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Shabbat Ghosts (a Halloween story)

It was a sad scene at the Kaplan home in the days leading up to Halloween. The gloom, however, had nothing to do with ghouls and goblins. Rather, the problem had to do with Shabbat. Now, you might ask, what does Halloween have to do with Shabbat? Absolutely nothing, of course, at least usually. But this year Halloween, the night of trick-or-treating, fell on a Friday night, Shabbat. That means it has everything to do with Shabbat. And when Shabbat and Halloween meet, well, you never know.
The Kaplan children, like children everywhere, love Halloween, the costumes and especially the trick-or-treating, which brings them mountains of candy. “You will not go out trick-or-treating on Shabbat,” declared Mr. Kaplan. He slammed his fist down on the table just to emphasize the point. Mrs. Kaplan nodded her head in agreement. The Kaplan children were distraught.
“But Dad,” wailed the youngest child, a boy named David.
“You always take us trick-or-treating, please, pretty please,” implored Miriam, the second youngest.
“I already made plans to meet Steve and Craig,” argued Nathan, a 12-year old.
“It’s the Pumpkin Dance at school. I absolutely have to be there. Karen is counting on me,” insisted Ilana, the oldest, a sophomore in high school.
“It is Shabbat. We are having a nice Shabbat dinner as we always do. You are not going out. If trick-or-treaters come to the door, you can open it and give them candy. Do you think I will give up Shabbat for some candy? Absolutely not. I will buy you candy, if that’s what you want,” said her father in a tone that meant there would be no further discussion.
“Can we wear our costumes at least?” asked Miriam, very quietly. David was holding her hand.
“I suppose so, but you might want to save them for Purim. Now that’s a great costume holiday, with sweets and everything,” said her father. The kids loved Purim, but they wanted Halloween too. They wanted to celebrate both. Would you blame them?

Shabbat in the Kaplan home is usually a happy affair. Mr. Kaplan comes home from the office early, and he always brings special treats although he says he doesn’t. Then he hides the treats, and when it is time for dessert the children try to find them. Mrs. Kaplan leaves work early too and prepares a wonderful meal. One week it might be chicken, another week brisket. In the summer, they might eat on the large screened porch. And they always light candles. They usually light four candles, some weeks they might light six or eight candles, even more if they have company. And they often do have company, aunts and uncles and cousins or friends. On those weeks, Shabbat turns into a giant party full of fun and singing, Shabbat z’mirot.
But this week Shabbat was definitely not a joyful event. It sure looked festive though; the children had carved pumpkins and put them out on the front steps. Inside, the dinner table was covered with a special, brightly colored Shabbat tablecloth Mrs. Kaplan bought in Israel. A big basket by the door was overflowing with candy for the trick-or-treaters who were sure to come. At sundown, the family lit the Shabbat candles. David and Miriam wore costumes; David dressed up as an Israeli commando and wore an eye patch like Moshe Dayan, the famous Israeli general. Miriam, dressing as Moses, wrapped herself in a sheet. The house smelled of delicious roast turkey, and her father had hidden chocolate chip brownies, a favorite, as the treat. Ilana and Nathan, too old for costumes, dressed in Shabbat dinner clothes. Ilana wore a tight top and short skirt that showed off her developing figure; Nathan wore baggy chinos and an oversized jersey.
Yet despite everything, it didn’t feel festive. Ilana was pouting about missing the dance. Nathan barely said a word. Miriam and David looked like they were about to cry. “C’mon, it’s Shabbat. Let’s put aside our concerns and enjoy the peace and warmth of Shabbat,” said Mr. Kaplan. The children just glared at him and silently took their seats. Mr. Kaplan raised the kiddush cup filled with wine and began the Shabbat blessings: “Yom hashishi…”
They washed their hands, cut the challah, and sat down for the Shabbat meal. Mrs. Kaplan, Ilana, and Nathan brought the food from the kitchen and passed it around. “Well, let’s eat,” said Mr. Kaplan. The children looked glumly at their plates. Then the doorbell rang.
“Trick-or-treaters already?” asked Mr. Kaplan, glancing at this watch. “Somebody answer it. There is plenty of candy by the door.” Miriam jumped up. David scrambled after her.
