I admit that I like the celebration of Valentine’s Day. I am not as much of a cheerleader for other American cultural observances with pagan and Christian origins. Take Halloween, for example. I have all kinds of issues with the way it has evolved since I was a kid. It’s a question of values. But let’s save that for another day. Valentine’s Day celebrates love – who could argue with that as a value, right?

So, even as I bask in the glow of a lovely, romantic dinner with my husband – he cooked this time, his delectable (Grandma’s) Hungarian roast chicken and delicious ratatouille and pear sauce for dessert – I want to note my issues with this American “love holiday.” Here are my concerns:

First, while I feel very lucky to have a happy marriage and a wonderful spouse, I am very aware that so many people do not enjoy loving and successful relationships with a significant other. I know, I was there, suffering through a failing marriage before finding a way out of it. Valentine’s Day wasn’t fun in those days – and it was a reminder of a sad and painful reality. It can also be depressing for singles who wish they were in loving relationships. And since it is the American way in our culture to inundate all of us – for days or even weeks — with the constant reminders of the “holiday,” the loneliness and pain can be a kind of slow-motion torture for the broken-hearted.

What about singles who are content with their lives and don’t accept the cultural message that they must find the “love of their life” to be complete? How alienating it must be at this time of year when the clear message is that everyone should find a “valentine” – thus communicating that something is wrong with them when they don’t – or don’t feel the need?

Does it make sense that a holiday that celebrates love can cause so many people so much discomfort, alienation and pain?

Another apparent conflict of values is the way that this annual celebration of romantic love pours so much attention on ONE day – as if we would only show love and devotion and appreciation to our lovers once a year. Is this to suggest that we don’t need to dote on our beloveds any other time of year? I know, that’s an overstatement, but not entirely. What does our culture teach us about how to sustain loving relationships with constant if not regular displays of devotion, honor, and gratitude?

Our popular culture is more consumed with gossip about infidelity and the drama of relationship challenges. That sells magazines and movies. But another culture – Jewish culture – has a different manner of dealing with relationships. Jewish tradition assigns a regular ritual of devotion to loving partners. On Shabbat, the Sabbath, as the sun sets and the candles are lit, representing Divine light and holy sparks, it is customary for a husband to recite Eshet Chayil, A Woman of Valor, from Proverbs 31, to his wife. Today, egalitarian blessings have either replaced or supplemented this traditional poem, and can be used by either partner in a loving relationship, regardless of gender. It is a sacred moment of showing affection and devotion. Set in a quiet space of time within the home, it honors loving relationship without beating it over the heads of the love-lost and single.

My husband’s roast chicken is, for sure, our favorite special dinner. But he doesn’t only make it on Valentine’s Day, and he and I both are attentive to the need to show devotion in big and small ways every day. Shabbat is a weekly chance to make sure we got it right. Now that’s a Valentine’s Day I can really endorse.

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