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Tu b’Av — Jews in the mood for love

 
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Many Jews are uncomfortable with Valentine’s Day — with its pagan and Christian origins — and refrain from using it to send expressions of love. Happily, Jews have other opportunities to do just that.

The Mishnah (Ta’anit 4:8) relates that one of the two most joyous days in ancient Israel was the 15th day of Av, Tu b’Av. What happened on that day? “The daughters of Jerusalem went out in white garments ... dancing in the vineyards. And what did they say? ‘Young men, look up and see what you will choose for yourself. Look not at beauty but at family....’”

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A poster from last year’s Love Fest

The Mishnah is worthy of study on a number of counts. For example, all of the women wore borrowed dresses so that wealth — or lack thereof — would not be an issue in a man’s selecting a mate. Further, the emphasis is on family, not beauty, in the selection process. “Looks,” fleeting and superficial, are not what Judaism views as the foundation of a real and loving relationship.

Tu b’Av, which marked the beginning of the annual vintage, was a day to find love. To this day, Shabbat Nahamu, the Shabbat immediately after Tisha b’Av, is a popular singles Shabbat. What more appropriate day than Tu b’Av to send a card, flowers or small token to your beloved — or to introduce a young man and woman to each other?

Rabbi Ronald Roth, religious leader of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel, points out that in Israel, the holiday — which has not been much marked in recent years — has undergone a kind of rebirth.

Indeed, according to the Website myjewishlearning.com, “In recent decades, Israeli civil culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu b’Av. The entertainment and beauty industries work overtime on this date.”

Still, Roth pointed out, there is no special liturgy for this occasion or any religious ritual.

In this country, he said, “most Jews are not aware of it, so historically it hasn’t worked out very well.” But, he added, since marriage within the faith is something we are still concerned about, the holiday might be used to raise our consciousness.

“It’s a conceptual reminder that we need to see to it that Jews have an opportunity to meet and marry other Jews,” he said, suggesting, for example that synagogues might purchase JDate memberships for single members.

The Jewish Standard reported in a March 2008 article that Rabbi Kenneth Emert of Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff had done precisely that, using monies from his synagogue’s discretionary fund.

Rabbi Jarah Greenfield of Reconstructionist Temple Beth Israel of Bergen County in Maywood said the “day is fertile ground for what could become a contemporary Jewish ritual, but we’re not there yet.”

It “has a lot of resonance,” she said, adding that Tu b’Av, on which women went out to choose their life partners, represents “a reversal of social norms.” Also, she said, “it exists as something to look back on and enjoy — a snapshot of what vibrant Jewish life was like on that special day.”

Greenfield pointed out that the day has “a lot of potentially rich feminist elements.” Even though it is premised on the idea that women need to be married, “there are underpinnings of equality running through the ritual,” such as the requirement that the white garments be borrowed.

The rabbi said we might look on the holiday today as an opportunity to celebrate “unconventional loving relationships” in contemporary Jewish life. “To me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to be creative with ritual,” she said, adding that she will definitely mention the holiday on the Shabbat preceding it. “It’s an opportunity to educate people,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz of River Edge’s Temple Avodat Shalom — who said he doesn’t know anyone who observes Tu b’Av — pointed out that the day is linked in the sources to Yom Kippur, since the afternoon of that day was also traditionally a time for making matches.

Borovitz suggested that “somehow in medieval times [the day] had a connection with Tisha b’Av, [which began] the countdown to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.” The rabbi noted that it also came at the end of a period of mourning, during which marriages are prohibited.

“Its only contemporary significance may be as a reminder that there’s a Jewish communal responsibility to facilitate young people meeting other young people,” he said. “To me, if we’re going to do something, it would be to make it a big Jewish singles event. Maybe we should consider this for next year.”

 

More on: Tu b’Av — Jews in the mood for love

 
 
 

A new take on an ancient tradition

Jennie Rivlin Roberts, founder of the Jewish retail site ModernTribe.com, said she learned about Tu b’Av last year through Lisa Alcalay Klug, author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.”

Together, Roberts and Klug — who this year are co-sponsoring a Tu b’Av “LoveFest” in Los Angeles featuring a variety of Jewish performers — have created a contest called the “Cool Jew Love Day Giveaway.”

 
 

Time for a Jewish Couples Hall of Fame

A big, round August moon will be hanging in the sky the night of Aug. 4, as Jews begin to celebrate the little-known and ancient Jewish holiday of love.

Under this shining moon of love and dedication, I propose a new museum.

Tu b’Av — the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Av, six days after the fast of Tisha b’Av — dates back to the Temple times when Jewish maidens would put on white garments and go out into the fields in search of husbands.

 
 
 
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Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Helping kids play outside again

There’s an image from his trip to Israel last week that Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, cannot get out of his head.

Shames was with a delegation of 125 administrative and fundraising executives from the Jewish Federations of North America. They traveled together to Greece and Israel to assess overseas needs.

“Obviously there has been a lot of change in itinerary due to what’s been going on,” Mr. Shames said on Sunday, referring to Operation Protective Edge and the constant salvos from Gaza.

“Since we landed in Israel on Thursday, when things started escalating, we spent time devising what an emergency campaign should look like, and we decided to take a small group to show support in Sderot and Beersheva.”

 

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg retires

Rabbi Ira Kronenberg of Passaic clearly has staying power.

He also has a strong sense of responsibility and a deep concern for the people he serves.

Director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/The Gallen Institute in Clifton for some 39 years, the rabbi also enjoyed a long association — from 1972 to 2008 — with the United States Army. In both arenas, he played many roles and touched the lives of countless people.

At Daughters of Miriam, Rabbi Kronenberg conducted religious services, paid pastoral visits, supervised the kitchens, mentored social work students during their internships, and served as staff coordinator for the ethics committee and the residents’ council.

 

Shoes, glorious shoes

Local couple finds success weaving footware

Today, the shoes that Itamar Carmi of Teaneck designs with his wife, Rachel, are found in 1,200 stores around the world.

But his adventures in the shoe trade started with a bad loan in New York City.

Mr. Carmi had grown up in Tel Aviv. After the army, he studied at university for a year before deciding it wasn’t for him. So he came to New York to seek his fortune. The year was 1985.

He wasn’t penniless. He had enough money to lend a not insignificant amount to a friend who owned a shoe store on Fifth Avenue.

Rather than being repaid, he was brought on as a partner and an employee.

 
 
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