Miriam opened the door. Outside was a character draped in a dark brown robe with a rope for a belt. He had a long beard. Miriam guessed it was Mark, a kid in the neighborhood who said he was dressing as a shepherd. “Mark, is that you? What a great costume! You look so real,” she exclaimed, and handed him some candy.
“Mark? I’m not Mark,” the trick-or-treater said, slipping past her and stepping right into the house.
David reached up and tugged at his beard. “Is that real?” he asked.
“Oow!” cried the trick-or-treater.
Nathan and Ilana had quickly moved to the door. “You’re not supposed to come in here,” said Nathan. The trick-or-treater pushed past the children and sat on a nearby sofa in the living room.
“Wait a second! What are you doing? Dad!” called Ilana.
“May I rest? I’ve had a long journey,” said the trick-or-treater who really did look like a shepherd.
Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan had joined the children. “Is this some kind of Halloween prank?” demanded Mr. Kaplan.
“Halloween? I am just a simple stranger who has traveled far and has come upon your home. My wife was right behind me. She will be here shortly, God willing,” replied the man.
Mrs. Kaplan stared at the man. He seemed sincere, honest. His eyes were tired but warm and wise. “What’s your name?” she asked gently.
“Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor,” the man said.
The Kaplan family stood in stunned silence, not believing what they heard and saw, yet it seemed so real. “Let me bring you some turkey. Do you like turkey?” said Mrs. Kaplan.
“Is this a joke or what?” Mr. Kaplan angrily demanded.
Mrs. Kaplan started into the dining room when the doorbell rang again. The children raced to open the door. “Uh oh,” said Miriam. Standing at the door was a young man wearing a white robe and laced sandals. Next to him stood an even younger woman, very pretty, wrapped in a long, colorful shawl.
“Here’s some candy,” said David, holding out two bags of M&Ms.
“We are very thirsty,” said the young man.
“Mom, can we let them in?” called Miriam. The children backed away. The young man and woman followed them into the house.
The man glanced into the living room and noticed Abraham. “Father? Is that you, Father?”
“Oh God, I don’t believe this,” muttered Mr. Kaplan. Mrs. Kaplan appeared with a platter of turkey and a cup of wine.
Then the doorbell rang. “Don’t answer it,” Mr. Kaplan ordered. “This must be some kind of stunt. We must be on Candid Camera or something.” But Miriam and David already had the door open. Outside huddled a large, motley looking crowd of men and women. They immediately pushed in.
Nathan counted a grown man, four grown women, 12 boys of varying ages, and one girl. “You want some candy?” he offered, holding out the basket of candy. They too wore various types of robes, mostly pretty drab. One of the younger boys, however, had the most beautifully colored cloak you could ever imagine, as beautiful as a rainbow.
“Wow, what a great coat!” admired Ilana, gently touching it. “Where did you get it?”
“It is a gift from my father,” the boy said.
The newcomers pushed into the living room where the other guests were gathered. It suddenly turned into a real family reunion. People greeted each other, hugging and kissing. The food Mrs. Kaplan brought disappeared quickly. “Ilana, Nathan, help me,” she called as she rushed out for more.
“What is going on! I demand to know. Who are you all? I mean who are you really?” Mr. Kaplan shouted. “Someone tell me.”
The doorbell rang again. Miriam and David didn’t even bother with candy. They just opened the door. There stood a large man with a long beard and long hair. He wore a flowing white robe. He bare feet looked rough and callused, as if hardened by years of walking in the desert. In one arm, he carried a long, stout wood staff. “May I come in?” he asked in a voice that was deep and authoritative, even if it did have a little lisp to it.
“Holy Moses!” exclaimed a surprised Nathan, nearly dropping the pitcher of water and a tray of cups he was carrying to the living room.
“Hey, you’re dressed just like me,” Miriam said to the stranger. “But I don’t usually wear clothes like this. Usually I wear jeans,” she continued.
The big man bent down to her and gently touched her cheek. “What is your name?” he asked.
“Miriam. I’m named for my grandmother. She lived in Russia,” Miriam said.
“My sister is called Miriam too. She should be arriving any moment,” the man said.
Sure enough the doorbell rang and a woman wearing a robe decorated with beads and carrying timbrels appeared at the door. No sooner had she pushed into the house and the door was closed than the doorbell rang again. Joshua carrying a trumpet and Deborah, the great judge, holding her shield in one hand arrived. King David, a handsome, muscular young man, also appeared. He wore only a short leather skirt and a sash across one shoulder. A crown sat on his head, and he carried a lyre. “Wow, he must be King David. Is he hot or what! Karen would kill to meet a guy like him,” Ilana whispered to Nathan. She grabbed the pitcher of water. “Can I offer you a drink?”
