Voices from the field

Yom Hamishpacha, Israel's Modern Valentine's Day

By Sophie Fellman Rafalovitz

Having lived in the US for four years on Shlichut and then being back in Israel for six years, I had forgotten what it feels like here when “secular” holidays roll around. Christmas and Easter are pretty clear cut, they “don’t belong to us”. Valentine’s Day and Halloween sort of do, but then there is that tension…do we do it? Don’t we? Do we but feel funny about it?

As a parent this time around, it’s even more interesting to observe. It’s all around us, yet the children are oblivious about it and it hasn’t been mentioned in school.

Switch back to Israel…in Israel, there is more awareness of Valentine’s day than ever before. It’s called “Valentine” or “Yom HaAhava”. It’s not a major day, some people are aware of it and some aren’t. If you look on my news feed on Facebook, you will find statuses that relate to “Yom HaAhava" (Day of love), but also statuses that state the Christian origins of Valentine’s day. There are those people who feel that one should be educated about it.

When the topic of Valentine’s Day comes up in Israel, you can count the minutes before someone comments that Jews have there own Valentine’s Day, on the 15thof the Month of Av. Usually in July or August. It’s not as red as Valentine’s Day, but it is a day for concerts and wedding proposals. And it’s based in the Talmud.

In some years, though, Valentine’s Day comes close to another Israeli holiday that has been growing year by year. The proximity is interesting, because actually this day does feel similar to Valentine’s day here: same colors, same items being sold in stores.

What I’m referring to is Yom Hamishpacha, Family Day. When we first made Aliyah, we were told that there was a Mother’s Day, sometime in the winter. As a child, I found out about it by someone picking a flower and telling me that it was for her mother.

Over time, I would hear the phrases of Yom HaEm interchanged with a new phrase, Yom HaMishpacha. Israel had decided to not have a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day, but rather a Family Day. Family is celebrated as you spend time with your family and prepare gifts for them.

I remember never quite knowing when Yom Hamishpacha happened. I knew it was around Tu B'shvat, sometimes on Tu B'shvat, but never knew when.

It turns out that a set date hadn’t quite been established. Around the year 2000, it was decided that Yom Hamishpacha would be celebrated on the 30thof Sh'vat. That is Henrietta Szold’s death date, and though she never had any kids, she was known to be “the mother of all children,” active in creating framework for Jewish immigrant children from everywhere.

So, there you have it. A new, modern holiday, and a new way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Happy Family Day!