Hallo-what?

Just a fair warning to you all, I’m about to be a huge party-pooper.

From my extensive research, (30 second Wiki search) I see that Halloween has mostly unknown roots which are most probably pagan. No reason to keep celebrating it there then. So you cant pin this one on religion.

Apart from all the pointless customs, (carving pumpkins? what now?) it seems to be the only ‘holiday’ which has absolutely no emphasis on family time or any sort of kindness, which means you also cant validate it with tradition, or family values or morality of any kind at all for that matter.

From what I can tell, it is basically an excuse for teenagers to be rowdy and vandalise private property, all in disguise so there is no responsibility or consequences involved.

When it comes to younger children, I’m not denying that dressing up is fun, but why the need for it on a national level? Surely we all have dressing up boxes, and enough of our kids insist on going out dressed as fairies and superheroes as it is? The emphasis on ‘scariness’ is for the younger kids just frightening, and for the older ones- a huge pressure on parents to let kids that are still young ‘one-up’ one another with more gory and violent costumes. Add into the mix more sugar than your child should be having in a month, and all you end up with is hyperactive and often traumatised children.

All this would probably not bother me anywhere near as much if it wasn’t for my final pet peeve of the evening, tangentially related to the sugar overdosing. WHY are we giving out chocolate and sweets to children just because they are knocking on our doors? Surely in this age of super parenting awareness we should at the very least have updated it to “Trick or Treat please?” The whole idea of “You give me something for nothing, or I’m going to do something evil” whether that be egg or tee-pee your house, or just shout an obscenity and run away, is truly abhorrent to me, even if it were apples we were giving away. But to be filling a child’s outstretched arms with unhealthy and over the top junk food which they will either stuff in their faces too fast for their parents to monitor, or barter and fight over with their siblings, is enough to scare me senseless even without the costumes.

 

Hocus Pocus: The only good thing to come out of Halloween in my opinion.

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Yizkor Etiquette (FYI)

There is a prayer in the Jewish holiday services, to honour the memory of people who are no longer with us. The widespread custom is that it is not said by people who still have both of their parents living. In many communities, those people do not even stay in the synagogue while the prayer is being said.

If I’m honest, I don’t really understand why that latter custom begun in the first place. When prayers are said by other parts of the community that I am not included in, (Men, Kohanim, those in mourning etc) I find it pretty self explanatory just to stand quietly and wait. After all, there is plenty of the prayer which is relevant to everyone, including a prayer for our soldiers and one for the victims of the Holocaust, something we all could benefit from being a part of. Surely it is an odd action in itself to get up and leave the building, basically abandoning everyone with the misfortune of having lost a parent or both.

Superstitious or not, I can however appreciate the reasoning behind it. And if your parents would rather you left the synagogue for those five minutes, or you yourself feel uncomfortable being there, then leave by all means.

But I do have a couple of small requests.

Given that we were standing having a perfectly normal interaction or sometimes even conversation 2 minutes previously, please don’t suddenly act like I have the plague. Yes, you’re being given a reminder that I once lost someone dear to me. I can understand your twinge of awkwardness. But not looking me in the eye? Stumbling over your words? Feeling the need to look apologetic as you leave the room? Bizarre. I do this four times a year, and sometimes it’s harder than other times, but I am in the same mood I was 4 seconds ago, I don’t suddenly need special treatment.

Which brings me to my second issue. The mad scramble for the door. This is different at different places, but in every congregation, there are the people who start gathering their bits and pieces together a good ten minutes before the guy shouts ‘Yizkor.’ They are standing by the door as soon as the Haftorah has finished, and they are pushing past everyone in their way to make it to the coridoor before heaven forbid, someone starts reading from their memorial booklet with them in the vicinity. What are you afraid of? That you might catch my dead parent virus? If its your custom to leave, then leave. In a normal manner. Exactly how you would regularly walk out a door, in a line, at a normal speed. Even if you disagree with me that it’s rude to leave in the first place, it’s certainly not polite to canter out the door virtually shouting silently that we shouldn’t confuse you with one of us.

I’m probably coming across kind of bitter, and it really isn’t that at all. And it certainly isn’t the fault of the people who leave. The custom should never have begun, because it feels to me almost anti what we stand for. Surely the very best part of Judiasm is that we are all accountable and responsible for one another, we share in each others joy and pain and we certainly don’t leave one of our own when we are in need. So where did this custom start, that we should segregate ourselves, even for twenty minutes a year into orphaned and not orphaned? Speaking for myself, and I only say one small portion of the service, it is a very lonely feeling to watch everyone hotfoot it out of the room at arguably one of my most vulnerable times. How must it be for the older members of the community who have so many dearly departed to remember and miss?

I don’t know where it started, and I hope that those who don’t mind either way, would start to make a point by staying in and standing quietly with their prayer books firmly closed. But even if you can’t, or simply don’t want to, I hope you’ll think twice before you push me out the way in your eagerness to leave.

When Superman isn’t available

Today was Purim, a Jewish festival where it has become customary to masquerade in fancy dress. I say become customary, it became customary at the end of the 15th Century. Nowadays it is more social law, especially when kids are involved.

C and I have never had any trouble getting in the festival spirit, and since we got married, as well as since we had R, we have always dressed up as a team. This year, we became superheroes.

Surely you mean you dressed up as superheroes? (I hear you ask.) No no, we actually were superheroes. We spent the afternoon with our parents, and from start to finish it was pretty difficult. We used our super human strength not to cause an almighty row, and our superhuman patience not to walk out. Next to the powers we displayed today, spidey senses are pretty tame.

Why can family holidays only go one of the two extremes? You either have the best time ever, and wonder why you dont see your family more often, or you leave wondering if you can possibly get out of next year already.

Today was the latter. And it was nothing new really. Nothing we couldnt have anticipated. Certainly nothing that we havent discussed to death after many trips to see the generation above us. And maybe our expectations are too high. People say that you either go one of two ways when it comes to being parents. You either repeat your own parents mistakes, or you are so aware of them that you make the huge effort to escape them and do the opposite.

Well, with God’s help, I would like to be able to promise my son the following:

  1. If you tell me something in confidence, I won’t announce it at the dinner table /  secretly tell the rest of the family and make them swear not to mention it. Until they do anyway.
  2. If we’re annoyed at each other, we will always try to discuss it calmly and out of your hearing.
  3. I wont volunteer you to do a million expensive or timewasting errands which you are capable of offering to do yourself if you so choose.
  4. I wont whisper childish jibes about you, just loud enough for you to hear, and then get angry when you ask me to stop.
  5. I wont ignore what you tell me, and then blame you for the results.

Do I really think my expectations were too high? No. Not really. And like I said, it was nothing we didnt expect, and with or without our costumes, the two of us have built up a fairly great arsenal of super-powered weaponry to deal with these battles. What makes me nervous is, there are now three of us.

And just as our little man has no idea he is in a costume today, he has no idea that today is anything different from any other. He doesnt expect any difference from the normal cloud of love and respect that he is constantly enveloped in. Spiderman or otherwise, he hasnt learned to find his superpowers, and I kind of hoped he wouldnt have to, at least not yet. Watching him today, disappearing into his Baby Einstein programme, and whining almost constantly to go home, I was so glad that he had no real understanding of what was going on around him. Most of all, I was thankful that we had the super-power he needed, the one we both have waited for for so many years, to be able to fly him back to a happy home.