The house was getting quite crowded, and still people kept arriving. People spilled over from the living room to the dining room. Others were on the porch or in the large family room in the back. The conversation became quite loud. Mrs. Kaplan raced around trying to feed her guests, although most seemed content with just drinks of water. Mr. Kaplan gave up trying to understand what was happening and ran around offering wine to the guests.
The doorbell seemed to ring almost non-stop. The biblical prophets arrived. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and more. Ezekiel showed up with Elijah who seemed a bit tipsy.
“Is he all right?” asked Mr. Kaplan.
“Everyone leaves wine for him, but he has had too much. Where’s the bathroom?” Ezekiel asked.
“Down the hall. First door on the right,” Mr. Kaplan replied and took a gulp of wine himself. What next, he babbled to himself.
He didn’t have to wait long. Moments later the doorbell rang. Ilana opened it. In strolled a handsome couple looking distinctly like they just walked out of ancient Persia. “Let me guess, Esther and Mordechai,” said Mr. Kaplan. “Can I offer you some wine?”
“It’s Queen Esther,” Mordechai pointed out, “and yes, I’d love some wine, thank you.”
Esther noticed Ilana almost immediately. “What a beautiful outfit! The King would love to see me in something like that,” she said admiringly.
“Want to try it on,” offered Ilana.
“You might as well join the others in there,” suggested Mr. Kaplan, handing a glass of wine to Mordechai.
“I’ll bring you in and introduce you. King David is here; he is so hot,” Ilana added.
“I heard every young girl in Jerusalem just dies for King David. You are so lucky to have him right here to yourself,” Esther whispered to Ilana as they headed into the living room.
Suddenly the door swung open without even the bell ringing. In marched two men, one large, one short, dressed in what looked like the long black robes of scholars or judges. They were deeply engaged in an argument and hardly noticed where they were. “You cannot give candy to a child until the child has mastered a very difficult piece. Not just any piece; it must be an extremely difficult one,” the large, scowling man argued.
“No, no, Shammai. You’re using candy as a bribe or as payment. But the child doesn’t earn candy the way a tradesman earns shekels. You give the child candy out of love and for the joy of giving,” insisted the other, a short, heavyset jolly fellow.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” said Mr. Kaplan, trying to break into the argument.
“Is the Sanhedrin here? We were told the Sanhedrin is meeting here,” snapped Shammai.
“Please pardon us. I’m Rav Hillel. This is Rav Shammai. I think we have lost our way,” said the jolly fellow.
“For all I know you’re probably at the right place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sanhedrin arrives next. Just go in there,” Mr. Kaplan said, pointing them into the living room.
Mr. Kaplan dropped into a chair in the hallway to watch the scene swirling around him. People flowed from room to room, talking in the most animated fashion. Some drinking, a few eating. The children bounded from one guest to another as Mrs. Kaplan directed the serving. At one point he heard loud laughing. Moments later Mrs. Kaplan passed by. “What’s happening in there?” Mr. Kaplan asked her.
“I’m not sure. Everyone is trying to stand on one foot and explain something,” she said, rushing off to the kitchen. Mr. Kaplan jumped up and looked into the living room. Sure enough, a dozen or more people surrounding Hillel and Shammai were all trying to balance on one foot while talking at the same time. It was crazy.
Then he heard the doorbell ring. He was about go to the door when David shot by and opened it. Standing there was a bearded man in an old fashioned suit and a black top hat. Behind him was a short old man in a modern suit and wild, gray hair. Next to them stood a lumpy, motherly bubbie-type of woman and a thin, strong man with an eye patch wearing Army khakis.
“I know you. I recognize all of you: Theodore Hertzl, David Ben Gurion. You must be Golda Meir. And you are Moshe Dayan,” said Mr. Kaplan.
“The real Moshe Dayan?” mumbled David, in awe.
“And look at you, a boy version of myself. Shalom,” Dayan said, shaking David’s hand.
Mr. Kaplan invited them to join the others. David led the way.

