As South Florida editor of The Jewish Press, I am always trying to inform my readers of Jewish activities and programs in our area. When I recently scanned a local events calendar, my attention was caught by the following: “Halloween Themed Shabbat Dinner at Moishe House Miami (Bring Your Costume).”
Halloween, which is observed on October 31, fell on a Friday night this year.
The Moishe House concept is compelling. The international nonprofit organization was formed as a place for young Jewish adults to gather and experience cultural, educational and community activities. It seemed like a good idea.
The arrangement is quite unique. Several participants agree to live together in a rent subsidized home. They are usually post-college, graduate-school or professional Jewish adults. The group leaders are given a Jewish library and an operating budget. They are expected to host programs throughout the year. The assumption is that the Moishe houses will become focal points of vibrant Jewish community life and an opportunity for young Jews to have hands-on involvement within the faith.
Certainly, the Halloween Shabbat dinner was an effort on Moishe House’s part to coax Jews of different backgrounds to come and take part in a Sabbath meal. Certainly it was well intentioned. I must admit, however, that I was dismayed at the theme and its total antithesis to Judaism and Jewish thought.
Halloween has its roots in an ancient pagan festival marking the end of the harvest. According to the Gaelic culture of the time, the date of October 31 was when deceased souls came back to this world to cause harm. Costumes and masks were used to appease these dangerous demons.
Halloween in America today is a secular celebration with harmless fun for all. The roots of the observance, however, are far from the sugarcoated American version of the holiday. The pivotal question is, despite all good intentions, is this a proper theme for a Shabbat event?
When non-practicing or non-affiliated Jews actually go to a Shabbat dinner, they want an authentic experience. They may remember the sound of zaidie chanting a blessing. They may remember the smell of bubbie’s cholent. They may remember the sight of their “religious” neighbor’s Sabbath table.
Friday night observance itself involves a plethora of activity. There are prayers before and after the meal. Children are blessed. Women are lauded. Words of Torah are shared. Songs are sung. There is no need to fill in with an extraneous theme. The plate is full and the meal is satisfying.
Hopefully, the next time Moishe House in Miami presents a meal with costumes, it will be a Purim seudah.