JCC East Bay to celebrate a bygone Jewish love holiday

The Jewish tradition has its share of somber holidays: days of fasting, remembering the fallen, atoning for our sins. Tu B’Av is a refreshing contrast.

The little-known holiday has always been about joy. Before the fall of Jerusalem, it signified the beginning of the grape harvest (with Yom Kippur marking the end) and was celebrated with lighthearted dancing; it also served as a matchmaking day for unmarried women.

But for centuries that followed, the holiday went somewhat unnoticed — until its resurgence over the past few decades in Israel as a modern “Day of Love,” often celebrated with sweets and flowers, akin to Valentine’s Day in the Western world.

In the U.S., the holiday is rarely celebrated — but Rabbi Bridget Wynne aims to change that. On Thursday, Aug. 11, the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay will host “A Jewish Evening of Love,” a night of dancing, champagne and socializing for both singles and couples. Jews, non-Jews, and “everything in between” are welcome, said Wynne.

“What I was hearing is that people wanted more of a variety of ‘adult’ ways to be Jewish, things that were not only kid-focused activities,” said Wynne, the founder and director of Jewish Gateways. The group is for “wandering or wondering” Jews, non-Jews and interfaith families who want to explore Jewish cultural and religious traditions. Jewish Gateways is co-sponsoring the event, along with Building Jewish Bridges (a Lehrhaus Judaica program) and the JCC of the East Bay.

“We had an event last year that was ‘Chanukah for Adults,’ because that’s a holiday where, if you don’t have kids, it’s not that clear what you can do to celebrate that’s any fun,” said Wynne with a laugh. “Since then, we’ve been looking for other opportunities, and Tu B’Av seemed like a good one, because by definition it’s an adult event.”

The programming on tap for the evening includes an opening talk by local Rabbi Andrea Berlin on sensual poetry from the Jewish tradition, Israeli folk dancing lessons, wood craftmaking, cupcake decorating, a photo booth with costumes and more. Married couples can renew their vows or receive a blessing under the chuppah from Wynne; unmarried couples are invited to learn about their options for having a Jewish wedding. And, of course, singles are invited to socialize, learn about the holiday and, hopefully, said Wynne, have a little fun.

“Meeting people can be so awkward,” she said. “There aren’t many singles events where there’s actually interesting content. And for married people, I’ll meet people who had Jewish weddings but for whatever reason didn’t connect with it at the time, and later find themselves saying ‘I want to do this in a way that means something to me.’ … It’s chance to engage with Jewish tradition in a personal way.”

Wynne emphasized that the event is open to all. “Tu B’Av is really hardly ever celebrated here,” she said. “But it’s such a fun one! It’s a chance to celebrate a holiday full of things people actually want to do.”  

 “A Jewish Evening of Love” will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 11 at the JCC of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Free; must be 21 and older to participate. www.jewishgateways.org.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.