The Scariest part of Halloween isn’t the monsters, it’s the internal conflict – Jacob Henry

Halloween is just around the corner, and I cannot tell you how excited I am. As a horror movie fan, a former special effects makeup artist, and someone who loves demanding free candy from strangers, this holiday has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Yet, it’s a pretty Un-Jewish holiday. Its origins date back to the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was altered by Roman occupation and then by Christianty, turning it into a celebration of saints. So if we’re keeping track of that, Halloween originated in polytheism, was further altered by another polytheistic group, and was finally impacted by a religion that fundamentally differs with Judaism.

Beyond all of that, so much of Halloween centers on the dead (ghosts are out and about, the line between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest, and all that), which is antithetical to Judaism. Judaism speaks very little on death in our texts. Like all things in Judaism, different denominations will differ on specific philosophies and practices, but a general lack of fixation on death is very common across all denominations. In fact, Judaism’s mourning traditions function to ensure that the dead get their respect while ensuring the living don’t experience an excess of grief, gradually enabling them to move forward.

Along with these themes, Halloween also has a familiar cast of characters: The Vampire, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Werewolf, and The Mummy to name a few. For me however, the most iconic halloween cast member is the classic witch. Green skin, a wart on her nose, and the trademark hat among other traits make the witch The Witch. Even beyond Halloween, my favorite characters in any movie or tv show have always been the witches. However, you may be shocked to learn that the common portrayal of witches is an antisemetic caricature of Jewish Women. The Green skin (indicating a general otherness), the hooked nose, modest clothing (associated with orthodox women), the cackle (showing loudness and rudeness), and use of magic are all common stereotypes Jewish people have dealt with for centuries. This is not the most comfortable feeling, knowing that some of my favorite characters are sexist and antisemetic stereotypes played out at the expense of my culture.

In conclusion, I have none. The only thing I can leave you with is this: dissonance between my secular and Jewish identities is common, not just on October 31st. It leads to me feeling a need to sacrifice my Jewish or non-Jewish joy; thus far I have never achieved true peace in either identity. Maybe it’s a cop out, but in Judaism, there is a belief that if you are born Jewish or convert to Judaism, you are and have always been Jewish forever. Meaning you cannot convert from Judaism, nor act in such a way that would take away your Jewish identity. It’s a bit of a loophole, but I find some sort of peace in knowing that no matter how I choose to act, I am still Jewish, I may be considered a bad Jew, but I am Jewish nonetheless and that is fine by me.

Do you find there to be an internal struggle between your religious and secular identities? Do you have ways to get a level of inner peace?

6 thoughts on “The Scariest part of Halloween isn’t the monsters, it’s the internal conflict – Jacob Henry”

  1. Hi Jake,

    I’m a big horror movie fan too, so Halloween is a pretty fun time for me. However, as you rightly point out, traditionally it’s been a festival of marking the Other, the people, animals, and places excluded from dominant society (like the witch trope, spiders, and graveyards). I wonder if it can be made into something else? I can think of a few recent horror movies, The Purge and Get Out specifically, with a quite subversive message, basically showing the “horror” that is the dominant society. In any case, there’s something to think about as I settle down to re-watch The Thing this weekend, which I will surely be doing.

  2. I found your comments to be very interesting, Jake! I personally don’t differentiate between a religious and secular identity, but I have seen and experienced competing ideas in my life as well. For me, I find peace in recognizing and balancing the various aspects/ideas of my life and acknowledging that who I am is a mix of those aspects/ideas. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences!

  3. Hi Jake, I have definitely had some dissonance between my secular and religious identities in the past. I think the older I’ve gotten the more I have realized how my secular identities actually fit with my religious ones. But I must say I think thee largest struggle between my secular identity and religious one has been in regards to the relationships I hold with other people and how it is hard to keep the Sabbath when Sunday’s are one of two days I have to hang out with people.

  4. Hi Jake —

    Your post made me reflect a bit on my childhood favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. While I so enjoy spending the day with my loved ones, cooking family recipes and eating an extravagant meal, and feeling the warm fuzzy sense of gratefulness, I strongly disassociate with the truth and meaning behind Thanksgiving. I firmly stand against colonialism, the genocide of our Native populations, and the stereotyped portrayal of the holiday and people involved. How do I navigate this dissonance? I’m starting to act on this internal struggle in the way I normally begin to tackle issues – through education. I’m educating those who I share the Thanksgiving table with, the students I teach, and the friends I have on social media on the injustices of this holiday.

  5. Jake,

    Loved reading your post! I really liked that point you made at the end of always being Jewish, no matter what path you take. I think that really special. I find that kind of relationship of always being a part of the group with Sikhism. People are either born into Sikh families and choose Sikhi along the way, or they convert. And if along the way, people’s relationship with some Sikh principles becomes estranged, they are still Sikh.

    In terms of my secular and religious identities, I most certainly have experienced a clash. I’d distinguish the two, one being school Simran and the other being home Simran. The way that my name used to be pronounced really contributed to that. “Sim-ron” versus “Sim-rin.” However, I feel that as I have gotten older, the gap between the two identities has shrunk because the qualities from my secular lifestyle and religious lifestyle have been influenced by one another. Treating people with kindness is something I always try to do, for example, and my religious upbringing gives more meaning and depth to my intentions for spreading kindness. And I think that is where I try to find peace, knowing that there will be different parts about me that will shine brighter with different people and different company and that’s a realization I hope will continue to remember so that I don’t get bored or disenchanted with myself or my life.

  6. Hi Jake! When I read this it made me think about how my religious affiliation or identity may have been different if Christianity wasn’t the model for my definition of religion. Even though I am aware that my view on religion is very one-sided, I still have a really hard time thinking about it in other contexts. By that I mean, the idea of having a secular identity seems to entirely conflict with the mantra of religion, and that conflict contributed strongly to the fact that I now don’t identify with any religion. It is interesting to contemplate how things would’ve been different had the main faith in my life not been Christianity.

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