last trick-or-treater? See the back of that young woman with the long, pale hair and giant angel’s wings? The zombie impaled with a sword and still walking? 

The next morning, the street is strangely quiet. The cobwebs have been cleared from the trees, and the doorbells no longer howl. The haunted mansion has been sold to a less theatrical family, and the basket full of candy remains, untouched, by the front door. The kids have grown up and left home. Oct. 31 is just another day on the calendar.  

It’s not that I have nothing else to do with my time, now that the obligatory visits to the pumpkin patch have stopped. It’s not that I have no identity outside of being a mother. On any given day. I’m a good few months behind on a whole lot of work-related projects, my domestic talents still waiting to be discovered. I can attend to neglected friendships and an ailing social life, spend more time with my parents, travel again with only my husband to places that are not necessarily child-friendly. But even with all that, I feel like a typewriter in the age of Siri: still operational, but functionally obsolete. 

I think that’s why Lot’s wife looked back: to see her daughters one last time and, through them, the part of herself she most liked. 

I do have other things to do with my time, yes. I just can’t think of anything better to do on those October mornings when I drive by the little preschool on my way to the gym and see tall those little fairies and wizards march, single file and effervescent with joy and pixie dust, before their adoring, admiring parents.


Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). Her column appears monthly in the Journal.

Trick or tweet: Anthony Weiner and Bernie Madoff Halloween masks


Are Halloween masks of Jews in the news a trick or just a new treatment?

With a new latex mask of disgraced former Rep. Anthony Weiner now selling alongside that of convicted swindler Bernie Madoff, I wonder: In some weird way, have American Jews entered a new era of awful acceptance?

What will people think if a Weiner or Madoff shows up at their door on Halloween? Will they identify these masks first by religion or indiscretion? Are these pop culture masks good for the Jews?

Through rubbery eye holes, they do allow a more evolved view.

Unlike other eras of American products, such as 19th century racially offensive castiron toy banks, today there is no exaggeration of features or ethnicity, the threesome’s noses are not elongated or hooked. They simply stare back at us as a new kind of pumpkin head, hollow objects of ridicule who happen to be Jewish.

OK, so they’re not bad for the Jews. But are these masks goods for the Jews? Would a Jewish person in particular want to wear them? On Purim, we still dress as Mordechai or Esther—the heroes. But in an era about three posts past irony, would we now choose instead to masquerade as a villain who is Jewish?

For a darkside Jewish mask, there is no need to revise characters from an ancient scroll—say, a leery-eyed Mordechai, or a wet T-shirt contest winner Esther—when we can look to Jewish personalities pulled from the book of today.

The Weiner costume—produced by Ricky’s, a costume superstore chain in New York that also sells online—includes a mask and an optional pair of boxers from which a pair of latex testicles hang out. Kirsten Slotten, who works for a publicity firm representing Ricky’s, tells JTA that the Weiner get-up “is one of the most popular costumes.” The company is marketing the costume along with versions of Charlie Sheen and Arnold Schwarzenegger as a trio dubbed “The New Stooges.”

Costume dealers say that sales of Bernie Madoff masks are way down in 2011.

The Weiner costume is “quite controversial,” says Marc Beige, whose 60-year-old competing costume company, Rubie’s, took a pass on the outfit.

“We sell to mainstream America like Wal-Mart,” Beige said. “We did not feel that it would be that popular.”

Noting that some New Yorkers still feel that Weiner was an effective congressman, Beige added, “Nobody’s perfect. He’s a human being.”

Rubie’s, along with Ricky’s and other companies, are also marketing a Charlie Sheen costume. The mask—a good-enough likeness of the former “Two and a Half Men” star in the Ricky’s version—comes with an optional T-shirt emblazoned with words and phrases Sheen made infamous, including “winner” and “tiger’s blood.”

Not included: Sheen’s “goddesses.”

In attempting to deflect claims of anti-Semitism, the Hollywood meltdown warlock claimed to have Jewish roots on his mother’s side. So can we count his costume along with the Weiner and the Madoff?

Either way, Beige said, “religion never comes up” when the staff at Rubie’s discusses the appropriateness of a potential costume.

As for mask sales of the tragic Madoff, “That’s pretty much over,” he said.

Wondering about the Jewish identity of the people behind the masks, I asked Beige (who is Jewish) if any of his friends ever thought it odd that he was in the Halloween business.

“No, that’s never come up. I think over 50 percent are Jewish,” said Beige, noting that the company also has a branch and catalog in Israel.

“When you think about it,” he adds, “this business is one part Hollywood, one part garment business, one part toys—all businesses where you find a lot of Jews.”

THE GOODS
Anthony Weiner mask ($24.99, from Ricky’s), “Just hanging around” boxers ($19.99, from Ricky’s)

Madoff mask ($22-$30 from various online vendors)

Charlie Sheen adult costume kit, shirt and mask ($20 from Rubies, adult sizes only)

Know of a product that might be good for “Goods for the Jews”? Please send to Edmon Rodman at edmojace@gmail.com.

Justice takes a beating in Long Beach racial hatred case


The nine black youths who beat three young white women have now been sentenced by a Juvenile Court judge, and there’s only one problem.

