Tu B’Av Celebrations Mark Evolutions in Jewish Dating

A couple dance and spin each other on the dance floor.
After more than two years of COVID-19, Tribe 12 matchmakers Danielle Selber and Michal Naisteter are reconsidering how they host dating events. | Photo by Ed Meisarosh

The easiest way for Tribe 12 matchmaker Danielle Selber to describe the holiday of Tu B’Av is “Jewish Valentine’s Day.”

The comparison isn’t perfect, but for a minor Jewish holiday that is nary observed in the United States, the cheeky moniker is the closest descriptor to how Selber understands the day.

Falling on the 15th day of the month Av (or Aug. 11-12 this year), Tu B’Av is a holiday to celebrate love and, in the Temple era, the beginning of the grape harvest. It occurs a week after Tisha B’Av, an annual fast day that marks the destruction of the two temples in ancient Jerusalem.

While Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning, Tu B’Av is a day of jubilation. In Israel, where Selber’s mother is from, the holiday is marked with celebrations that resemble New Year’s parties where women don all white. Having weddings on Tu B’Av is common and auspicious. If one switched the motif of white with red or pink, they could see the cultural similarities between Tu B’Av and Valentine’s Day, albeit with very different religious significance.

Selber’s parents are one of many Jewish couples who were married on Tu B’Av. They met in Philadelphia while Devorah Selber, Selber’s mother, was on an exchange program. She went on a blind date with her to-be husband, and the two married in Israel six months later. The couple has been together for 38 years.

“It really added some roots to how I met my husband,” Devorah Selber said. “This is the way we did it; you just let yourself out there, and something will happen.”

On Tu B’Av, it was traditional for women to wear all white and go to the fields, where men would meet them. Devorah Selber’s blind date in Philadelphia was her metaphorical trip to the fields, the chance she took to find love.

For Adath Israel on the Main Line Rabbi Eric Yanoff, frolicking in the fields on Tu B’Av contains a different metaphor: Following Tisha B’Av, one of the saddest days of the Jewish calendar, running through the fields after a week of mourning represents a reprieve from sadness and the opportunities for new beginnings.

“I imagine there would be some sort of cathartic outpouring of positivity,” he said. “Coming off of Tisha B’Av, you have this great release … we get out of that time, and it feels like we’ve made it, and there’s a catharsis. There’s a sort of an outpouring or an outburst of goodness that comes.”

Today, young Jews looking for love don’t need to look as far as the Mishnah to find meaning in this idea. After three pandemic summers, there’s a renewed desire to find love and new beginnings.

Selber, along with fellow Tribe 12 matchmaker Michal Naisteter, is hosting “A Night of First Dates on Tu B’Av” through Tribe 12 on Aug. 11, an opportunity for young Jewish singles to go on a short walking date, then meet up the other singles participating in the event.

The program is representative of the slightly different approach young Jews have to dating, Selber and Naisteter noticed.

“People have gotten much more serious in their search for a mate,” Selber said. “People have this feeling that time was taken from then during the height of COVID when it was very difficult to date or meet people organically.”

Logistically, dating looks different today. Singles are more comfortable with online first dates as an opportunity to more quickly tell if someone’s vibe matches what they are looking for. They’re more likely to relocate if they find a match who lives farther away, Naisteter said.

Though Tribe 12 has hosted Tu B’Av events in the past, this year, Selber and Naisteter had to consider what people were comfortable with in regards to COVID safety. They didn’t just want to stick a bunch of people in a small room together, which would make the event more stressful than enjoyable.

Among even more variables to address was the demand that a “love holiday” like Valentine’s Day or, in this case, Tu B’Av, would have on a single’s expectations to find a partner. 

“A lot of times, love holidays put a lot of pressure on people, and we wanted to create something that is light-hearted and not pressure-filled,” Naisteter said. 

It’s a delicate balance to consider: the increased desire to find a partner after years of limited opportunities to do so meaningfully.

“My hope,” Naisteter said, “is that people will walk away from this time with a renewed sense of hope of finding their person.”

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