“There were no happier days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur”. (Mishna, Ta’anit Chapter 4, 8)
Today, Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av we celebrate our own Jewish Valentine’s Day. Our own Jewish day cheering for love.
Tu B’Av, is both an ancient and modern holiday. Originally a post-biblical day of joy, it served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women in the second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.). Tu B’Av was almost unnoticed in the Jewish calendar for many centuries, but it has been rejuvenated in recent decades, especially in the modern state of Israel.
The Mishna paints this very romantic description where the “daughters of Israel dressed in white and danced in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)?”(Ta’anit, Chapter 4).
The fact that both the day of celebrating love and Yom Kippur, the holy day dedicated to self-examination and repentance, are mentioned under the same category of joy and happiness is fascinating, but not surprising: Both true love and true repentance are purifying and sanctifying. Both real love and self-examination deeply connect one to one’s own and genuine self, allowing us to reach levels that don’t allow impersonation or hypocrisy to exist.
In a way, our connection to the state of Israel is based on these two values of true love and self-examination.
Our love for our Jewish homeland mustn’t be conditioned, nor can it be based on certain acts or measures taken by the Jewish state, just as our sincere affection and feelings toward our own loved ones isn’t dependent upon their behavior, nor does it change accordingly.
We love Israel for what it is, what it represents, what it stands for and for what we mean to our Jewish homeland. It’s a pure, honest and frank love. It’s a relationship.
It’s pure and honest thanks to our ability to love Israel despite any criticism we may have. Thanks to our tradition of self-examination—to search deeply and to find purpose and meaning—we can look into the eyes of our beloved Israel with pride, and yet express a deep intention to better the Jewish homeland, to better our connection with it, and celebrate its beauty and values.
Tourists from around the world, Jews and non-Jews, prefer to spend their summer vacation in Israel, despite a rough year where terror again lifted its ugly head, violence that the majority of our Palestinian neighbors supported. And yet, despite that threat, our friends still come—to enjoy our historical sites, our natural beauty, and that unique spark that exists only in Israel. That is truly magical, as only love can be.
The ability to see Israel with all of its beauty and its challenges, to grapple with its contradictions, struggle with its hardship, and marvel at its wonders is what it means to love our Jewish homeland. We can bask under the arc of its blue skies and radiant sunshine and blue sphere, just as easily as we can contemplate this love beneath a veil of cloud and rain. It is an act of both love and honesty. It’s the way that you, our JCCs, approach Israel each time you visit. It’s how you engage with this young and vibrant country, express your very real connections and build bonds that are stronger than ever.
Love is in the air! Parties celebrating our Jewish Day of Love go on throughout this day. Women and men dance in white. Flower shops offer romantic bouquets. The radio plays beautiful love songs. And jewelry stores make a fortune.
In just a few hours the sun will set, and we will celebrate a different kind of love. As we light Shabbat candles, we will pray that this love lingers in our air for days to come, reminding us of all the glory we are blessed with.
Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center