While these “kids” could
have killed their victims, the judge slapped them on the wrists lightly and sent them home. Astoundingly, after finding the nine defendants guilty of intent to cause bodily harm, with hate crime enhancements, the judge then reversed direction and gave them probation?

A tenth youth was acquitted.

The basic facts of the case are that last Halloween, a pack of black youths, with no evidence of any provocation, set upon three young white women who had come to an upscale part of Long Beach known to attract trick-or-treaters. Out of the larger crowd of attackers, 10 were identified and placed on trial.

After a lengthy process, that saw witness intimidation from gang members (one was forced to move; another had her car totaled), the expectation was — that if found guilty — a verdict and sentence would be handed down that delivered a strong message of intolerance for such uncivilized acts.

Instead, another message was delivered — that racism in its black guise will be treated with leniency and “understanding,” since this kind of racial retribution is an undesirable but understandable outgrowth of historic mistreatment at the hands of whites. What complete rubbish.

In case you wondered, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Affairs, out of the 1.2 million cases of interracial crimes each year, 90 percent involve a black perpetrator and a white victim. The interests of law and order and a civil society were not served well by this judge’s sentences.

What highlights the crass, crude and bigoted nature of this ugly mass attack is the fact that Loren Hyman, one of the three victims, is both Jewish and Latino, but like a pack of hyenas converging on some yearling antelopes, this crowd was in no mood to parse out the finer points of ethnic and religious identity.

However, while these defendants have escaped culpability, others have not been brought before any judge. Ten black youths were put on trial, but it has been estimated that between 25 to 40 black teens surrounded Hyman, Laura Schneider and Michelle Smith last Halloween.

This was no routine youthful fracas — the attacks left Loren with more than a dozen facial fractures, a serious injury to her jaw, partial loss of sight in one eye and a recessed eye socket. Schneider was knocked unconscious and suffered a concussion.

One male attacker knocked one of the girls unconscious with a skateboard, while another was stomped as she lay unconscious.

According to both victims and witnesses, the attackers hurled anti-white slurs while beating the girls.

And to add insult to injury, on the day that four of the defendants were being released from custody to the comfort of their homes, Hyman was undergoing a seven-hour surgery to repair her shattered eye socket — the outcome of which is still unknown.

The rationale for giving probation, say Juvenile Court officials, is to promote rehabilitation — something presumably a harsher sentence couldn’t have accomplished? But, how can rehabilitation occur, when the parents and the teens have remained defiant, without any remorse.

Yes, they admit they were there but claim somebody else beat the girls. OK, I get it. They’re not guilty of an ugly assault; they’re actually, uh, victims.

But then the whole affair is bizarre, lodged squarely in the midst of the politics of racial identity. What if the scenario were reversed? For instance, what if the pack of black thugs who attacked these girls was white skinheads and their victims had been several young black youths?

Would the national media have virtually ignored the incident? Would every nationally known black leader have swooped into town, set up an encampment at the Long Beach Courthouse and demanded justice for the victims?

Wouldn’t everybody from the mayor to the governor and beyond be demanding that the judge send a message against racism? And, what if a judge handed down a sentence of probation for the skinhead scumbags — would the city have escaped massive “social justice” marches, with its leaders lustily yelling, “No justice, no peace”? Get the picture?

Some of us still remember the ugly incident on the first day of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, you know, the one where white trucker Reginald Denny was set upon by several black thugs and nearly killed, simply for being white and in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some excused the actions of the thugs who beat Denny, saying it was misdirected black rage, but in no way was it racism.

Fast forward that tape to 2007, and we find Farai Chedeya, a black National Public Radio show host, saying shortly after the Long Beach attacks that “… some people say black folks cannot be racists because the root of the issue is power.”

What a convenient dodge. I wonder if that came to the mind of the victim as a black thug broke a skateboard over her head, sending her into unconsciousness. Now that’s power.

Joe Hicks is the former executive director of the L.A. chapter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He is currently vice president of Community Advocates Inc. and a KFI-AM talk show host.

In the ‘hood, the treat is no trick


If you’re one of those people that took the kids out on Halloween, there’s a good chance you avoided Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods like Pico-Robertson.

Because believe me, they don’t trick or treat in the hood.

This is not a polite refusal to partake in something foreign, like, say, some ultra-Orthodox might respectfully abstain from celebrating Thanksgiving. No, this is an assertive, purposeful rejection. Halloween is seen as the crowning achievement of secular emptiness. You celebrate, glorify, trivialize and idolize something as deep and holy as death, and in return, your kids get to gorge on KitKats and day-glow jawbreakers.

In the same way that the hustle and bustle on the day before Shabbat gives you a good sense of what the hood is about, the eerie silence on the night of Halloween tells you just as much. There might be a wild Mardis Gras-type carnival happening a mile up on Santa Monica Boulevard, but in the hood, the only costumes you’ll see are on the Chasids coming out of Chabad.

In fact, several of my neighbors use Halloween to get a good deal on Purim costumes. Apparently, Halloween has become, in retail terms, bigger than Christmas. So on the day after Halloween, you can get some real bargains on costumes, even some that you can use a few months later on Purim.

