Any number of Jewish parenting websites will confirm – in case you didn’t already know – that Halloween is up there with Christmas and Easter (and for that matter Eid al-Adha, Wesak, Loi Krathong and every other religious festival), and is off limits to the Jews.
And yet, as Shabbat ends this weekend, thousands of kids across town will be roaming the streets like zombies (some actually as zombies) in search of sugar rather than blood. Sounds like pretty good training for some door to door canvassers if you ask me.
The growth of Halloween participation in Australia over the past two decades has been one of America’s most successful exports (though most of the economic benefit seems to have been picked up by Chinese manufacturers supplying our $2 shops).
Both as Australians, and Jews, we internalise a strange combination of pride and fear in all things American. We look across the Pacific and see something familiar, and yet also something just a little bit strange and – to the extent it is a portent of our future – dystopian.
Certainly when you speak to Americans, either visiting Down Under, or those few brave souls who took Horace Greeley’s exhortation to “Go West, young man” to a bit of an extreme and made the move here, they will tell you that Australia is basically like America … 20 years ago. And they usually mean that in a good way.
We read with a degree of anxiety about the rates of assimilation and fragmentation of American Jewry described in the latest Pew Report and wonder, like Ava Gardner and Gregory Peck in On the Beach, how long it will take for the fallout to reach our shores. If it’s anything like Halloween, the answer is probably about 20 years… It always has been.
And yet, there are so many great things that we can learn (and shameless copy and adapt) from our American friends and relatives. Just in the JCA universe alone, we were the first community outside of North America to roll out a PJ Library program (which now sees over 1,000 Jewish-themed children’s books mailed out each month – in many cases to families where this is the first, or only, Jewish cultural contact). Another US import, Moishe House, is part of an international network of share houses which empower Jewish twenty-somethings to create their own community and programming.
Perhaps our best US import to date has been the incredibly successful Observership Program (thanks again to the importer – Jonathan Gavshon – who participated in a similar program while working in NY). The program will be entering its fourth year, and has seen over 100 talented young professionals and entrepreneurs apply for an opportunity for some top quality training and networking, and a role in the leadership and future ownership of our community.
An alumni group of over 100 ex-Observers is starting to make an impact in our community. And once again this year, a number of Observers have been invited to join JCA constituent boards in a full capacity, underlining the remarkable success of this program for renewal and regeneration as well. So in this case we haven’t had to wait two decades to feel the impact.
And the biggest US import is about to hit us, and that is Youth 2 Israel – Y2i (a name we were generously allowed to use by the inspiring Bob Lappin, whose foundation north of Boston has been running Y2I since 1971).
Y2i – an ambitious endowment fund whose objective is to subsidise the cost of post-year 10 Israel educational experiences for any and every child with one Jewish parent in NSW or the ACT – is the first joint venture of JCA, UIA, JNF and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Executive Council of Australian Jewry. A fact so wonderful I’m going to repeat it: JCA, UIA, JNF, JBOD and ECAJ all working together! It is has been underpinned by years of JCA research and planning (including the Gen08 and TouchPoints Reviews) and has been seed-funded with an incredible $5m gift from the Education Heritage Foundation.
So when we peer into our pillow case stuffed with goodies at the end of this Halloween, we will find it overflowing with treats: PJ Library, Moishe House, Observership, Y2i, and very few tricks, and for that, we can be thankful for American cultural creep.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom,
For many, including my late grandfather – a lifelong Satchmo devotee – there is no greater American cultural export than Jazz music. Satchmo was keen on matza and wore a Magen David, but of course the Jewish links with Jazz run much deeper, check out this list of the 9 Jews who changed Jazz music, and make sure to turn the speakers up. And when you are suitably In the Mood, there are still tickets available for the Twilight Jazz in the Grounds, at the Montefiore Home in Randwick on 8 November.