By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
My rabbi, a man of learning and strict interpretations of Jewish guidelines, is aware of my propensity to make new Jewish holidays. “Ted, Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday – never was, never will be.”
Well, he’s the rabbi and I’m only a scribbler. But, I’m thinking, hey the theme of Valentine’s Day is love. The theme of Judaism is life – l’chaim. Pardon my French, as my Aunt Hannah used to say, but love makes life. Our religion understands and encourages the relationship. Strange, theological scholars are quick to point out the Christian accent on love. Not the sexual or even matrimonial kind, but the universal “love the world” kind.
Judaism, on the other hand, puts an erotic poem – the Song of Songs – in our authorized holy book. And look at all the romances, affairs, wooings, matings – some legit, some borderline, some bawdy – in our Tanach. Samson and Delilah, Judah and his daughter-in-law, David and Bathsheba, Ruth and Boaz, Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, Jacob and Becky. Beginning with our all-father Abraham there are amorous details about his marriage to two wives that would fill a newsstand full of National Inquirers.
Then go look at “love” in the New Testament. Not much there. The closest they get to sexual reality is the well-known parable about throwing stones at prostitutes. There is a definite difference in accents. My point? A celebration of love – Valentine’s Day – should be OUR holiday.
Some say we originated it. Some say it started with young Manny Feibish, a British schoolboy. Newly bar mitzvahed, he suddenly noticed that the world contained girls as well as carrot tzimmus. (He loved carrot tzimmus). He worshipped – from a distance of course – his schoolmate, Vicki Valentine. (Legend says they changed it from Valenstein.)
He preferred a pounding with a cricket bat to a short conversation with this half-grown schoolgirl. He stuttered and blinked, and a rash (which spelled “I LOVE YOU” in blotchy red bumps) popped out on his back.
So Manny – eager to proclaim his emotions – approached his good friend, young Master Marcus Hallmark, two years post Bar Mitzvah. Hallmark was well known for his courage with young ladies and a talent for fond phrases. Yes, and a need for shillings, pence, and pounds. Manny Feibish begged his pal, Hallmark, to deliver a devotional message to Vicki, the playground queen. “I’ll give you a whole handful of pence, Hallmark.” That very afternoon they held their planning session.
“What thoughts should I convey to Mistress Valentine,” began the silver-tongued emissary.
“Well, tell her I think she’s cuter than a plate full of kreplach.” Manny was fascinated with kreplach. In fact, the same devotion was applied to anything that came on a plate. Consequently, he was a rounded little fellow.
“I love her yellow hair and I think her eyes are shinier than my finest aggie marble,” said Manny.
Young Master Hallmark, blessed with a maturity beyond his age, duly took notes. “Hair so fine – Eyes that shine – Will you be mine, Valentine?”
The next day young Master Hallmark, note in hand, was waiting by the playground swing for the golden girl. He was idly making a dollar sign in the dust at his feet when he looked up at a pair of emerald green eyes framed by crayon yellow hair. Gad – Manny Feibish should have warned him. Who could look at those eyes and still command brain and tongue to work sensibly together?
He tried, but like his employer, he developed palpitations. And only gibberish fell on the sugar cookie ears of Mistress Vicki Valentine. The messenger fled, but not before he thrust his notes in Victoria’s palm.
The next day the owner of the emerald eyes and sugar cookie ears coyly approached a trembling Manny Feibish. She wore a modest shawl over her hypnotic hair and she turned down the volume of those radiating emerald eyes so that Manny could breathe normally and articulate without slobbering.
It made no difference. But luckily, Victoria opened the conversation with, “Yes, yes, yes, I’ll be your Valentine forever. What a loving heart lies in your pudgy chest. And what a poetic soul pulses in your cuddly body. And I’d love to share a plate of kreplach with you.”
The poetic soul moved its head up and down in recognition and gratitude. That’s all it could do.
Well, the word soon got around the playground that Hallmark could make a golden cage of phrases that could capture any girlish heart.
“You just give him a few clues,” Manny Feibish told a group of spellbound listeners, “like her hair color and whether she’s thick or thin. He makes up a mushy note and takes it to her. Next thing you know – you’re sitting at her parents’ dining room table. She’s smiling at you. And you’re eating a big plate of carrot tzimmus warmed by her smiles.”
Business boomed for Young Master Hallmark. He kept that lucky last line that had heralded his new career. With a slight twist it became – “Won’t you be MY Valentine”. In fact, since all young ladies of ten have hair so fine and eyes that shine, he used the very same verse for years. It went with everything – like your white socks. His career thrived.
That Hallmark, he was a card!