The analogy with Purim is instructive. On the surface, they share a certain symmetry: Lots of silly fun around crazy costumes. But you don’t need to dig too deep to see that in many ways, they are polar opposites. While Halloween itself has a religious ancestry — a day certain Christian groups would celebrate “all the saints” — today it is devoid of any spirituality, and has evolved (devolved?) into an occasion to celebrate ghosts, goblins, witches, skeletons and other symbols of evil and death.

Because American commerce can mainstream just about anything, by the time it filters down to our children, Halloween becomes a commercial extravaganza where parents can “bond” with their kids while picking out a $49 costume at Kmart, and then go trick or treating for simple carbs on local streets. In America, even the ghoulish can be made to appear wholesome.

Purim is harder to trivialize, because the rituals themselves are so connected to the religious component. The bad guy is not a spooky mystery — he’s got a name (Haman). The religious text that we read on Purim (the Megillah), tells us to turn the tables on our enemies after our victory, so we put on costumes to look like them. We put on great parties because the text also instructs us to partake in “feasting and gladness.” And to top it off, even the candy and the munchies (mishloach manot) that we exchange with each other and donate to the poor have a direct connection to the holy texts.

In other words, while Halloween revels in the fear and symbols of death, Purim celebrates the holiness and glory of survival. Is it any wonder, then, that observant Jews would rather wait for Purim to have a costume party with their kids?

My problem is that until I moved to the hood a few months ago, my family and I were living in what could be called the Halloween capital of the world (West Hollywood). So naturally, a few weeks ago the kids started asking about our trick or treating plans for this year. It wasn’t easy to give them an answer.

I must admit, though, that I’m conflicted on this subject. As a grown up, I find the Halloween rituals empty and idiotic, not to mention unhealthy. But there’s the problem of this little voice that reminds me of how much I loved it when I was a kid — how my brother and I would spend weeks preparing our Batman and Robin costumes, and how we got such a kick walking with my father (an Orthodox Jew) in the neighborhood instead of doing our homework, and then getting free candy!

So what do I tell the kids? Real Jews don’t trick or treat? Wait until Purim? I know you did it last year but now we’re in a new neighborhood?

I talked with some perfectly coiffed frum supermoms of the hood, and just as I suspected, they all said pretty much the same thing: Halloween is a non-issue. Nobody tricks or treats around here; it’s a vile, dumb holiday. (Hey, who am I to argue?)

A few days before Halloween, though, I got an inkling that my new neighborhood might still, somehow, come to my rescue.

Lately my kids have been spending a lot of time with new friends they have made on our block. On the Shabbat before Halloween, I overheard one of my kids bring up the subject of trick or treating with these new observant friends, and I saw how they got virtually no reaction. I think this might have had an effect, since the subject didn’t come up for the next 24 hours — but I was certainly not out of the woods.

So I conspired with a supermom who is helping me plan a Halloween Seduction Prevention program for the big night. First, a weeknight play date (that’s a big deal), not too much fuss on the homework (also a big deal), roasting kosher marshmellows from Pico Glatt in the backyard (memories of summer, a really big deal), and, for the piece de resistance, TV watching on a weeknight! And if things get desperate, maybe we’ll do an art project and make some scary masks.

By the time you read this, the big night of ghosts and goblins will have come and gone, and I will know if the kids bought my Halloween hood alternative.

Either way, I can’t wait for Purim.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Noah is full of animal crackers


Animal Crackers

This week’s Torah Portion is Noach. We learn that Noah had to build a massive ark (aka a really BIG boat) because the floods were coming. Two of every animal (one male, one female) had to make it onto the boat, otherwise there would be no more of that animal in the world — the story goes that that’s why we don’t have unicorns today. Pretend you are Noah or his wife and you are making a list of animals. Put what the animal is called in the right blank. To check your answers, visit scroll to the bottom of this page.

1) Male Cat ______
2) Female Cat ______

3) Male Deer ______
4) Female Deer _______

5) Male Fox______
6) Female Fox _______

7) Male Goat _______
8) Female Goat ______

9) Male Horse ______
10) Female Horse ________

11) Male Sheep _____
12) Female Sheep _______

13) Male Swan _____
14) Female Swan _____

Words to choose from:

a) Billy, b) Buck, c) Cob, d) Doe, e) Dog, f) Ewe, g) Mare, h) Nanny, I) Pen, j) Queen, k) Ram, l) Stallion, m) Tom, n) Vixen

Kein v’ Lo:

Ghosts

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. While some Jews do not participate in Halloween because of its Christian and pagan origins, at this time of year it’s hard to ignore that there are a lot of monsters, witches and pumpkins all over town. This month’s Kein v’ Lo looks at ghosts and spirits and examines whether we believe in such things.

The Kein Side:

  • It is believed that the souls of our loved ones continue to watch over us after they have died. This is why sometimes if you go to the home of someone who has died, you can still feel his or her presence.
  • If ghosts and evil spirits weren’t real, then why would some people be so superstitious about protecting themselves from the “evil eye” by wearing a hamsah (amulet), saying “kein ayin hora” or breaking a glass at a wedding to scare off evil spirits?

The Lo Side:

  • When people say they “see” a ghost, that cannot be. It is the soul that is supposed to remain, so there is nothing to see. Basically, ghost sightings have never been proven.
  • Science disputes the existence of ghosts. They are not the spirits of the dead, but traces that have been left behind because of really strong emotional connections.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to Kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Answers:

1m, 2j, 3b, 4d, 5e, 6n, 7a, 8h, 9l, 10g, 11k, 12f, 13c, 14i

Hey Kids!


