Valentine’s Day is a thoroughly ridiculous holiday. It’s okay, I can say that: I was born on Valentine’s Day. But seriously, whose genius idea was it to place a holiday celebrating passion and romance and love in the dead of winter’s cold, cold heart?
That cute dress you want to wear to the restaurant? Too thin. Those snakeskin shoes you’ve nicknamed “The Deal-Sealers?” Have fun sloshing around in the gray-black slush that lines our fine streets in wintertime (not to mention the resultant salt ring). All in all, it’s not very intuitive. Which is why one of the Jewish accomplishments I’m most proud of—right up there with Rabbi Nechunya ben HaKana figuring out the universe was 15.3 billion years old in the 1st century—was that we realized two-and-a-half millenia ago that Valentine’s Day works a lot better in the summer.
This year, Jewish Valentine’s Day, otherwise known as Tu B’Av, begins on Thursday night and will probably be accompanied by the usual glut of singles events and all-white parties. (Parents, now would probably be a good time to stop by your kids summer camps. Maybe. Y’know, just to say “hi.” No other reason. Honest.)
I met my wife because of Tu B’Av, actually. Not on, but because of. We’d met on an online dating site and were meeting up for professional, non-romantic networking purposes. After all, I’d seen her profile and saw that she had checked “Reform,” just as she saw that I had checked “Orthodox.” So, clearly, a relationship between us was not something that was going to work out. However, we both had resources that would aid the other in their specific branch of diversity work, and we were more than willing to share the wealth. Five hours later we were at a bar surrendering to the far too many—and far too creepy—things we had in common. We decided to turn it into a date right then and there.
That dating site? It was called JOCFlock (“JOC” as in “Jews of Color,” and “Flock” as in “a herd of single sheep looking to mingle”), and it was the Internet’s first dating site that catered to Jews of color. JOCFlock was launched in 2010 on Tu B’Av—by me—because there was (and still is) something very wrong about how Jews of color are treated once they reach this particular point of the Jewish life cycle, and it desperately needed a solution. Case in point, consider Ayanna Nahmias’s biracial Jewish son who doesn’t want to date Jewish girls because of the bullying and rejection he’s experienced since Hebrew school, and a lack of being able to see himself reflected in his Jewish community. It was a story that resonated with me on more than some abstract level of outrage as an advocate for Jewish diversity because I’ve been where Nahmias’s son is. I’ve dated there.
I always knew that I was going to marry Jewish—that part was non-negotiable for me. But just who was the Jewish woman I was going to marry? I had little idea, less prospects, and even lesser interest in anyone from my community. Years and years of identity interrogations, “tolerance” being mistaken as being “acceptance” and just plain ol’ bona-fide racism tend to do that to a person. So I dated a non-Jewish girl for eight years, with full disclosure on the table that marriage wasn’t happening before a mikvah dip. If I couldn’t find a Jew to marry, then I guess I’d just have to make one.
That relationship didn’t work out, and the time I had spent in it resigned me to the fact that I didn’t have another decade to hang around waiting for someone to decide to convert or not. Next time around, I needed to find someone who was Jewish from the get-go. And with that realization, I figured there were probably people in the same or worse position than I was, so there needed to be some kind of structure for all of us.
And there are horror stories: The kinds where caramel-skinned Jews get told by matchmakers that they’re “too pretty” to marry Jews who are Black; and the kinds when African-American Jews in their twenties are set up with developmentally challenged 40-year olds. Why? Because people didn’t think she’d mind due to her circumstances. Y’know. Because she’s Black. Those kinda circumstances.
It doesn’t get any better when Jews of Color look online for love either. Some JOCs don’t even put up their profile picture to avoid rude comments from site users and moderators alike. I myself had an interesting multi-email, multi-hour exchange questioning my Jewish identity when I joined online-dating site Frumster (now JWed) out of curiosity. Another website, Future Simchas, deleted my profile without ever approving it. (I’m not exactly sure why my profile was deleted, and I never got an answer from the site’s admins asking.)
And that’s how and why JOCFlock was born. Because no one looking for love should really have to be put through a crucible of completely unrelated pain first.
So this Tu B’Av, I’m reviving the concept and intention behind JOCFlock and relaunching it under the new name, Mosaic Matches (“Mosaic” as in “relating to Moses;” “mosaic” as in “a mural composed of several multi-colored individual pieces;” and “Matches” as in “a collection of single mosaic pieces looking to mingle”). Because every Jew should have the chance to enjoy a day of love without being bombarded by hate or ignorance (which is sometimes still just hate only with a better publicist).
Yes we’re all part of the same whole, but those parts each deserve to have safe spaces too. So let’s get out there this holiday and try, shockingly enough for Jewish Valentine’s Day, loving our fellow Jews. (With our clothes on, I mean. Not the JSwipe definition of “loving.”)
Chag Sameach All.
MaNishtana is the pseudonym of Shais Rishon, an Orthodox African-American Jewish writer, speaker, rabbi, and author of Thoughts From A Unicorn. His latest book is Ariel Samson, Freelance Rabbi.