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God Squad: Why the rabbi from Melville loves Halloween

Halloween is barely a Christian holiday. It is All Hallows Eve, which comes just before All Hallows Day, also called All Saint's Day. It is part of a three-day feast celebrated in Western Christianity in honor of saints who have been canonized over the years. Some scholars think Halloween was an attempt by the church to Christianize an old pagan Celtic festival call Samhain, which comes from the old Irish word meaning "summer's end." There is a widespread and incorrect rumor that Neopagans and Wiccans celebrate Halloween — this is not true. They do celebrate Samhain, and that is fine by me. Father Tom Hartman, my former God Squad partner, and I always believed that there are many paths up the same mountain to God, and I guess that includes paths that require flying broomsticks. Whatever its origins in the hoary past and whatever its pagan roots, I love Halloween and worry about what the plague will do to this beloved holiday, which is only about candy, pumpkins, costumes, parties and kids … and did I mention candy? I know that health concerns will cancel trick-or-treating excursions around the country. All that may be left is the pathetic, but well meant, drive-up trick-or-treat lane at the local Home Depot. This is a shame. I understand the limitations that COVID-19 has imposed on us, but I mourn the extinguishing of beloved childhood secular rituals. This has been a particularly bad time for children, who are deprived of their friends and a time to set aside fears of the moment so that they can engage in fantasy and fun. They cannot make up the time the plague has stolen from them. Another reason for my sadness at the squashing of Halloween is what it does to adults and our sense of community. In the old days, when I was a child, we were just released into the neighborhood to trick-or-treat our way around the block then find our way home to divide up our loot. Over time, as rumors and actual incidents proliferated of predators and other creeps prowling the same streets as our little ghosts and gremlins, parents would accompany their kids on the trick-or-treat cattle drive. This was a very good thing because it gave adults an opportunity to say hello to their neighbors — or introduce themselves. This made the isolated homes of our land less isolated. It gave us a chance to affirm community, a sacred thing. So, here is my typically contrarian and slightly weird idea to save Halloween. Bake cookies, or better yet buy cookies that are individually wrapped, and put them in bags. Then drive around the neighborhood and leave your bags of cookies on the doorsteps of your neighbors with a note: Sign up for The Classroom newsletter. The pandemic has changed education on Long Island. Find out how. By clicking Sign up, you agree to our privacy policy. We came by to give you some cookies in thanks for all the Halloweens you gave us sweet stuff. Sorry that COVID has made the old Halloween impossible this year, but perhaps next year, or the year after, we can return and say, "trick or treat" to you in person. Perhaps then we can all remember that we are not alone as we go through these difficult times. We are separated but we are together in spirit. Happy Halloween! It may be an impractical or even bad idea, but it is sincerely meant. It is all right if we are deprived now of our beloved national rituals, but it is not all right for us to forget them. I still remember many Halloweens in Milwaukee when I ran through piles of crunchy leaves on my way from house to house. I remember those times as times of complete happiness. Children deserve those times so that they can build up a happiness reserve, like squirrels who put aside nuts for the winter. As adults, we can draw down those happiness reserves from childhood during the times when the real demons of adult life close in upon us in the night. I know people hate Halloween because it is redolent with pagan influences, but I reject this view. Halloween is at root a child's holiday and nothing set aside for the happiness of children can be all bad. So, from the bottom of my ghoulish heart, I wish you all a Happy Halloween and I pray that we may know it and celebrate it soon again on a night when all our fears have been vanquished. SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at godsquadquestion@aol.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747. By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Is Trump counting on God to put him back in the White House? - analysis