The Fire Within

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead, Harry. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right … and what is easy.”

These are the words of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore in the film “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth film based on the popular series of books by J.K. Rowling, which opens Nov. 18.

FYI: In Israel, the latest film is called “Harry Potter Ugevia Ha’Aish.”

Will you be seeing it?

Stump Your Parents

“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” introduces a slew of new words and concepts. Quiz your parents, grandparents and older siblings and see if they know what is true and what is false. Are they as smart as Harry’s gal pal Hermione Granger or as clueless as Harry’s cousin, Dudley Dursley?

1) An auror is another name for the captain of the Quiddich team.

2) The only person to survive the Avada Kedavra, the killing curse, is Harry Potter.

3) The Death Eaters are the supporters of Lord Voldemort.

4) Gillyweed allows a person to fly.

5) The Floo Network is the No. 1 television channel in the wizarding world.

Bonus question: What three schools are in the Triwizard Tournament?

Jr. Sherlocks

Thanks to following eagle-eyed readers who spotted the error on last week’s Hey Kids: Ariel Weinreich, Ilan Elkabetz, Renina Michelson and Mimi Erlick.

Halloween Yes or No?

Mimi Erlick, 10, says: “It’s a pagan holiday, yes, but it’s turned into a Hallmark holiday and it doesn’t have much of a pagan theme anymore. I think that Jewish children should do Halloween. It’s not bad anymore.” Mimi went trick or treating in her neighborhood with two other Jewish families.

Kein v’ Lo

This section of the page will be a way for you to sound off on an issue. This month’s kein v’ lo (yes and no) is about Harry Potter. How does Harry Potter remind us about Jewish values? Is Harry Potter a positive influence for young Jews? Here’s some stuff to think about:

The Kein Side:

• Hogwarts is like a yeshiva where wizarding students go to learn. Learning there is hard work but important. That’s the way school should be.

• Harry’s nemesis Voldemort (aka “He Who Must Not Be Named”) is like Amalek, the evil force that tries to destroy the Jews in every generation. So the idea of an evil force makes sense for Jews.

• Harry bravely supports his friends and teachers, especially Dumbledore (who is like a rosh yeshiva, the wise and good leader of a school).

The Lo Side:

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• The Torah forbids magic.: “When you come into the land … there shall not be found among you any one who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or who uses divination, or a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things are an abomination to God” (Deuteronomy 18:9-13).

• Harry Potter is set in a Christian world — with Christmas trees and Christmas presents. In the books and movies, it’s like other religions don’t even exist.

• The books are too violent, and Harry’s character sets a bad example by trying to solve dangerous problems himself, when he should call for the help of adults.

• Hogwarts and magic may seem like fun, but they aren’t real. Kids have to learn to value real life and real school. The real magic is how well you can live your life: how hard you work, how well you treat people – without using magic.

You debate, you decide. Remember, before you offer your opinion think hard about the other points of view. We want to know what you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line Kein V’Lo: Harry Potter.

Answers to Stump Your Parents

1) False (an auror is a wizard specializing in detecting and detaining dark wizards); 2) True; 3) True; 4) False (Gillyweed enables a person wizard to breathe underwater); 5) False (the Floo Network are navigable fireplaces); Bonus: Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons.

Hey Kids!


It’s Your World

Welcome to your page in The Jewish Journal. The last Friday of every month belongs to the kids of Jewish Los Angeles. In honor of the New Year and new look of this page, we want you to come up with a new name for it. Please send your ideas to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line New Name. We’ll pick the best one and make it the new name for the kids page (and you’ll get all the credit).

Kein v’ Lo

The Kein Side:

Many children use the evening to collect tzedakah for different charities instead of asking for candy — or they donate the candy to a food bank. For most people, the holiday has nothing to do with religion or real witches or saints. It’s more of a chance to go out with friends, have fun and decorate. Besides, it’s a great way to meet your neighbors.

The Lo Side:

It is a pagan holiday (a night when people believed the spirits of the dead would contact the living) and a Catholic holiday (candles are lit Nov. 1 on All Saints’ Day to honor the dead), but Jews are not supposed to celebrate non-Jewish holidays. Asking strangers for candy is rude; and tricks are mean. Jewish children have Purim as a day to dress up.

What do you think. E-mail your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with the subject line

Kein V’Lo: Halloween. We’ll publish your opinions next month.

Stump Your Parents

Enjoy these facts about autumn — test your parents, grandparents and older siblings and see who gets the right answers first.

1) Which Hebrew month do we welcome in November?

2) How many weeks of autumn are there?

3) What is the full moon that follows the beginning of autumn?

4) What were the first jack-o-lanterns made from?

5) Who first suggested using Daylight Saving Time?

6) Why do the leaves change color?

7) In the Torah Portion Noach (which we read Nov. 5), God put up what object to show that everything was OK after the flood?

