Today was a Holiday for non-Jews, Halloween. Little children got dressed up in costumes and went door-to-door saying, “Trick or Treat,” for candy. I recall in my pre-Jewish existence watching a Garfield cartoon where the feisty feline discovered buried treasure on a deserted island, and had to relinquish it as a group of pirates–perhaps ghost pirates–came after him. I believe he even chose keeping Odie over the gold. It was a rare moment of selflessness for the lovably selfish cat. Of course, Halloween is only sort of a religious holiday. I don’t know if it is on the Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox calendars. Who knows what its real significance is? I’ve even heard people suggest witchcraft or devil worship. Nonetheless, I helped Mom–who is Christian–distribute candy to trick-or-treaters on our doorstep while we ate our supper and afterwards.
It is at times like this that I am reminded that though Jewish I live in an un-Jewish world. Even my family did not prepare me to enter the Jewish fold. Yet as a rabbi told me, “It is your tradition,” to have a tree up at Christmas and give gifts to relatives. So I “celebrate” the Holidays with my Christian family, down to Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I have even baked roasts for Christmas Dinner… and bought presents to go with it. Yet there is a line: I never enter a Church.
If I ever have a family of my own–a husband and children (they would have to be stepchildren or adopted children at this point)–than I would do things differently. First and foremost, I would try to marry a Jew, be he born or converted. Second, we would admit in our home we would celebrate only Jewish Holidays and Jewish Shabbat. Instead of Halloween, I would make costumes for Purim. Or so I hope. Thirdly, we would keep Kosher.
Yet for now I live with Mom, who is Christian. And it is fun to see the children in costumes. I sometimes feel like half of me is in the Jewish world and half in the Christian. When I worked at Breakthrough–a club for the mentally ill–I celebrated Christian Holidays with the members, but I also made it possible for the members to celebrate Jewish Holidays with me–the High Holidays, Hanukah and Pesach. I served traditional foods, sometimes played music, and told them about my Jewish self. And it was okay because I had been a part of their Christian self–as when exchanging White Elephant Gifts for Christmas or baking and decorating chocolate cupcakes for St. Valentine’s Day. (The latter, mind you, is now a secular Holiday according to the Vatican.)
At the same time, I make sure my Jewish self is alive by going to shul each week and keeping the Holidays. Being a Jew is not just about food (Kosher); its about that large extended family we call the Jewish people, one that stretches all the way to Israel. Apart from attendance, I occasionally have done things for the synagogue like make horseradish and charoset for Pesach. I am teaching a class–three sessions long–in January. I don’t know where that last will lead, if anywhere. And I am still working on my Hebrew, if haphazardly. I believe Judaism has helped me connect with other people and learn skills I never knew I had. More, it makes me feel loved.
All of this is important on Halloween, that decidedly un-Jewish day on the secular calendar. Jews don’t go out on that day in costume. Yet with my mother I can celebrate family and eat candies we bought for the children who visited our doorstep. The kids did get most of the loot.