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After Pittsburgh, I’m Canceling My Son’s First Halloween

Pittsburgh

I was really looking forward to my son’s first Halloween. Even though he’s not yet 5 months old, I ordered his costume months in advance: a Batman onesie, sized 6-9 months, replete with a shiny cape. The plan was to have our dog, Robin, dress up as Batman’s sidekick, Robin (of course).

Everyone who I told about the costume was delighted at the prospective cuteness of a joint dog and baby costume. I’m Israeli, so I didn’t grow up celebrating Halloween — it’s not a tradition I feel particularly enmeshed in. But I saw the delight it brought to the Jewish kids I used to babysit, and I wanted that for my child. I was excited to dress up my chunky baby, letting his curious eyes bask in the sight of colorful costumes and witness activities I knew my local park was hosting.

I never really considered whether or not celebrating Halloween clashed with my Judaism because, well, I never had to. I knew it was a pagan holiday, but similar to Valentine’s Day, it felt more commercial and silly to me. Something fun and unserious, that had no impact upon my desire to raise him with Jewish values and traditions.

But then came Saturday morning. My husband and I had planned to put our costumes together that day — I was going to be Catwoman, my husband a villain TBD — but first, we had our precious new Saturday ritual: music class. We emerged from the class on that rainy morning, still enveloped in the delightful sound of laughing and babbling babies. As we sheltered from the downpour in a local cafe, I saw a notification on my phone: two hours prior, as we were getting ready for music class, a shooter entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, as Shabbat services were starting and a bris was taking place. There had been fatalities.

At that time, we didn’t know anything about the victims. It was a moment of total cognitive dissonance: The sight of my son sleeping peacefully in his stroller, worn out from a morning of moving and singing, and the news on my phone. I thought back to my son’s bris, just a few months ago —  that moment of impossible magnitude, all of us in tears, an affirming act of Jewish continuity. It was completely incomprehensible to me for gun violence to enter into such a sacred place. I was shattered. I wanted so badly to stay with my son, to be with him in the simple and tiring beauty of early parenthood. But I had to get to work.

I’ve been working Jewish news since 2014, so I’m used to going into work mode when these type of disasters happen. Except this was the first of its kind in modern U.S. history. A shooting in a synagogue. Eleven people had been killed, more injured, by a man with obvious anti-Semitic sentiments. It was terrifying. We went home and I laid my son on his play mat. I sat down next to him with my laptop and started typing. There’s something so impossible about trying to cope with a tragedy of this magnitude and having a young child — here’s your beautiful child, laughing, cooing, enjoying life, unable and not needing to comprehend chyrons on CNN and breaking news alerts. And here you are, right by his side yet far away, heartbroken and consumed by news alerts and grief.

On Sunday, I emerged from my apartment to take a walk in my neighborhood, hoping to clear my head and start the day’s work — both parenting and work work — anew. I ran into other parents I knew, and they asked if we were on our way to the Halloween event. It was startling — all thoughts of Halloween had completely vanished from my mind.

I wanted to say, “Can’t you see my Star of David necklace? Don’t you know we are all devastated?” But that would not have been fair — they were just going about their previously scheduled weekend business. Also, they weren’t Jewish.

But I felt mournful. I explained that I had spent the weekend fully immersed in the tragedy in Pittsburgh. I felt “othered” by my grief, and I still feel that way.

I know that in Judaism, happiness always mixes with sadness. I named my son after his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor. Talking about the Holocaust while celebrating a new life, naming our children after those we still mourn, what more poignant example is there of this tradition of swilling our joy with tragedy? But celebrating Halloween as Pittsburgh’s Jewish community was burying its dead was suddenly feeling very un-Jewish.

I realized that dressing up my son this year would be more for my benefit, and the benefit of others, than it would be for him. He can’t enjoy the concept of Halloween, and is too young to eat candy, and therefore he does not need to celebrate Halloween. And while many Jewish families celebrate Halloween, and I plan to let my child celebrate it when and if he wants to, it feels wrong to me right now, and unnecessary.

So, Halloween is canceled. Or, at least, postponed until further notice — maybe next year or maybe a few years from now. The Batman costume will be put away (and maybe regifted for some other baby’s first Purim?!).

Tonight, parents across my neighborhood — and the country — will be celebrating Halloween with their children. They’ll be dressed up and laughing. But I don’t have that kind of laughter in me yet. I will be joyous and present with my son, laughing and playing with him because he needs me to, in the privacy of our home.

But I will also remember the victims of the Tree of Life shooting; the kind and committed Jewish people who were the ages of my son’s grandparents and great-grandparents. I will sing to my son in Hebrew. I will light candles. I am reminded of the Yiddish cry of defiance: “We will outlive them.”

I’ve come to realize that raising a Jewish son is our act of defiance in the face of all hate. While husband and I are just beginning to figure out what being a Jewish family means to us, for this week, it means not celebrating Halloween. And that’s OK with me.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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