Answers: 1) Cheshvan; 2) Thirteen; 3) Harvest Moon; 4) Turnips; 5) Ben Franklin; 6) As the leaves lose chlorophyll (which makes them green) their other pigments
are exposed.; 7) A Rainbow

Yeladim


In Parshat Vayera, God does a math trick with names: He takes the letter yud (h)out of sarai’s name. Then he divides it equally. Look at the chart below to discover how much the letter yud is worth in gematria. Now, what two letters does God come up with and where does he put them? (clue: Avram and Sarai’s names are transformed.)

Avram…..hra
Sarah…..ovrct

Avraham…vra
Sarai…..orct
Here comes Halloween.
Do we, as Jews, celebrate this holiday or not ?
Well, it’s based on a pagan holiday. But even some Jewish holidays are based on pagan agricultural festivals.

Some Jews don’t celebrate it, but others believe Halloween has become an American Holiday and we can just have fun!

Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to kids@jewishjournal.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!

Trick or Treat?


I asked my long-time friend, "Are you a strict father?"

"Not really," he said, "but I wouldn’t let my daughter out for Halloween."

I asked why he had punished her.

"She wasn’t punished. I just couldn’t let her celebrate a Christian holiday."

Actually, Halloween is a 3,000-year-old Celtic holiday, which means it was invented long before Christianity. When the Christians gained power, they couldn’t get the Celts to forget about Halloween so they made a few changes and adopted it as their own.

"Halloween is a holiday for candy lovers," I told him. "And mimes." (A mime once told me that Halloween was the one night of the year he does not paint his face and speak to strangers.)

"It’s a Christian holiday," he said quietly but firmly.

Then I remembered something from our childhood: "I went trick-or-treating with you!"

"I didn’t know about it then," he admitted.

"Why not?"

"My parents never told me."

My best guess was that, as a child, he had mistakenly accepted and tasted about 1,000 pieces of Halloween candy.

Then I remembered something else from our childhood.

"Your uncle owned a candy factory," I said.

"The family candy factory had nothing to do with my parents allowing me to go out trick-or-treating," he insisted.

I began to fear for his 9-year-old daughter.

"The other Jewish kids will make fun of her," I said.

"Not all Jewish kids go out for Halloween," he retorted.

That much was growing clear. I had started out asking about his relationship with his little girl but now we were talking about which holidays were right or wrong in 21st century America.

"What about Thanksgiving?" I asked.

"Thanksgiving is fine," he replied. "And you’re invited."

"When I read about Thanksgiving in elementary school — and you were sitting next to me — I came across a bunch of Pilgrims," I continued, dismissing for the moment his wife’s sweet potato pie. "Pilgrims and Indians. Not one Jewish family in the bunch. Compare that to the Last Supper, where there were plenty of Jewish folks at the table."

"Thanksgiving isn’t a religious holiday," he claimed.

"Giving thanks to the Lord in prayer is what: nonreligious? A holiday for atheists, Pilgrims and Indians?"

I tried to explain to him that while religious holidays help preserve cultures within American society, national holidays relate to all Americans. Sharing holidays keeps us together, along with television.

"I don’t want my daughter relating to witches and ghosts," he explained.

The Celts believed that, on Halloween, the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead became so thin that spirits could pass through in either direction.

"Halloween used to be about witches and ghosts," I reminded. "Back when they arrested people for writing down their dreams."

"Suppose, one day," he argued, quietly but firmly, "Christmas isn’t known as a Christian holiday? Do you go out and get a Christmas tree?"

"Anything that’s still got strong religious meaning," I decided, "is a religious holiday. Some folks have Easter; some have Passover. Every U.S. citizen has Independence Day, Groundhog Day and April Fools’ Day."

"And your favorite one is …?" he asked.

"Independence Day, naturally."

"Because of your great patriotism."

"And the extra day at the beach."

"So you wouldn’t get a Christmas tree in, say 30 years, when religion is hardly mentioned?"

Christmas — reduced to a marketing holiday?

"In 30 years, the Chinese New Year and Cinco de Mayo may be the two biggest holidays. And, if traffic allows," I revealed, "I’ll be visiting my family."

"We’re moving to Israel," he countered.

"By the time you move to Israel," I told my friend, "they may be celebrating holidays they share with their Palestinian neighbors."

I knew that wasn’t likely, but maybe it helped convince him to stay and help his fellow American Jews figure out what’s right and what’s wrong.

Meanwhile, whenever a child knocks on my door and says, "Trick or treat!" he or she is going to get some candy, not a lecture.


Don Rutberg is a USC grad who writes and teaches in Philadelphia. His latest book, “A Writer’s Survival Guide,” will be published in 2004 by Pale Horse Publishing.

For the Kids


Book It!

Sure, it’s Halloween. But, in two weeks, we’ve got
something better for you howl about. Come to the Jewish Children’s Book Festival
on Sunday, Nov. 16, 10 a.m.-2:30p.m., at Mount Sinai Memorial Park and
Mortuaries in Simi Valley. For more info call (866) 266-5731, or visit www.jewishchildrensbookfest.org .

Congratulations

To Sammy Schultz, 7, of Los Angeles, and Julia Oxman, 8, for solving the Yom Kippur and Sukkot riddles. They both win gift certificates. Honorable mention goes to Elan Benor, 10, of Northridge.

To Cory Feinberg for solving the Five Books of Moses. He wins a gift certificate. To Zac Brodney and Kalman Tamarin for solving the Sukkot quiz and to Elan Benor for finding 57 words from the word Deuteronomy — my favorites were rodeo, redeem and meteor.

