In the middle of frigid February, the secular calendar dedicates a holiday for lovers, Valentine’s Day. When I came back to North America after fourteen years in Israel with my dear Aviva, we shared a skepticism of this holiday. Why do we need the calendar to tell us when to celebrate our relationship, we can celebrate it any time we wish! We were also a little leery of the origins of this holiday considering that it originally commemorated the martyrdom of early Christian saints. Yet in recent years, I have grown to appreciate the importance of such occasions. Sometimes we need someone or something to remind us to be happy, to celebrate in the midst of the cold and sadness, since otherwise we may not do it for ourselves. For example, Shabbat is the weekly calendrical command to rest and to enjoy oneself.
Though I have come to appreciate Valentine’s Day through this lens, I still don’t celebrate it; I save my passion for the Jewish equivalent at the other end of the calendar. In August there is a Jewish holiday for lovers, Tu Be’Av (literally the 15th of the Jewish month of Av) on which everyone is supposed to wear simple white clothes so as not to embarrass those who have less. You are supposed to dance in the vineyards, ripe with grapes, though in bourgeoisie Jerusalem and Tel Aviv we would drink wine and recite poetry instead. When Valentine’s Day comes this year at such a dark and cold time, I will sip some sweet port, think of Tu Be’Av and August and maybe write a poem.
Rabbi Tzemah Yoreh