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October 31, 2017 by

My Post-Holocaust American Halloween

autumn leavesMy mom was a European-born Holocaust survivor, and trick-or-treating was out of the question for her children when my sisters and I were growing up in the late 1950s and early 60s. Halloween, to her, was based on some saint’s holiday twisted into an occasion for anti-Semitic pranks and graffiti. Some of our Jewish day school classmates were allowed to knock on doors collecting money for Unicef, as an acceptable Jewish alternative, transforming the holiday into an occasion for tzedaka, but this too was forbidden us. Of course some of our classmates were from families we thought permissive, and observed Halloween in full regalia, as an American holiday, though I don’t think they felt comfortable bragging about it in school. We were told we had Purim, a superior holiday, because it was an occasion for dressing up, but also for giving shalach manot, rather than taking things from people.

(Thanksgiving was a different matter. I always did like Thanksgiving, because it seemed to be an American holiday we Jews could unconflictedly celebrate. We didn’t have to be concerned about gathering family, as we were on Jewish holidays, because everyone can drive on Thanksgiving I’ve always loved when our Conservative congregation sings “America the Beautiful” instead of “Adon Olam” at the conclusion of services on the shabbat of Thanksgiving weekend.)

When we were young, my mother also refused to buy things made in Germany; towards the end of her life she loosened up about this, occasionally buying a pair of exceptionally comfortable shoes made there; and I enjoyed her–and my–more relaxed lack of anxiety attached to Halloween at the same time. )

(I have a lovely picture of my mom dressed up in her robe and a big red hat for Halloween at her assisted living place, with two of her great-grandchildren, who happened to be visiting, not in costume.) 


The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.