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Is Halloween the New Yom Kippur?

According to Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, maybe…

Stephanie Butnick
October 31, 2013
Margarita Korol
Ezra Koenig of Vampire WeekendMargarita Korol
Margarita Korol
Ezra Koenig of Vampire WeekendMargarita Korol

“on halloween, u should call everyone u frightened, spooked or startled in the previous year & ask for their forgiveness,” tweeted Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig earlier today. Halloween: it’s like Yom Kippur, minus the fasting!

This isn’t the first time Koenig, who is Jewish, has made allusions to his religious upbringing. Last month, pop music critic Wayne Robins wrote about the newest Vampire Weekend album, Modern Vampires of the City, in which, as he described it, Jewish questions loom large for Koenig:

Intentionally or not, Vampire Weekend’s lyrics, written and sung by Koenig, appear to wrestle with questions of Jewish identity, of spiritual seeking and spiritual torment, of being Jewish in America and our relationship and responsibilities to Israel. At first I thought this might be an overzealous interpretation. When Modern Vampires of the City came out, I was accelerating my efforts to connect my higher-power-oriented spirituality with the powerful but transient Jewish connection with which I was seized in my first year of Hebrew school, inspired by a teacher who stressed piety and sacrifice, with tales of Rabbi Akiva and the other Jewish martyrs. The connection became diluted, but it never entirely disappeared. But by the time of my bar mitzvah in 1962, my enthusiasm for Torah had gone into remission. My fantasy at 13 was to replace my Haftorah reading with a spontaneous, combustible rendition of the Isley Brothers’ soul gospel hit “Shout!” while dancing splits on the bima.

Today, much of Modern Vampires of the City strikes me as deeply meaningful from a Jewish perspective. “Ya Hey” confronts God directly, as the chorus chants what sounds like “Yahweh,” while Koenig sings: “Through the fire and through the flames, you won’t even say your name/ Only I am what I am.” The image of fire—a symbol of the Torah—is repeated in many songs.

Either way, maybe Koenig has a point about scare-repenting on Halloween. So here goes: Mom, I’m sorry for listing you as a reference on my cat adoption form without telling you first. I didn’t think they would actually call. Cat Stevens, I’m sorry for scaring you while you were trying to eat your Grandma’s Chicken Soup (with pumpkin) cat dinner. I just wanted to hang out.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.