ADL: December Dilemma


‘Tis the season when children in public schools face the December Dilemma. As part of a classroom lesson, Jewish youngsters may be given Christmas trees to color. During holiday music programs, they may find themselves acting in a nativity scene or singing “Silent Night.” Santa Claus may show up on campus, passing out candy canes and asking them what they want for Christmas.

Nor is the dilemma confined to Jews. Muslims and others must contend with the fact that from Halloween onward, many classrooms are focused almost entirely on the upcoming Christmas season. Even when teachers try to be ecumenical, they sometimes stumble. Instead of Christmas trees, they may pass out dreidel shapes to Jehovah’s Witnesses whose religion forbids them to celebrate any holidays at all.

At this tricky time of year, when everyone’s sensitivities are on high alert, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) looks out for flagrant abuses in public school classrooms. The ADL circulates a clearly-worded set of guidelines entitled “Religion in the Public Schools,” which spell out legal decisions pertaining to the separation of church and state. Organizational representatives are also ready to meet with teachers and principals to discuss specifics. ADL makes clear that the practice of religion during the school day violates the Constitution. It is, however, permissible to teach about holiday observances in a way that is neutral, historical, educational, and age-appropriate. Although some supposedly non-religious symbols of Christmas — like Christmas trees and Santa Claus — are legally acceptable as classroom décor, the ADL encourages a balanced approach that helps all children feel included.

ADL’s Western States Associate Counsel Tamar Galatzan fields phone calls from anxious parents of many backgrounds. Galatzan is well aware that the issues raised are thorny ones. Many Jewish parents, for instance, are satisfied if they can go into their child’s classroom and explain the rituals of Chanukah. Clearly, talk about latkes and gelt poses no problem. But what about displaying a menorah and describing the miracle of the oil? Last year, after a Jewish parent’s Chanukah presentation, a Christian mother demanded equal time to explain to the children the religious significance of Christmas.

On the job, Galatzan deals with several types of educators. Young teachers, fearful of giving offense, sometimes try to avoid holiday references altogether. Veterans may resist any changes to time-honored lesson plans, saying, “I’ve been teaching this lesson for 30 years and no one’s had a complaint.”

Galatzan emphasizes that most school personnel mean well. She recalls visiting a school in San Bernardino County where a prominent display illustrated how Christmas is celebrated around the world. One label read, “In Israel, it is called Chanukah.” When Galatzan pointed out that Chanukah is hardly the Israeli name for Christmas, the school principal was genuinely surprised. It’s important, feels Galatzan, to recognize that such errors are sometimes made “out of ignorance, not mean-spiritedness.”

Galatzan urges parents to be vigilant, and to contact the ADL when they have serious grievances. She also hints that it’s wise not to be too thin-skinned about such things as a Christmas tree in a classroom. She suggests that parents choose their battles carefully, perhaps saving their ammunition for more blatant forms of religious coercion.

The Anti-Defamation League can be reached at 310-446-8000.

The October Dilemma


For me, the October dilemma consists of finding Halloween candy to pass out to trick-or-treaters that I will not eat, no matter how desperate or distraught I become.

For my children, the challenge is creating peer and parent-approved costumes that will also work for Purim.

But for many Jewish parents, who associate the holiday with demons, death and wickedness, as well as with Christianity, Halloween is problematic.

My husband, Larry, and I allow our children to trick or treat, albeit with a minimum of fanfare and fuss. For us, a look at Halloween’s history demystified most of its objectionable aspects.

The word Halloween comes from a corrupted, contracted form of All Hallows Eve, which precedes All Hallows Day, created by Pope Boniface IV in the seventh century to honor saints and martyrs. But the origins of the holiday itself go back to the fifth century B.C.E. to Samhain, the Celtic New Year, which was celebrated on Oct. 31, officially the last day of the year.

On Samhain, the curtain dividing the realms of the living and the dead was thought to be at its thinnest, allowing spirits to spend this night visiting the world of the living and perhaps seeking bodies to possess. And allowing fortune-tellers an excellent opportunity for divination.

The Celts, primarily the adults, dressed in costume to avoid being recognized by the spirits. They extinguished their home fires and lit a large, communal bonfire, a sacred conflagration, which they then used to relight their own hearth fire, symbolically protecting themselves against the approach of another ominous winter. Some sources say they also sacrificed animals.

By 43 B.C.E., after the Romans had conquered much of the Celts’ territory, Samhain had become commingled with two Roman festivals. One honored Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees, and the likely harbinger of the custom of apple bobbing. Centuries later, medieval Christian authorities transformed the pagan celebration into the church-sanctioned holiday of All Hallows Day.

In 1000 A.D., the church designated Nov. 2 as All Souls Day to honor the dead. On this day, poor people in parts of Europe went begging door-to-door for pastries, known as soul cakes, and in return promised to pray for the dead relatives of the donors. This tradition is considered the forerunner of trick-or-treating.

Later, European immigrants brought Halloween to America, where it was celebrated in various parts of the country, with various degrees of enthusiasm and various permutations of Celtic, Roman and Christian customs. But Irish immigrants, fleeing Ireland’s potato famine of 1846, greatly popularized the holiday. And by the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween was a completely secularized, community-centered American holiday.