Evangelical Christians pray daily for the peace of Jerusalem. With days to go until his electoral fate is decided, US President Donald Trump is working to harness the love those worshipers hold for Jerusalem in a last-minute diplomatic blitz to ensure they get out and vote. In the past four years, the president has effectively politicized religion, reawakened the national conversation about faith, religious liberties and moral decline, and kept Evangelical Christian leaders in his inner circle. His decisions this week to remove political limitations on research cooperation between the United States and Israel, and to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to choose to put Israel on their passports, are meant to reaffirm his commitment to America’s 90 million Evangelical Christians. Trump’s recent moves – and predictably there will be more where these came from in the coming days – are seen by Evangelicals as manifestations of the Bible. These new announcements will remind voters of his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and announcement that America no longer views Israeli settlements as illegal. When packaged with the recent normalization agreements the president helped forge between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and now Sudan, Trump becomes the biblical savior Evangelical Christians seek in the White House. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus told the Christians. The Apostle Paul said that, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” “God has answered our prayer for peace,” Evangelical Pastor Johnnie Moore told The Jerusalem Post on the day of the UAE announcement. Now, he said, it is “incomprehensible what can happen, and I think the miracle that has taken place is a miracle of pulling the scales off the eyes of people who are more alike than different and letting them see a common future for their children and the region.” Appealing to the Evangelical community using a political agenda wrapped in the language of faith worked for Trump in 2016. Then, eight out of 10 white Evangelicals supported Trump over Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton. The president is clearly praying it will work for him again. Recent polls, such as a Pew Research Forum survey released in July, showed that while Trump’s approval rating among Evangelicals slipped slightly, 82% still said they would vote for him again in November. But with general polls showing Democratic candidate Joe Biden and Trump neck-to-neck at best – with Trump trailing slightly behind in some cases – the president knows he has to take extraordinary measures to galvanize his base. Evangelicals have long threaded a biblical narrative into Trump’s presidency, likening him to Cyrus, the historical king of Persia who liberated Jews from captivity in Babylon and allowed them to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. “There was a supernatural aspect to the election of Trump to the Oval Office,” Stephen Strang, founder and CEO of Charisma Magazine, said in an interview at the 2018 National Religious Broadcasters conference. “I think Trump feels a part of destiny.” For many Evangelicals, God raised up Trump much like he raised up British prime minister Winston Churchill just more than 70 years prior. In the book God & Churchill, authors Jonathan Sandys (Churchill’s great-grandson) and former White House staffer Wallace Henley point out that Churchill led from a core belief in Divine destiny. They write that as a 16-year-old school boy, Churchill prophesied to a friend that London would one day be attacked and that he would lead England to victory. During World War II, it was Churchill who urged the free world to rise and defeat Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. Trump gained much of his understanding about the need to support the State of Israel through his relationship with Evangelist Paula White, senior pastor of the New Destiny Christian Center in Orlando, Florida. After they met in 2003, they became quick friends and when Trump became president, she served as his personal pastor and religious adviser. Earlier this year, he gave her a formal role in the White House: adviser to the Faith and Opportunity Initiative in the Office of Public Liaison, the part of the White House responsible for overseeing outreach to groups and coalitions organizing key parts of the president’s base. Evangelicals have written off the president’s sometimes unfavorable or even unethical or unfaithful comments by arguing that biblical leaders tend to be flawed. They also defend their support for him by reminding themselves that the Bible teaches to judge people by their actions – and Trump has delivered. This time around, Trump seems to also be hoping his Israel-love will rally another constituency to the polls in his favor: older Democratic Jews torn between the far-left, progressive pro-Palestinian policies of some modern Democrats and their love for the State of Israel. This is especially necessary for the president to secure his win in states such as Florida, where Jews account for 5.4% of voters in the ultimate swing state and he is leading Biden by just 0.4%, according to the most recent Real Clear Politics polling average.Some other polls show Trump trailing slightly behind. With its 29 electoral votes, the Sunshine State is crucial for the win. “Trump deserves credit for making Israel’s defense his number one priority,” as well as shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal,” said the Republican Jewish Committee’s communications director Neil Strauss in an interview with Moment Magazine earlier this month. He told the magazine that the organization’s first priority is “identifying and mobilizing every one of the state’s Republican Jewish voters. Next, yes, talking to independent Jewish voters, and less committed Jewish Democratic voters.” Polls of how Florida’s Jews will vote differ, but some analysts have predicted that as much as 33% of the state could side with the president, mostly because they are happy with his Israel policy. However, while Israel was historically a hot issue for American Jewish voters, political analysts in recent years have argued that the Jewish state has dropped in priority for Jewish voters, who are more focused on domestic issues than foreign policy. Nationally, more than 70% of Jewish voters have said that they will vote for Biden, according to a separate Pew Research Survey published earlier this month. However, among Orthodox Jews the numbers are different: 62% support Trump versus 36% for Biden, according to a poll by Mason-Dixon Polling and Strategy. Jews around the world on Passover pray that “next year” they will be in Jerusalem. Christians pray that Jerusalem will be “restored.” For Trump, a restored Jerusalem has become one of his paths to help ensure that come next year, he will still be in the White House.

