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Trick Or Treat

04/06/2015 08:11:00 AM


Trick Or Treat
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein

I take my kids trick-or-treating on Halloween. The truth is that you don't find many rabbis out on Halloween. Many of my congregants are surprised, even upset, to find their rabbi and his kids in costume celebrating a holiday that has definite Christian and pagan origins. And my kids certainly don't need any more candy in their daily diet. But something remarkable happens on Halloween, something I want my kids to see: On Halloween, we open our homes to one another. On Halloween, we come out from behind solid-core doors and dead-bolts locks and electronic burglar alarms. The doorbell is met, not with a gruff "Whose there?" and a suspicious eye in the peep-hole, but with a smile and sweets. On Halloween, and only on Halloween, we pretend we are a neighborhood again...families from disparate background who share common civic values, making life together in a common space. If only once a year, I want my kids to see what it's like when fear subsides, and people trust one another enough to open their doors.

In American cities today, fear of violence is a way of life. The evening newscast consist of a 20-minute recitation of the horrors of the day (followed by sports and weather): murder (only the really macabre killings get to TV... plain, vanilla homicide has to wait for the morning papers!), robbery, kidnapping, torture, etc. City living is an exercise in creative self-defense: For fear of mugging, you always know who is walking behind you. For fear of robbery, you never give anyone the time of day. For fear of being accosted, you never look a stranger in the eye. Watch the way parents cling to young children in the mall, or police them at the playground. You never let a child go anywhere alone. You never change a tire on the freeway. You never open you door to anyone without credentials. Protected by car alarms and home alarms, walled in and guarded by private security forces...we still fear. Here in Los Angeles, the most popular attraction is an artificial city street: shops and restaurants, diversions and amusements -- a shared common space patrolled by an army of private guards. "City Walk" created by Universal Studios ... the only street in town you can safely walk down on a summer's evening ... A designated fear-free zone.

The most destructive disease in America, wrote the New Republic magazine some years ago, is not AIDS, but "AFRAIDS" -- the pervasive fear of violence that steals away our freedom, our sense of community, our trust. What happens to a city when everyone is afraid of everyone else? What happens to us -- to our souls -- to our children, when fear of violence is constant and pervasive? Bombarded by a daily litany of baby-snatching, berserk gunmen, child molesters, drive-by shootings, school shootings, police shootings, what happens to us? what happens to our children?

This is a spiritual problem: Rabbi Neil Gillman of the Jewish Theological Seminary, writes in the journal, Sh'ma:

"I believe, first, that the function of religion is to discern and describe the sense of an ultimate order which pervades the universe and human experience. With that sense of an ordered world intact, we human beings also have a place, we belong, we feel ultimately 'at home'; without it, we are in exile, 'homeless' and our lives are without meaning. The whole purpose of religion, its liturgies, rituals and institutions, is to highlight, preserve and concretize this sense of cosmos, and to recapture it in the face of the chaos that hovers perpetually around the fringes of our lives as we live them within history."

What happens to us when our much of our lives is shaped by fear, by chaos, by violence?

As a father, as a rabbi, I am desperately worried. I am worried about the real dangers of living in a violent city. And I am equally worried about the impact of this sense of constant fear upon our souls and those of our children. Years ago we were instructed to drive defensively. Now we live defensively. We put up high walls and forbidding gates and let no one unfamiliar into our lives.

So we canvassed the neighborhood, and dragged home bagfuls of candies. And after three Snickers bars and a Tootsie Roll, the kids went to bed, to dream of a warm and loving community, where homes are open, and kids are cared for, and everyone dresses up as goblins and ghosts to have a good time. When they finally fell asleep, my wife and I dumped out all the candy on the kitchen table, to inspect each and every piece for needle marks and razor blades and the pernicious, poisonous tampering of some sick mind. God help us.

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Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780