It could have been a scene from small-town America. It was October 31st and the children were in Halloween heaven - dressed as everything from fairies to monsters, they wandered about calling out ‘Trick or treat!’ and filling their bags with candy.
But the costumed kids weren’t strolling the sidewalks of an all-American neighborhood - they were walking around in a parking lot on a windswept cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
And instead of decorated houses, the adults, handing out the goodies were stationed next to their cars with trunks opened to reveal elaborately decorated Halloween displays.
The event was the first-ever Tel Aviv ‘Trunk or Treat,’ organized by parents at a bilingual Hebrew-English kindergarten who wanted to give their kids a taste of the spooky fun they grew up with. Most of the children participating were born in Israel and, while they may have seen Halloween on television or in the movies, this was the first time they’d ever been able to participate themselves.
Halloween has always been the holiday that American parents living overseas have found most difficult to export. While it is easy to recreate traditions like Fourth of July barbecues and Thanksgiving dinners anywhere around the world, inside homes or party venues - how do you manage to replicate the experience of dressing up in costumes and trick-or-treating from house to house, scoring bags of candy, when you are surrounded by foreign neighbors who have never heard of Halloween?
For this reason, generations of Israeli-American parents - like many other expats - have largely given up on Halloween traditions, putting them on the list of traditions they had no choice but to leave behind. Expatriate enclaves throw the occasional Halloween costume party - but trick or treating never seemed logistically possible.
That all changed this year when parents at the bilingual Hebrew-English kindergarten Gan Megid in Tel Aviv heard about the ‘trunk-or-treating’ trend in the United States.
The concept of gathering in a parking lot and having the kids go car-to-car has become popular in some communities, where geography makes getting from house-to-house difficult, and in places where safety concerns made parents embrace an approach to Halloween that didn’t involve strange houses and taking candy from strangers. In the U.S,. the practice has come under some criticism as being an overly sanitized version of Halloween by excessively protective parents. But in Israel, it’s the perfect solution to a practical problem.
One of the parents in the kindergarten saw a friend’s ‘Trunk or Treat’ pictures from the U.S. and decided it would be a great way to bring Halloween to Israel.
A group of parents came together to organize the event and spread the word via Email and Facebook. Judith Veinstein, mother of four-and-a-half year old Lia, said that while her daughter had never gone trick-or-treating before, she "knows we're doing something special." With a witch’s hat atop her blond curls, Judith stood next to their white car, festooned with orange and black crepe paper and miniature pumpkins, handing out candy, as Veinstein’s husband, Bar, took Lia around the other cars to collect her loot.
The seaside spot chosen for the event was close to Tel Aviv’s infamous Tel Baruch, a location that is also known for a different kind of evening activity involving parked cars and ‘tricks.’ But nobody was put off when the occasional car turning into the wrong parking lot gave them a brief glimpse of activity that wasn’t completely family-friendly.
All told there were fewer than 20 candy-distributing cars in the lot, but judging from the ecstatic sugar-charged children and the pleased smiles on the faces of their parents - next year it seems very likely there will be many more.
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