Mr. Kaplan looked at his watch, 8:15 PM. At this time every Halloween he and the other neighbors turned off their outside lights to signal the end of trick-or-treating. Should he turn off the light tonight, he wondered. He didn’t want to discourage any of these special guests. Then again, he couldn’t imagine who else would come. Just about everybody, it seemed, was already here. He opened the door and looked out. The street was quiet. The neighbors already had switched off their lights. He did the same.
Inside the house, the party continued without letup. Nathan was arm wrestling with Joseph and his brothers. David was talking with Judah Maccabee, who had slipped in unnoticed. Miriam was sitting on the floor with the biblical Miriam, who was teaching her how to play the timbrels. Mrs. Kaplan flitted from group to group, chatting and offering food and drink. Mr. Kaplan picked his way through the guests. Where was Ilana, he wondered.
Then he saw her, standing with her back to him, talking with Mordechai and Abraham, who had been joined by Sarah, and Isaac, Rebecca, and another young woman he didn’t recognize. He went up to Ilana, tapping her on the shoulder. The young woman spun around. Mr. Kaplan jumped in surprise. It wasn’t Ilana at all; it was Esther. “Oh I’m sorry, I was looking for my daughter, Ilana,” he sputtered.
“She’s out on the porch with King David. She let me try on her outfit. Isn’t it gorgeous? It fits me perfectly. Dinah loves it too,” she said.
“Yes, it’s lovely,” added Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter.
“It is a beautiful outfit. I’m sure she has another one if you like it,” said Mr. Kaplan as he headed to the porch.
There he found King David sitting on a bench playing his lyre. Ilana, wearing a tank top and tight shorts, was sitting close beside to him. Mr. Kaplan wasn’t thrilled with the outfit, but he didn’t say anything. In fact, they made a beautiful couple, he thought wistfully. After a few moments, she realized he was watching. “Don’t worry, Dad. We’re not doing anything you wouldn’t approve of.”
The music attracted other guests and soon the porch filled with people. Everyone joined in the singing, wonderful Shabbat singing. He couldn’t remember what songs they sang. It all seemed so magical. Time itself melted away.
It was Golda Meir who finally spoke up. “You know, it’s getting late. We should let these children go to bed,” she suggested.
“You’re welcome to stay as long as you like,” Mr. Kaplan offered. But the spell had been broken. The guests agreed with Golda and began to say their good-byes.
Golda left last. In the hallway, she kissed each of the children. “Shabbat shalom. Halloween is all right, but you really should celebrate Purim. It is so much better. And Purim in Israel is the best of all. Come visit us,” she said closing the door behind her. Mr. Kaplan suddenly lunged forward, snapped on the outside light, tore open the door, and ran after her, after all of them. But they were gone. The street was deserted.

The house was empty now except for the family. They collapsed, exhausted, in the living room. The candy basket sat on the coffee table, almost as full as when the evening started. “Well, there seems to be a lot of candy left. You kids can bring it to school and have a party,” suggested Mr. Kaplan.
“Will we ever see them again?” asked Miriam. “They are so nice.”
“You know, children, none of them are alive anymore,” said Mrs. Kaplan gently.
“Even Moshe Dayan?” asked David.
“Even Moshe Dayan. He died in 1981, before you were born,” she replied.
“But they stood right here. They were so real,” insisted Nathan.
“I don’t know. Maybe they were an illusion or angels or ghosts, Shabbat ghosts for Halloween. I don’t know,” said Mr. Kaplan. “But we can think of them, of this night, as a gift from God.”

“Could we see them again? Could I see King David again?” asked Ilana.
“King David lives forever in the hearts of the Jewish people and in the Tanakh, the Bible. You can visit with him there any time you want just by reading a Psalm. But beyond that, King David has been dead thousands of years,” said Mr. Kaplan, placing an arm around Ilana. “But he was very nice, wasn’t he? I pray you meet a young man like King David.”
“Now you kids need to go to bed, and Dad and I need to clean up. Golda said we should go to Israel for Purim, and we’re going to think about that,” promised Mrs. Kaplan. “You never know who we might see there. But for now, go upstairs and get ready for bed kids. Ilana and Nathan, please help the little ones.”
The kids slowly got up. Miriam kissed her dad first: “This was the most wonderful Halloween we ever had, better than trick or treating.”
Mr. Kaplan threw his arms around her and David. “This was the most wonderful Shabbat I have ever had. Shabbat shalom to all of you.”