By Edmon J. Rodman, JNS.org
Is the heart of Valentine’s Day thumping to a Jewish beat?
Yes, I know that February 14th’s murky origins lie in a third-century martyred priest named Valentine, and that Jews already have a lesser-known day of love, Tu B’Av, that is celebrated each summer.
But that doesn’t mean all Jews have been left out of the run-up to red day. In fact, we’re creators and purveyors of part of the day’s pop culture—some of the flowers, candies, and even card designs that are popular on Valentine’s Day have a Jewish connection.
Not that we spent earlier times denying our feelings of love. In the bible, “The Song of Songs,” Shir HaShirim, can be read as erotically charged, complete with seductive kisses, sensual fragrances and the longings of love. In medieval Spain, hundreds of years before the Rolling Stones performed “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” Sephardic Jews were writing Ladino love songs like “The Rosa Enflorece” (“The Rose Blooms”).
In 1937, the Jewish songwriting team of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote for their Broadway musical, “Babes in Arms,” the only song about Valentine’s Day to become famous, “My Funny Valentine.”
In the 1970s, Jewish designer Milton Glaser created perhaps the most influential heart design ever—the “I ? New York” logo.
Sweetening the day, especially for observant Jews, is the candy business, with many chocolate companies such as Godiva, See’s, and Fannie May, offering kosher Valentine’s Day options. A company called Oh!Nuts even offers heart shaped kosher jelly “I Love You” lollipops.
Israel’s flower business has also blossomed for Valentine’s Day—with Israeli flower growers selling red varieties of anemone, buttercups, gerbera, and lilies for the holiday in Europe, Asia, and the US. In 2013, Israel’s Flower Growers Association had said it expected the country to export some 60 million roses, orchids, Bonsai trees, and other flowers on Valentine’s Day.
For those who believe that love (or is it Valentine’s Day?) can make strange bedfellows, another Israeli company, the Flower Council, has become the biggest exporter of flowers grown by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in addition to handling Israeli flower exports, according to Haaretz.
To end the day with a romantic gesture, or more, in New York, there’s a “Kosher Sex Toys” website—created to help “happily married couples enhance their intimate moments.” That is, enhancement without “crude or indecent pictures or text.” Though I discovered while checking out some of the “toys” that they might give you a Valentine’s Day rush—or blush, anyway.
Young Jewish adults are looking at Valentine’s Day as a way to draw in participants. Since the holiday falls on a Friday night this year, the Franklin & Marshall College Hillel in Lancaster, Penn., is sponsoring an “(Anti) Valentine’s Day Shabbat Dinner.”
In Los Angeles, a progressive synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim, is organizing a “Valentine’s Day: Jewish LGBT Speed Dating” event for Feb. 15. “Meet one-on-one with a bunch of other singles to see who you click with and want to see again for a second date!” reads the blurb on their website.
Nudging the holiday even more into line with Jewish life—particularly the mitzvah of tzedakah—the Charles and Lynn Shusterman Family Foundation, a nonprofit “rooted in Jewish values,” is offering a heart-shaped image for download. Noting that people “are rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day,” the foundation made available a Valentine’s Day card with this message:
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
This Valentine’s Day
I made a donation to:
In honor of you.
Of course, come Valentine’s Day, you could still deny any Jewish association with the occasion—correctly noting that it’s just not on the Jewish calendar. You could. But as you explain that to your significant other, the day could turn red anyway.
Edmon J. Rodman writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at email@example.com.