Not sure if it was Hallmark, Macy’s or Congress (guessing the economy would be helped by the public’s spending) that decided we needed February 14 to express our love to those we cherish 24/7/365 days a year. But regardless, it is a sweet day, where cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, romantic dinners and weekend get-aways totaled 17.6 billion dollars last year! Here in the Bay Area, if you don’t have a dinner reservation by February 1, you better plan on taking your beloved to Denny’s or just cooking at home!
But for us Jews, is it like the December dilemma? Do we or don’t we cave to the hype?
The name of February 14 is Saint Valentine’s Day, letting us know of its Christian origins. There are several stories claiming right of ownership, one being that Catholic saints are celebrated for their teachings and martyrdom, so along with Saint Patrick’s Day, these days are definitely with Catholic roots. (I thought corned beef and cabbage was Jewish! Oh well, bagels were once only Jewish!)
The Roman origin of Saint Valentine’s Day is from a ritual where men gathered to participate for the affections of the local women and since the Roman icon for Valentine’s Day is Cupid, son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, hence, a day of expressing love.
Because of what constitutes a secular holiday, the Code of Jewish Law has a few issues with Valentine’s Day. Is it observed in a religious ceremonial way or is it about the spirit of love that is accentuated? There is so much vagueness as to how the day is observed, many rabbis agree it does not constitute a violation of Jewish law while others advise us to find Jewish holidays that emphasis love. I once was in a rabbi’s office when he suddenly said, “Please wait, I have something I have to do!” He got on the phone and made a dinner reservation for him and his wife on Valentine’s Day and
then called her and told her, in the sweetest of ways, what he was doing for her on February 14th. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for
me, for I like to think of Valentine’s Day as a day in which we acknowledge, to our significant other, children, grandchildren, family and friends, the
power of love to make us all feel fully human.
A Valentine’s Day ritual for me is to sit down and read the love poems my Father wrote for my Mother while he was overseas during WWll, in France and Germany. He had a journal book that I had always seen but never asked him to share the writings, only knowing that he once told me he often wrote while in fox holes. After my parents were killed in a car accident in 1962, I found the journal and was amazed to see this diary filled with his emotions and feelings about war, G-d, loss and love. I would like to share a few of these poems, maybe hoping to inspire the art of writing/expression without the use of a credit card. Have a love-filled February 14th!
Oh, lovely one, I dream of you
There is no other that will do.
No one can ever take your place, the image of your silhouette
The way you looked last we met.
I must admit when feeling low
I’ve glanced at others—but I know.
That there could never, never be
A substitute, no, not for me.
What heavenly thoughts you bring to mind
Oh tender one, for you I pine.
It seems for you my heart will break
Although you are just a T-bone steak!
We know that mass production
Is helping win this war
And soon we’ll have peace on this earth
The thing we’re fighting for.
I too would like to help produce—
Would be my pride and joy
I don’t mean planes or tanks or guns—
I mean a bouncing baby boy!
So I’m counting on you dear
For help and some instruction
When they tell me that I now am free
To go into production!
It’s been so lonely without you all these days,
I’ve missed you in a thousand ways.
I find myself reading each line that you send
One hundred times over from beginning to end.
My heart beats faster and I’m lonely all the more
When I read “with love to the one I adore.”
But somehow at twilight my longing seems to cease
In the solace which comes from quiet and peace.
And I find relief in happy reveries
Filled with fondest memories.
I remember every phrase you ever said
And sorrow turns to joy instead.
I remember all the plans we made together
And how we wondered if they would ever
Be more than dreams or really come true.
I think so, darling, don’t you?
So it matters not so much
That we are miles apart
As long as you’re here,
Here, in my heart.
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy
Wooing French girls with my candy.
Every night at half-past eight
I meet Yvonne down by the gate.
“Descrej-vous une cigarette?”
She shakes her head, she wants more.
She says “savon?” I say, “no, soap”
And offer cheese without much hope.
We haggle on but she wants “beaucoup.”
She knows what I want…what I’m thinking too.
At last I give in to what she begs
And pay a king’s ransom for a couple of eggs!
Shut tight I hold these eyes of mine
Thought I might I see your face divine
And if to another world I flee
I’ll take its loveliness with me.
— Marvin Greenberg, 1943-1945