In spite of spending 15 years in the US, I never got used to the commercial way Valentine’s Day was celebrated there. After the Christmas decorations had finally disappeared from the stores, it took but a minute for the red and pink Valentine’s Day merchandise to fill their place. It’s not that I don’t believe in love, but, as a skeptical Israeli, I suspected that Valentine’s Day was actually a scheme devised by companies like Hallmark Cards in order to boost sales during the cold dreary winter months. And speaking of cards I was especially uncomfortable with the public celebration of Valentine’s Day at the elementary school. The simple question “will you be my Valentine,” is honest and specific. I tell you that I care about you and ask if you feel the same way about me. This question is directed to only one person– you.
But when my daughters were told to prepare Valentine’s cards for their whole class, I had to wonder what does this practice really teach them? My first introduction to this type of socialistic Valentine happened when my daughters were in elementary school in Texas. Several days prior to February 14th they came home and said that we should buy card boards, glitters and colorful markers in order to make “Valentines.” Their teachers instructed them to make one for every student in the class so that no one would feel left out. Don’t get me wrong, generally I am a firm believer in inclusion, but in this case, as my girls sat down to work, painstakingly cutting and decorating twenty cards, I felt that there was something wrong with this custom. In every class there are the bullies, and children who are just not very nice, is there no choice in the matter? Why do they deserve a Valentine card from a class member who may not even like them? If teachers aspire that each child would feel loved why don’t they ask the parents to prepare a special Valentine card in honor of their child instead of forcing class mates to make them?
The Biblical commandment “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18) is one of the basic principles of a civilized society as it emphasizes the importance of treating our fellow man fairly and respectfully. But Valentine’s Day is not about neighborly love, it is the one day in the year which is dedicated to true love and romance, do we wish to dilute it by making it non-personal and generic? Do we want our children to feel guilty about having a discriminating taste? Moreover, when they become teenager would we like them to go out with people they do not care for because they would not want to hurt their feelings? Or even worse, do we want them to believe that it is not ok to say no? In western culture Valentine’s Day is a sad day for those people who do not have a special person in their life. Thus all the Valentine cards which they had received in their childhood would not shelter them from feeling lonely. I feel that the day of love is best celebrated as an intimate occasion without generic cards professing meaningless sentiments. And if children take part in the festivities of Valentine’s Day, they should be encouraged to express their feelings towards the people they care about freely and genuinely.
In recent years Valentine’s Day has become a commercial opportunity in Israel as well: restaurants advertise Valentine’s Day menus and special Valentine parties are thrown in many places. This holiday has nothing to do with our reality here in Israel, but with all the hatred that comes out in this election we definitely could use some love: Happy Valentine’s Day.