Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood

Rabbi Elizabeth S. Wood
Celebrating Havdallah

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's Judaism got to do with it?

A few months ago, I posted about Halloween and Judaism. This post elicited a lot of strong reactions about whether or not we, as Jews, should be addressing the celebration of non-religious holidays in our Jewish lives.
Well, here I go again...

Imagine, if you will, a late winter Wednesday religious school classroom, circa early 1990's. February 14th. The long dark brown conference tables have been pushed together across the linoleum floor to create a unified desk amidst the backdrop of yellow painted walls, chalkboards, and bulletin strips. A handful of students are waiting for the rabbi to come and join them to begin that day's lesson. One of the students pulls out her binder and opens it up, handing out Valentine's Day cards to everyone in the classroom. She keeps one in the binder, waiting to give it to the rabbi. "What are you doing?" one student shouts, "You can't give these out in Hebrew school." "Why not? I brought enough for everyone," the student replies as she looks dejectedly at her home-computer-printed cards. "Because, it's a Christian holiday. St. Valentine was Catholic. And we're Jewish!" The girl who brought the Valentines looks as though she is about to cry. The rabbi suddenly walk in to start class. The rabbi never received a Valentine's Day card that day from that girl who had worked so hard to include everyone.

I tell you this story because it left an imprint on my mind. I wasn't any of the major characters, but I sure was there and I witnessed it. And, for years, it left an imprint on me about how we, as Jews, deal with a secular holiday named after a Catholic Saint. If we don't address this issue, perhaps we aren't addressing the questions that many adults have about this type of situation, or how we deal with it when our children come home asking questions.

In modern, American, society, Valentine's Day is a day about love. Tell those whom you love how very much they mean to you, how important they are in your life, and how much you care about them. Certainly this is a Jewish concept - love your neighbor as yourself, honor they mother and father (which we do through loving them), performing acts of gimilut hasadim (lovingkindness). Christianity isn't the only religion that has the market on love - we Jews embrace it! Because love is not about what religion you believe in, how you celebrate a particular holiday, or what's acceptable or not. It's a human emotion.

So, how do we deal with a holiday that is named after a Catholic Saint, been secularized by card companies and flower shops, and still fit it into our Jewish world? We do what we always do - we embrace it!
Spend a minute or two and go to "My Jewish Learning" to learn what they have to say about celebrating it as a Jew. Or, go out there and have fun. Enjoy the day with your loved ones. Many dating sites and organizations (even for Jews) have speed-dating events, get-togethers and parties that night. Or, if you want to educate your children and families, start focusing on Tu B'Av (the Israeli day of love) that occurs during the summer. Start your planning early. The "Jewish Family Fun Book" is a great resource for thinking of creative ways to celebrate love.

Whatever you do - whether you link it to your Judaism or not, whether your question it's place in your life (either as a secular observer or as a committed Jew), or whether you use it as a day just to indulge in chocolate - be sure to remember that it's all about the love. And that value is one we can practice every day!

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