Should Valentine’s Day be celebrated in Israel, or should we choose instead to celebrate Family Day – Yom HaMishpacha? Susan Barth argues that spending quality time with our spouse and family members is a better investment than flowers and chocolates.

Next Thursday – 19th February and 30th Shvat – is Yom HaMishpacha. This holiday was established a few years ago as Israel’s alternative to Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. The idea is to give meaningful gifts to and spend time with your family on this day. It also often falls in close proximity to February 14, known in Israel as Yom H’Ahava instead of Valentine’s Day.

I have never been a fan of Valentine’s Day, not just because of its non-Jewish associations but also because of its commercial encouragement of saccharine gift-giving. While I enjoy receiving roses and chocolates as much as any other woman, I would much rather receive them as a spontaneous and meaningful gift on any other day of the year.

So, while florists and chocolatiers encourage us to splash out for our loved ones this weekend, I would urge you to wait a few days and celebrate Yom HaMishpacha instead. What’s more, I would suggest that you hold off on the flowers and chocolates and dedicate two more meaningful presents to your loved ones: your time and your attention.

With Facebook and Twitter, iPads and iPhones, and SMS messages flying wildly back and forth, we seem to have forgotten what it means to simply be together; to engage with each other in a meaningful way. We hold onto our phones at all times like a lifeline, and we often choose to answer them even when we are with more important people – our life partners, our children, our parents and our friends. What message does it send when I answer a call from a stranger while sitting at the table with my family?

Dedicating a day to our families and our partners should mean more than a gift and a peck on the cheek. We should really dedicate time to engaging in family projects that will enhance positive communication. We should also keep track of the conversations that we have in front of our children, to ensure that we are teaching them good communication skills and modelling the right priorities.

Together in Happiness (B’Yachad B’Osher), is the organization that I set up in order to foster better marriage communication in Israel. We run workshops in English to teach couples how to become better listeners. Our workshops are based on the most scientifically researched and world-acclaimed marriage education curriculum, developed by Professors Howard Markman and Scott Stanley of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, and adapted for Israel as I-PREP (Prevention and Relationship Education Program).

One of our key recommendations is Date Nights – setting aside one evening a week to go out and spend quality time together. This can be particularly valuable for new parents, for example, who often experience difficulties with communication and relationship satisfaction following the birth of a child. The stress and pressures of parenthood often draw a couple’s energies away from each other, so booking a babysitter and one night every week or two for an exclusive “Date Night” could give them space to breathe and resuscitate their marriage. This is also true for not-so-new-parents – in fact, for most couples of all ages and stages who need to make time to refocus their energies on one another from time to time.

Needless to say, I will thank my husband for the flowers that he brings me for Shabbat, this weekend as every weekend, but I will also prepare a little surprise gift for him next Thursday to celebrate Family Day. We will sit down together over a cup of coffee to talk to one another, so don’t be surprised if I don’t answer the phone!

For more information, visit www.together-in-happiness.com or contact Susan Barth, Founder & Director of the Amuta B’Yachad B’Osher/Together in Happiness at marriageconf@gmail.com