Sunday, November 1, 2009

Knocking for Trees, Not Candy

I don’t remember celebrating Halloween when I was growing up. Never went Trick-or-Treating.

Last night kids everywhere asked for candy, though just one girl came by our home (maybe it was the misty weather that kept them away). I can’t recall the last time a Trick-or-Treater asked for money for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund that was heavily promoted as a Halloween charity when I was young.

Even though I never went Trick-or-Treating, I did have the “pleasure” of knocking on strange doors asking for donations.

Growing up in Brooklyn, I went to a private Hebrew school. Each year we’d be required to raise money for the Jewish National Fund. The JNF planted trees in Israel. To incentivize us to bring in donations, prizes were distributed to the best producers at the end of the money drive. Our teachers would keep score of how much we’d raise. For each dollar brought in, we’d receive a leaf that was pasted on the outline of a tree. The more leaves you amassed, the better prize you received when the charity drive concluded (the best prize, to me, was a balsa wood airplane with a metal clip front you could fly).

One measure of how far we’ve regressed as a society is the thought that as an under-10 year-old I was permitted, nay, encouraged, to wander by myself around blocks of apartment houses and single-family attached homes, knock on strange doors and ask for money for a cause that two-thirds of my Jewish, Italian and Irish neighbors had no interest in supporting. Even the one-third who might be considered sympathetic more often than not stiffed me.

It was tough trying to earn your wings back then. But, at least, there was little concern expressed about the dangers that no doubt lurked behind strange, closed doors.