Like many Israelis who grew up in the early 1980s, before the onslaught of cable television, the Internet, and other technologies that made the world feel smaller and more immediate, I came of age anxiously watching American culture in a desperate effort to be as cool as the cats I saw on TV. These fortunate few, the celestial bodies who inhabited sitcomland, lived in a universe where the banter was light and the bling heavy, where no one you know ever dies in a war or a suicide bombing, and where evenings were spent at the mall or the prom or other mystical locations far away from the Middle East.
But even within this fictitious and fabulous world, there was nothing quite like Halloween. The first time I came across the holiday, on some cheesy and forgettable show, I wasn’t sure it was real. I was eight, maybe nine, and everything on the screen seemed just too wild. Halloween, to my uninformed mind, was precisely the sort of holiday a prepubescent boy would design if left unchecked, free of any real religious or communal significance and focused on candy, costumes, and horror movies, still three of my favorite things in the world. It wasn’t, like Thanksgiving, a treacly testament to gratitude and family. It had none of Christmas’s Christian roots. It was a pagan holiday, and because every self-respecting male child is a pagan at heart, I decided I would go ahead and celebrate it, even if I lived a few thousand miles away from the nearest purveyor of candy corn.
Some of the holiday’s staples were out of the question. Knocking on people’s doors, demanding treats and threatening with tricks, would likely get you punched in the face. Nor was dressing up a good idea in October, eight months after Purim. But there was no reason to be orthodox about my Halloween observance, I decided. My celebration would focus on the essentials, and the essentials, as far as I could tell from TV, were horror movies and chocolate. And so, each Halloween, I would rent a monster classic from our blissfully uncaring local video store, stop by the grocery store for a slab of chocolate so thick I had to smash it against the wall just to break off a piece, and retire to my room for an evening of sugar and bloodshed. It was on one of these Halloweens that I first watched The Shining. Another took me to Elm Street, and a third to Camp Crystal Lake, where I made the acquaintance of the masked Jason Voorhees and his mother, both excellent murderers.
Looking back at these balmy October evenings in Herzliya, I’m tempted to feel a little bit sorry for the child I’d been, so convinced that the great big good was always elsewhere. But I’m also thankful for these makeshift Halloweens for sowing the seeds of a few lifelong obsessions that have influenced so many of the decisions I’ve made as an adult. Tonight, then, as I go trick-or-treating with my own family, I’ll eat a small Kit Kat in honor of all the people around the world who wish they could be there with us, and in celebration of the awesome power pop culture has to make us all strive to transcend the accidents of our birth.