Sheldon Paul Stone
A bit more Chesed wouldn't hurt!

Valentine’s Day for oldies in lockdown

Jerusalem sculpture spelling out "ahava," Hebrew for "love." (Robert Indiana/PikiWiki Israel)

Is it now weekly?

I’ve never been one for Valentine’s Day.

For one thing, we Jews have quite enough festivals, thank you! For another, it’s a goyische  thing;  chok hagoyim and all that. Like Halloween.

If I’m going to do a “Valentine’s Day”, I’d rather do it on Tu B’Av (15th Av), when, at the beginning of the grape harvest, the daughters of Israel went out dressed in identical white dresses, so none could tell if they were rich or poor, to dance in the vineyards saying, “Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?”

Except, curmudgeonly me, I don’t do Tu B’Av either. After 17th Tammuz, the three weeks, then Tish B’Av, it’s enough already, with the long haul of Ellul to follow. Let’s just have some normal regular days before the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays)!

However, this year, it occurred to me that for us oldies in lockdown, with children flown the nest and no guests allowed, Valentine’s Day comes once a week, on Erev Shabbat.

So, this last Shabbat, two days before Valentine’s Day, we sit down after Kiddush, with roses on the table, just the two of us, in the peace and quiet that only comes with a Shabbat.

“Are these for Valentine’s day?” she asks.

“No, just Shabbat.”

With just the two of us, we have fallen back into a traditional “El Four Courso” for Friday night dinner, now that the children, who don’t like four courses, are gone. Chopped liver, soup, chicken, dessert, wine, the latter drunk from silver becchahs, like King and Queen in our home.

A confession about the liver.  I don’t eat red meat. Environment, you understand. So it has to be chicken liver. But sometimes, all you can buy is ox or beef liver. On such days……….well I succumb, such is my love of this dish, and its deep association for me with Friday night (mothers used to home-make it when I was young). At least I am not alone in my weakness. My cousin has a Litvak friend. a pure vegetarian (no meat, no fish), since making Aliyah, who eats schmaltz herring each  Shabbat. You can take a man out of Lithuania etc….

The wife and I sit and chat animatedly. About her work. My post-retirement labours for Uyghurs. About the children, whom we rang and blessed earlier. Discuss the news, recent podcasts, books, whilst the cat climbs on the table and begins to eat the roses. Why shouldn’t she? After all, humans cook with rose water. Eating from all the fruits of creation on shabbat is traditional. The only reason we don’t have a fish course on Erev Shabbat is that come Shabbat morning we have a proper Kiddush together with herring, pieces of which we pick out of the jar with small forks. Some families have cake forks. We have herring forks!

We have a habit, since the children left, of reading aloud to each other Jonathan Sack’s Parashat Hashavuah (on Friday night) and Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s Dvar Torah (shabbat lunch). This week, the wife is tired, and asks we read Rabbi Sacks tomorrow. We bench, have dessert in bed, with ‘Te-im-Nana’ (mint tea) for her and Café Botz (Turkish Coffee) for me. Then read until we sleep.

Pretty perfect Valentine’s really. Just time together. A rhythm of its own. In the home that’s our own. It would only be more perfect if in Israel, a land of our own. A Jew in Galut always has that sense of impermanence. A few years back we visited an agro-tourist farm in Croatia. Olives, Oil, Tomatoes, Figs. The family had been there 600 years. I looked and marvelled at their family tree, thinking, “How many Jews could write such a tree, 600 years in the same country, let alone in the same place?”

I digress. Apologies! Back to Valentine’s Day.  As it happens, we end up doing it on the Sunday. Breakfast with home-made Shakshukah. Long walk across Hampstead Heath. Order evening take-away. Roast duck. Sticky date pudding. Drink wine. Watch a movie (Trial of the Chicago 7). The children “group -call” us from Tel Aviv, Southampton and Birmingham. I think they’re happy to see we’re being Valentines.

So maybe we’ll do it again next year. Perhaps not on Valentine’s Day, but on Tu B’Av, which is ours and so much older? After all, if Jesus hadn’t existed, Valentine would have been Jewish, and he’d have been celebrating it too!

About the Author
Sheldon is a 65 year old, London-born, Meikal Orthodox Teaching Hospital Consultant Physician for Older People and Stroke just retired. His research in infection control and behavioural science helped introduce bed-side alcohol hand-rub. Now an Advisor to World Uyghur Congress, London Office for STOPUYGHURGENOCIDE campaign. Wife consultant physician. Two daughters, at University and one son, in Year 13. Two cats. Spurs season ticket holder (except shabbat!). Aliyah one day (PG!).
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