Tu B'Av: This 'Jewish Valentine’s Day' is a celebration of love and a joyful end to mourning

Sandi Diamond and Myron Cohen of Philadelphia dance during the recommitment ceremony at Shaare Shamayim synagogue in Philadelphia on Aug. 18, 2016.

Hundreds of years before Pope Gelasius invented Valentine's Day in 496, there was Tu B'Av.

At the start of each summer grape harvest, Jewish women dressed in white and danced in a vineyard, hoping to find a mate.

So significant was the holiday of love that an ancient rabbinic text stated flatly, "There are no better days in Israel than Tu B'Av and Yom Kippur."

Through the millennia, Valentine's Day was embraced by popular culture, but Tu B'Av, not. Yet there are signs that it is winning Jewish hearts anew.

The celebration of the day of amore began at sundown Thursday with events hosted by area synagogues and social groups, including dance parties, a recommitment ceremony for about 50 people, and a special Shabbat service.

Barry Ratmansky, 62, a retired teacher from Richboro, Bucks County, chose the day to get down on one knee and propose (again) to his wife, Lynn, whom he wed 34 years ago.

"Would you marry me?" Ratmansky asked in front of the 50 people gathered at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim synagogue in Northeast Philadelphia.

Lynn Ratmansky, 58, embraced him and declared, "Yes!"

In modern Israel, Tu B'Av - Hebrew for the 15th day of the month of Av - is a time for heart-shape decorations and the exchange of flowers, candy, and other tokens of affection.

"There are concerts on the beach, romantic music festivals, and it's a night when a lot of couples go out to dinner," said Israeli-born Sahar Oz, program director of the Gershman Y in Center City, which on Thursday night hosted "Sex and the (First) City" walking tour through the love lives of Washington, Jefferson, and the other Founding Fathers.

The Talmud teaches that Tu B'Av is to be observed as a day of reconciliation, conflict resolution, and reunion - themes shared with Yom Kippur, said Rabbi Barry Schlesinger of the Congregations of Shaare Shamayim.

Tu B'Av also is the joyful end to a period of intense mourning that culminates days earlier with Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of Av), said Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel synagogue in Merion.

Tisha B'Av commemorates major tragedies of Jewish history, including the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

Adath Israel will mark Tu B'Av with a Shabbat service Friday. Members are asked to dress in tie-dyed, neon, or summer-white clothing. They'll sit outside, sip sangria, and sing.

Yanoff calls that the "shtick" of an event with something far more meaningful at its core: to give relevance to an ancient observance and bring people closer to Judaism.

The Young Friends of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia held its annual Tu B'Av white party a month early due to a scheduling conflict. The group, which has been observing the holiday for four years, is among the first in the region to celebrate with a large-scale public event, said Julie Howard Taylor, the museum's associate director of development.

On Thursday night, the Chevra, a group that develops social engagement projects for young Jewish professionals and also aims to stem the tide of Jewish assimilation and intermarriage, cohosted a dance party at its Center City headquarters at 20th and Ranstead Streets.

The band Pey Dalid played up its Jewish roots, rock, and reggae.

But more than just music was on the program. There were also professional matchmakers and representatives of SawYouAtSinai.com.

Lori Salkin, a matchmaker with SawYouAtSinai, worked the room. Her strategy was simple:

"If I meet someone on one side of the room that I think would be good for someone on the other side, I'll be like, 'Come on over here.' "

kholmes@phillynews.com610-313-8211

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