God provides just what you need just when you need it

Editor’s note: Columns in the Faith section reflect opinions and perspectives of the writer and are not necessarily those of The Republic. As a follower of Christ, how often has God, through his Holy Spirit, given you just the right Bible verse at just the time it was needed? A verse with words that encouraged you in a time of discouragement. Maybe you needed extra strength in a situation you were presently dealing with or you felt like you were being crushed by the weight of a problem? Regardless of what it was, you knew you needed the help that can only come from God. Or, maybe God chose to send you a Christian song with just the right words in your time of need? As I look back over my many years of following Jesus, there have been countless times like these in my life. I vividly remember the details of one not so long ago. Last fall, I got away from my counseling office to work in an area hit by another flood. This area had been previously devastated by Hurricane Harvey. I found myself going to the state of Texas once again to work with the emotional and spiritual needs of the affected people. As usual, when I left Columbus, I didn’t know exactly where I would be working until I was about to arrive there. I felt drawn to one particular area which included several small communities and a lot of countryside with homes scattered here and there. While there, I covered 1,000 miles in just this one area alone. I am uneasy in the presence of high places. Actually, truth is, I’m am terribly afraid of heights and I did not know before hand that I was going to have to deal continuously with this issue during the next four weeks while there. In order to enter the area, it was necessary to go over a body of water by way of a bridge built in 1936. This one-way, two-lane bridge, the tallest bridge on the gulf coast, is 230 feet high and a mile and half long. It goes over the Neches River. I could see this bridge from many miles away. The closer I got to it, the slower and deeper my breathing became. Without realizing it, I had gotten to the place of no return some miles back. I now had no choice but to cross over it with the rest of the bumper to bumper traffic. The radio was tuned in to a Christian station in the area. All of a sudden, the words to a song entitled, “You’re About To Climb” came across the airwaves. Included in this song were the words: Standing at the crossroads, Of faith and deepest fear, The road ahead is steep But you’re not giving up (my words, “though I wanted to”) ‘Cause God’s about to take you, To a brand new place of trust Take a step of faith, It’s time to move Lay aside your fears, And watch what God will do There’s victory ahead, That mountain’s not too high Friend hold on, ’cause you’re about to climb So leave your doubts behind, And let God make you brave Cause He has gone before you and He’s already made a way Lay aside your fears, And watch what God will do There’s victory ahead,That mountain’s not too high Friend hold on ’cause you’re about to climb I believe that the God I love, serve and follow, placed just the right song with the words I desperately needed to hear to give me peace and strength and to face my fears at the very moment I needed it. He saw what I was going through and He placed that song onto the play list of a little Christian radio station located in the midst of a flood devastated area in the state of Texas. Just for me, His follower from the city of Columbus, Indiana at just the right time. Only God! What about you? What Bible verses or songs has God placed in your difficult paths at just the moment you needed them most? Exodus 15:2 reads, “God is my strength and my song…"

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