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Costume Guilt

Costume Guilt

My ultra-Orthodox ancestors, who clung to their faith in Ukraine despite all the adversity that entailed, are probably turning over in their graves. One of their descendants went to school today in a costume. On Erev Halloween.

Jacob has lived in dual worlds with inherent identity issues in the two years since we were forced to switch him from yeshiva to public school for educational reasons. He excludes himself from birthday parties and play dates, despite parents’ expressed willingness to accommodate his kashrut, because he evidently feels like an outsider. He doesn’t wear a kippa to school and as a result has a hard time wearing it at home. He takes off school for Jewish holidays and chol Hamoed, and has vacation days when all his shul friends are in school.

Now we have surely added to his identity issues with our reversal of last year’s stay-home-on-Halloween decision. The school’s costume parade is not trick or treating. It’s just a day to dress up silly instead of learning. I think events like these make kids more comfortable in their school environment. Hopefully it will help him bond more with his non-Jewish classmates and finally invite some of them over.

I may regret the decision, but for now I can live with the guilt. As Count Rapula (a hip-hop vampire) left for school I reminded him to check all the party candy for kashrut. And we have explained to him that Halloween has a Christian origin but in America it has been completely secularized.

There are always slippery slope questions. Does every assimilation begin with a small concession: Eating at a non-kosher restaurant but ordering fish; seeing a movie during the Nine Days. Eating milk soon after meat.

Is there a Chanukah bush in our future?

Not likely. Feel free to disagree, but I think there’s nothing outside the home that can compete with a strong sense of identity inside. As proof, I look to my in-laws, who let their two daughters trick or treat on Halloween. There was no prouder Jewish family than theirs in Marine Park, which at the time was a scarcely Jewish neighborhood. Not only a menorah but a bright Star of David made of blue light bulbs adorned their window during the holiday season, surrounded by neighbors’ Christmas lights. My father law was and remains a vital member of his congregation. Today both their daughters are raising proud Jewish families.

The battle for continuity is not decided in one skirmish. Next year, we’re hoping Jacob will be back to yeshiva for middle school, if his particular needs can be met.

Then Count Rapula can be the baddest, bling-wearing vampire at the Purim parade.

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