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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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Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.

 

French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

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A school grows in Englewood

Moriah, first local Jewish day school, celebrates turning fifty

It was 1971, and Dr. Norman Sohn was finishing his training in Boston. He and his wife, Judith, were faced with a decision. Where would they go next? Where would they settle down?

As a newly fledged surgeon, the world was open to him. He could get a job almost anywhere. He was originally from Manhattan, and his wife was from New Rochelle, so the New York metropolitan area made sense to them.

They knew they wanted a yeshiva education for their children — Dr. Sohn had gone to the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a school that combined religious and secular studies in a way that was progressive for its time — and they also wanted the luxury of choice. They didn’t want a one-school city, as Hartford and even Boston were at the time. “What really attracted me was the multiplicity of neighborhoods that were hospitable to Orthodox people,” Dr. Sohn said. “But here there were so many that if one didn’t work out, there was another.”

 

Sounds of joy

Children’s choir ranked number one by congregation

Perhaps if Tzipporei Shalom’s music were to be reviewed by a professional critic, the word “wow” might not find its way into the finished product. But to the congregants of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck — home to the children’s choir — the word seems just about right.

“It was the top-rated program in two synagogue surveys,” said Ronit Hanan, the shul’s musical director, who co-founded and co-directs the group with congregant Adina Avery-Grossman.

The a capella singing group has appeared with Safam, recorded a selection on a CD with the noted chazzan Netanel Hershtik, sung with Neil Sedaka, and joined with the synagogue’s adult choir, Tavim, on special occasions, most recently at CBS’s recent Shabbaton. They also participate in an annual community-wide junior choir festival together with choirs from local Reform congregations.

 

Affordable BRCA screening available for all Ashkenazi Jews

A new program at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in the Bronx is offering affordable genetic testing for the Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA cancer mutations.

Anyone who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, with at least one Ashkenazi Jewish grandparent, is eligible for the testing for a modest fee of $100.

For many years the recommendations to test for the gene were based on family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer. But a research study recently revealed that in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, the risk of harboring BRCA cancer genes is high whether or not there is a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

One in forty Ashkenazi Jews carry genetic glitches in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that elevate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer to as high as 80 percent by the time they are 80 years old. In fact, the landmark study of randomly selected Ashkenazi Jewish men in Israel found that “51 percent of families…harboring BRCA1 or BRCA1 mutations had little or no history of relevant cancer.”

 
 
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