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  • Valentines Day: Jews and the Un-Jewish

    Posted on February 14th, 2013 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment

    “Valentines Day is not a Jewish holiday, which is why I did not buy you flowers…” croons Rabbi Joe Black in a song released just in time for the February celebration of love. I had to smile. I’ve heard this before. I grew up in a tight knit traditionalist Jewish community that eschewed the exchange of cards and sharing tokens of love at Valentines Day.


    It is true as the rabbis of my youth taught me and as Black reiterates, any holiday that has a Saint in its name is by no means a Jewish holiday.

    But at what point does the fact that a holiday started off as ‘not Jewish’ stop being a meaningful barrier for engaging in its celebration by Jews? In the United States, the land of sharing, borrowing, and commercialism there are many holidays that have moved beyond their historic meaning and simply become American. For example, the origins of holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day have been overtaken by colorful parades, green beer and and corn beef. Having become a national day of celebration, we can no longer assume that everyone wearing green for the holiday is Catholic or Irish.


    Even more extreme is the disconnect between Halloween and it’s saintly roots. According to that venerable source of all knowledge, Wikipedia,

    Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows (or All Saints) and the day initiating the triduum of Hallowmas.


    Of course very few, if any, of the myriad of people who decorate their home, dress up, attend parties or go door to door in late October in the many communities I’ve lived in (with the exception of Munich, Germany in the heart of Catholic Bavaria) know any of this. And even if they do, it has been rendered meaningless by the gross commercialization that has us buying plastic pumpkin containers the moment we put away the summer shorts. Halloween has become an occasion for merriment, community and FUN.


    Even Jewish institutions have started to embrace the holiday. When Halloween coincided with Shabbat a few years back, many synagogues suggested that kids come in costume with some offering challot with orange and black sprinkles and others candy.


    Halloween may have started as part of a Saint’s Day but it has moved far beyond that meaning.


    And though Rabbi Black’s made me smile and resonated ever so strongly with my husband who like the good rabbi sees no point in paying extraordinary sums for a dozen roses, I know lots and lots of Jews are out there celebrating this day, buying flowers, chocolates, over priced dinners or pining away for a love that is sadly absent.


    The dismissal of a holiday just because it is not Jewish does not take into account the ways in which Jewish have integrated into American society nor the ways in which America has changed the original meaning of those holidays. Nor is this shift limited to the United States. This morning I gave my kids heart shaped boxes of Elite chocolates I picked up in Israel and just got a notice from El Al asking me how I’m celebrating Valentines Day. In a recent conversation  with a group of rabbis at CLAL’s Rabbis Without Borders retreat raised the question of whether Christmas could ever become so secular as to overwhelmingly loose its Christian meaning. I’m not willing to go that far -though I’m sure others will be glad to argue with me- but even if we never get that far, let’s recognize that something need not be Jewish to be meaningful to Jews.




    One response to “Valentines Day: Jews and the Un-Jewish”

    1. Disagree!

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