Halloween is not a Jewish Holiday – its a holiday which I will leave as described by Wikipedia
As Orthodox Jews growing up in Brooklyn in the 60’s and 70’s – there was a melting pot which all people – mostly, in those days, Italian, Irish, Jewish – would follow some holidays ignoring the actual meaning of them so they could partake. My father told me stories of wearing green ties on St. Patricks Day, or acknowledging Italians on Columbus Day. He made it a point to always show reverence and respect to all people. These days there is no melting pot as it once was known. Xenophobia is course of action adopted to protect the close knit families within each sect. Indians, Arabs, Jews, Asians and the remnant of the Italians and the Irish who still make up a decent size of the population in our area of Brooklyn. But…
There was a time when everyone celebrated Halloween. The streets would be filled with kids from all religions and countries – wearing those plastic masks and carrying a bag filled, hopefully, with treats.
There was a time when we could walk through the streets wearing masks and costumes and not draw the attention of the NSA.
There was a time when I was growing up when my brothers and sister would cram into our car and head on down to Avenue U and east 12th street. (Not really sure the name of the toy store – maybe someone can remind me?)
We would all run out to the store and it would be a mess of kids and parents shopping on what usually was a week before Halloween.
I remember, vaguely, being Popeye one Halloween when we lived on East 14th Street, in an apartment building between Kings Highway and Avenue R. On that block there were two or three other buildings on our side and across the way were some smaller buildings and then some attached homes all lined up. (I believe it’s the same set up still)
We would each get the chance to pick out our costume. The costumes would come in a small box. In my case, Popeye, came with a plastic mask with a string stapled to each side of the mask which we would place on our face with the rubber band string around our head to keep it in place. The string usually broke which would cause chaos and crying until we accepted it and moved on.
Popeye came with a pipe, small cork and plastic which would stay in my mouth as I acted out the part. I don’t remember if I walked around with a can of spinach – but that would have been a cool idea.
We would set out, first within our building, “Trick or treat?” some neighbors were nice and would give us loads of candy while others gave us butterscotch candy. Some gave us fruit, which we would throw away because of the myth of blades being planted within them.
When I think about Halloween I think about when we moved to east 2nd street; we would go trick or treating after school and try to avoid being egged. (raw eggs being thrown at us) We would come home, running from the bus, put on our costumes and go house to house – then to the buildings on the corner of east 2nd and avenue S.
We would come home and sort out the candy – non-kosher candy, fruits (with or without blades) and loose candy would go into the garbage. There were also the ones who would give us a dime, or some pennies. I remember putting together enough change to buy a wiffle ball or two.
I know I am romanticizing this – I am sure it was not always as much fun and filled with excitement as my memory tells me. As the the days become shorter and eventually, cooler – the turkeys are beginning to run away from the butchers and the Enteman pumpkin pies are arriving on the counters of the supermarkets – I become nostalgic. Hell, I am always nostalgic. Life is not a simple task and to me, nostalgia helps me deal with life’s complications.
So, if I close my eyes I can clearly remember coming home to my mom and what she served for dinner on each night. Lost in Space on the TV and homework on the floor.
If I close my eyes I can clearly see my Dad coming home with EggNog and Pumpkin pie. He would call out my name because he knew I enjoyed them as much as he did. Or maybe because i was still young enough to be excited by it. I guess I still am young enough to be excited by EggNog and Pumpkin pie – but it always tasted better coming from my dad.
I remember. I remember and I remember. As time gets crowded remembering always brings a sense of longing for a time when life was taken care of for me. When Daddy and Mommy were always there, no matter what. How I took it all for granted the way they stood tall and never made anything seem too overwhelming to handle. Food was always ready, love was always around me and I still have that Popeye pipe somewhere in the hoarded mess my wife allows me to keep in a box, in a closet somewhere.
I know my parents didn’t have it easy – I still marvel at how they made it all seem so easy. There was something about them that made us feel secure – loved and taken care of. There was something about their faith that God would always provide. I don’t know if I have that in me anymore – but I try, I try, I try.
We don’t celebrate Halloween anymore – the isolationist tactics of the ones who lead our neighborhood have proclaimed it unfit and not part of our faith. I understand; but I still remember that excitement of ringing a doorbell in anticipation. I would stand there for those seconds until the door would open and I would be hoping for that perfect treat, even if I usually did get a lot of fruit and loose candy, each time I rang that bell, the hope never faded away.