The truth is that holidays evolve. And while Samhain seems barbaric and sinister to us, the autumnal rite actually helped a primitive people make sense of a scary and inexplicable world.

Today, Halloween has as much relevance to Samhain and All Hallows Eve as Mother’s Day celebrates incest, revenge and the Christian Church. And that’s exactly my point. Mother’s Day, according to many sources, can be traced back to an ancient Greek holiday honoring Rhea, the mother of the gods, who married her brother, the Titan Cronos, and then plotted revenge to save her children. Later, the holiday honored the mothers of England and, in Europe, the Roman Church.

So, should we Jews boycott Mothers Day because of its pagan and Christian origins? Tell that to my mother and mother-in-law, who would forgo a new blouse and family brunch.

Judaism is a life-enhancing religion. But our holidays also reflect a dark side. In ancient times, on the three pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot, Pesach and Shavuot, we sacrificed animals on the Temple altar in Jerusalem.

And look at Purim, a personal favorite, to which Halloween is often so unfavorably compared. While the holiday commemorates our near-brush with genocide, its actual historical basis is disputed. And contrary to Judaism’s prohibition against premarital sex and intermarriage, Esther was being prepared not for a beauty contest, as we tell our children, but for a sexual liaison with King Ahasuerus, to be relegated to the harem if not selected queen.

In averting the decree to murder the Jews, the Megillah tells us that 75,000 anti-Semites in the province were massacred, along with several hundred in the city. Plus, the Megillah commands us to get so drunk that we can’t distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” Hardly an admirable exhortation.

I’m not a Halloween advocate. I’m also adamantly opposed to Jews celebrating intrinsically religious holidays such as Christmas and Easter. I just want to point out that holidays, like people, are complicated and not always unadulterated. But unless Halloween falls on Shabbat, I don’t see where trick-or-treating, in a home where Jewish life flourishes, compromises a family’s Jewish values.

Not every holiday or happening has to be moral and meaningful, nurturing or nourishing. Occasionally fun is the operative objective. Halloween, as I see it, is a roller coaster ride at an amusement park, a Jacqueline Susann novel, a “Lethal Weapon” movie. It’s no more healthful than the candy my kids collect. Or maybe it is.

After all, Halloween provides an opportunity to spend time together as a family. To meet our neighbors and explore the neighborhood. To teach our kids to say “thank you.” And to support the American economy in this $2.5 billion commercial fund raiser for candy companies and costume manufacturers.

Plus, as my friend Jody Kussin, a child psychologist, maintains, dressing up in costume allows a child a chance to safely explore and experience a variety of personae, an important step in developing his or her own unique sense of self.

So, all things considered, once a year, for some harmless secular fun and a serious sugar high, Halloween can be a treat.


Jane Ulman lives in Encino with her husband and four sons.

Halloween Lessons


Halloween celebrations and trick-or-treating: just clean fun or forbidden anti-Jewish activities? Like most issues in the Jewish community, it depends on who you ask. And not surprisingly, a Jewish school’s stand on Halloween observance may not be shared by the students or their parents.

Dr. George Lebovitz, headmaster of Kadima Hebrew Academy, a Conservative day school in Woodland Hills, felt so strongly about the issue that he sent home a full-page description of the Jewish attitude toward Halloween, together with a photocopy of the World Book Encyclopedia entry detailing the origins of Halloween as an ancient sacrificial festival. The Druids lit huge bonfires and burned crops, animals and possibly humans as sacrifices. Eventually, the medieval church transformed Halloween into a Christian holiday.

Lebovitz prefaced his handout with the school’s policy, “Kadima does not demand or require any practices of you at home,” but went on to take a strong stand against Halloween observance, noting that the Torah warns us not to imitate religious practices of other people. “We want to teach our children to give and not take,” he emphasized.

Lebovitz concedes, however, that “a lot, though not most” of his students will be trick-or-treating this year. Richard Posalski, father of a fourth grader at Kadima, received the handout, but still plans to take his daughter trick-or-treating Saturday night. “It’s fun!” Posalski says with a smile.

“My kids go to shul pretty regularly and go trick-or-treating too. It could be thought of as inconsistent, but without giving up your Jewish identity, there are certain concessions you make living in a non-Jewish environment. I don’t think we’re being hypocritical, just inconsistent.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Ronald, director of education at Kol Tikvah, a Reform synagogue in Woodland Hills, says that his school doesn’t deal with Halloween at all, although he personally believes that “Halloween has no place in a Jewish setting.”

“Living in a secular society,” Ronald says, “I don’t think it’s the end of the world if kids do some trick-or-treating and dress up in costumes. I’d rather see them dress up on Purim. Our position is no position one way or the other.”

Over the hill at another Reform religious school — Temple Akiba in Culver City — Miriam Hamrell, director of religious education, initially takes a strong stand against Halloween celebration. “We don’t celebrate it at all here in school,” she says emphatically. She stresses that the school has no Halloween decorations and does not allow costumes. She says the school discourages trick-or-treating, noting that it has become a safety issue.

