Love Is Beautiful, But…

Can someone please tell me why Valentine’s Day is such a big deal here in Israel? Why the day is even celebrated at all?

My first year here, when I saw the hearts dangling around the mall, the red balloons and teddy bears, the gift baskets, the signs in store windows and restaurants announcing sales and specials, it actually took a few minutes for me to put it all together. Call me naive, but I never would have guessed that the holiday named for Valentine – full name: Saint Valentine – would be an Israeli event.

Yes, I know what you’re going to say: It’s a money thing. Retailers will jump on any business-boosting bandwagon. If it moves (customers, that is), they’re on board with it. Even if the inspiration in question is blatantly Christian and the place in question is the Jewish State.

A quote from that most venerated source, Wikipedia:  “Saint Valentine, officially Saint Valentine of Rome, was a widely recognized 3rd-century Roman saint, commemorated in Christianity on February 14 and since the High Middle Ages is associated with a tradition of courtly love.”

What about the public who buy into this blather? Are women just happy to get a good deal on rose-scented hand lotion? Are harried men using the opportunity to score romance points with their wives or girlfriends? Somebody’s eating up the offerings – when my husband passed through Emek Refaim tonight and tried to pick me up some sushi (now there’s a loving gesture), he said the decoratively lit street was filled with people and cars.

I’m sure virtually no Israelis who partake of this goyishe holiday have theology on the brain, but still I find the all-embracing festivity a sad commentary on our adulterated culture. Love is a gift to treasure every single day, but I don’t think we ought to choose this particular date to celebrate it.

The Jewish calendar does have a day devoted to love and courtship. Although now much lower profile than our other holidays, Tu B’Av – the 15th of the month of Av, just a few days after the saddest day, Tisha B’Av – was in ancient times a joyful day of self-guided matchmaking, and remains an auspicious date for singles seeking their bashert. (Indeed, the Talmud calls it the most joyous festival of the year.) Imagine eligible young women donning white flowy dresses and going out into the vineyards, where their male counterparts would come to meet them. What could be more romantic than that?

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald feels grateful to be living with her husband and children in Jerusalem, where she is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a J.D. from Fordham Law School, and worked both in publishing and in the court system back in New York, when Aliyah was still a dream to be realized.
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