When Havdalah haunts Halloween


LOS ANGELES (JTA) — There will be no eerie glow coming from your Havdalah candle on Saturday evening, Oct. 31. No boiling or toiling in your Kiddush cup or smell of sulfur in your spice box.

Shabbat will be ending, Halloween beginning, and you can use this time to light up their differences by creating a Halloween Havdalah.

It’s not that I am proposing a Goth Shabbat.

Each October our print media gives us umpteen articles about how to carve a pumpkin. Here we will also be carving, but for a totally different result the medium will be time.

What I am suggesting is using the transition from Shabbat to Halloween to accentuate the distinction between Holy Shabbat time and the secular every day.

Recent surveys show the average American home with children will spend more than $50 this year on Halloween. How much will we be spending on Havdalah?

Requiring a braided multi-wicked candle ($4), a little kosher grape juice or Kiddush wine ($4), and some cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon in a shaker, Havdalah is a wonderful atmospheric observance whose rewards continue long after the costumes have been put away and the candy gobbled.

The October horror story isn’t whether Jews celebrate Halloween — it’s now observed largely as a secular day — the story that should have us shaking is whether Jews celebrate Shabbat.

Work’s necessity makes us forget: There is an almost tangible distinctiveness to Jewish time.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his classic book “The Sabbath,” speaks of Shabbat as a spiritual place, a “palace in time.”

Using the drama of Havdalah to take leave of the palace helps create a defining change of scene, especially before you and the kids head out into an October’s All Hollow’s eve.

The heart of Havdalah can be found in the phrase “ha’mavdil bain kodesh l’chol,” — “distinguishing between the sacred and the secular.” The name Havdalah comes from the verb “l’havdil,” to separate or distinguish.

Some Jews even say the word l’havdil when they want to make it clear that two things are much different, that they have no business of even being thought of together.

With Havdalah you are saying l’havdil between Shabbat and Halloween, expressing that there is a difference.

For a text for your service, most prayer books have a page or two for Havdalah. A little light on prayer books? Go online.

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County in Maryland has prepared a service complete with Hebrew transliteration, including a tip on how to create a homemade Havdalah candle. She suggests using warm water to soften two or three Chanukah candles and then twist them together.

You can also simply hold two candles together with wicks intertwined. Be sure to wrap foil around the candle’s base for a holder.

Wait till you see three stars to begin. Doorbells may be ringing; the kids restless. Look up to the sky, hold your ground (with three boys, it’s familiar ground) and go for the full difference between darkness and light.

Lower the lights. Light the candle and hold it up. Read the first part about deliverance. In contrast to the fear and shock themes of Halloween, the first line ends with resolute words for both child and adult: “I am confident and unafraid.”

Say Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Don’t drink yet.

Kiddush wine or grape juice is a simple drink — not Halloween bubbling punch or a Bloody Mary. It’s sweet and hopefully so will be your week.

Next, pick up the spices, “b’samim,” say the blessing. They are a kind of smelling salts to revive your post-Shabbat spirits. Shake them, fully breathe them in, then pass them around. So much of Halloween is a me-me-me grab fest; b’samim is a communal pleasure.

Bless the flame. Two or more wicks burning as one broadcast, especially in a darkened room — no jack o’ lantern or blinking skulls required — the difference between light and darkness. To remind yourself of the difference, hold your palms up toward the candle, curve your fingers inward and see the shadows they cast.

Say the final blessings about God creating everything and everyone distinctly different, as well as distinguishing between the sacred and the everyday. Drink some wine.

Put out the candle in the wine. My kids loved doing this. Listen to the sizzle as the candle is quenched. Better than any sound effect, it is the sound of Shabbat ending and the new week with all its promise beginning.

Sing “Hamavdil,” a feel-good song that connects the blessings of Shabbat to the rest of the week. One verse goes: “Our families and our means, and our peace, may God increase.”

It’s our own kind of candy.

Now, wish each other a “shavuah tov,” a “gutte vokh,” a good week; no “boos” allowed.

Close the ceremony by singing “Eliyahu Hanavee.”

Better than any costumed character or mask, we have Eliyahu, who legend has it ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. We leave the door open for him at the seder and invoke his name here at Havdalah, hoping for a time of Shabbat-like messianic peace — a time without candy wrappers, fake fog or cardboard skeletons.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist writing on Jewish life from Los Angeles.)


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