“But,” Hamrell says, “we let the children do whatever is their family tradition.” She pauses and adds, “You don’t want the child to feel out of place if everyone else is going. You don’t want a kid to feel like an oddball.” Hamrell assumes that most Temple Akiba children will be out in a costume on Halloween eve.

Rifke Lewis, a Temple Akiba parent, has a different take. “I am opposed to trick-or-treating because it’s insensitive, it is rude and it teaches wrong values,” Lewis says. “It says you have a right to demand a treat or else you will trick. You have a right to beg for what you don’t need. You have a right to interrupt people. When I had babies it was infuriating. They’d just about fall asleep, then the doorbell would ring.”

But even some of David Miller’s third- and fourth-grade students from the Orthodox Harkham Hebrew Hillel Academy in Beverly Hills will be out ringing doorbells after Shabbat ends Halloween eve. Miller notes that every year the school’s educational director, Rabbi Peretz Scheinerman, makes a statement condemning Halloween observance. Still a small percentage of students will go trick-or-treating, but will discard the non-kosher goodies.

Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy traditionally sponsors a movie night on Halloween, to provide a “kosher” and safe alternative to trick-or-treating. Miller believes that, especially because of the religious underpinnings on Halloween, Jews should treat it as just a night like any other. His kids stay home. When his elementary school-age son and daughter were asked if they minded not trick-or-treating, they answered with a resounding “No!”

But what happens in families where the children and parents are at odds over Halloween observances? Dr. Ron Wolfson, vice president and director of the Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life at the University of Judaism and author of “The Art of Jewish Living,” states that each family must make a decision about what to do and how to deal with the subject. He, for example, allows his children to trick-or-treat, though not on Shabbat.

Families, Wolfson states, are often called upon to negotiate the dual identities we have as Jews and as Americans. He says that if a family has little traditional observance at home, when the children are faced with Halloween or Christmas, the parents will lose the battle with the kids. “But if a home is filled with Shabbat every week, and Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, and Pesach, and Purim, and Chanukah, and you don’t allow your kids to go trick-or-treating, then they’re not so bereft.”

Kadima Hebrew Academy’s Dr. Lebovitz says that nixing Halloween celebrations can give parents the opportunity to address the issue of peer pressure and not going along with the crowd. However, the bottom line, Lebovitz feels, is being able to tell one’s children “No.”

“In many cases the children rule the home which shouldn’t be the case,” Lebovitz says. “[In the case of trick-or-treating] you’re going and demanding something, and if they don’t give you something, there are dire consequences. That’s not the Jewish way. In Judaism, anything that is tainted with religious practices from another religion we go out of our way to avoid. To say Halloween has no religious overtones is absurd. If a parent can’t say no to this, what are they going to say no to?”

It’s a Little Tricky


Once again we are faced with the annual dilemma of what to doabout Halloween. Should we let the kids “trick or treat” or not? Weknow that Halloween is not a Jewish holiday; that is not the problem.We celebrate Thanksgiving and Presidents Day, both American holidayswhich reflect good values. Halloween, on the other hand, does notreflect a value system that we would like to pass on to our children.It focuses on taking, greed and violence, not to mention theconsequences, a nasty trick, played on those who refuse to give.

My children attend a Jewish day-school where no attention is paidto the holiday. But we still experience the holiday in our suburbancommunity where party stores are transformed into haunted houses,street corners are dawned with pumpkin patches and everyone istalking about what they are going to be on Oct. 31.

In our home, where we believe the influence on values isstrongest, we play it down. No pumpkins or carving, no decorationsare displayed and very little attention is placed on costumes. Weeven relate the collecting of candy to the value of tzedakah(righteousness) by having the kids donate ten percent of their candyto a charity.

To counterbalance, we make a huge deal of all other Jewishholidays, particularly Purim. While we will spend money on a Purimcostume, anything laying around the house will have to do forHalloween. We give gifts, have lots of treats and host Purim parties.

Another subtle message is found in the garage. There, you can finda box designated for each Jewish holiday filled with paraphernalia.The boxes overflow; Passover and Hanukkah require two boxes each. Themessage is clear: we have a Purim box, but there is no box forHalloween.

And yet, we still struggle. I admit, although we move closer andcloser to our yiddishkeit, we are still assimilated.

This year presents us with something that can compete withHalloween — Shabbat! The perfect solution. The children loveShabbat. It’s our favorite time of the week — family, friends, goodfood, yummy desserts! What could be better? They’ll never missHalloween. So here is the plan: We are having a Shabbat Party. Theinvitation goes like this:

It’s a Shabbat Party

You’ll want to be there

But, regular clothes you mustn’t wear

Come dressed in a costume

be creative and fun

At the end of the dinner

We’ll pick the best one

The theme is of course JEWISH

be it hero, holiday, or food

Base your costume on your mood!

We’ll do the dinner, dessert,

treasure hunt, the whole thing

there’s just one thing you can bring —

A can for SOVA

will make us all smile

So come on October 31st

and party a while!!

At 5:30 p.m…

please knock on our door

We’ll light candles and a whole lot more.

Well, the response so far, a big hit! They can’t wait. My8-year-old daughter has announced she wants to dress as Hava, thedaughter in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Would this have been her firstchoice for a Halloween costume? It took Shabbat to help us through.

Risa Munitz-Gruberger is associate director of The WhizinInstitute.