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What is Tu B’Av and How Do I Celebrate?

When 18Doors asked me to write a post for Tu B’Av, I have to admit, I had to do some research because it’s not widely celebrated in my Reform Jewish community in San Francisco.

So, I opened Google and typed up, “What is Tu B’av?” Long story short, it’s kind of like the Jewish Valentine’s day.

One of the most interesting Intro to Judaism classes I took at my temple was a class on the Jewish calendar. Jewish time is determined by the sun and primarily by the moon, making it a lunisolar calendar. The calendar is so beautifully and thoughtfully designed to punctuate the year with rituals that help us heal, reflect, mark time and celebrate. Many Jewish holidays were designed to take place on the brightest night of the month, during the full moon. Tu B’Av is one of those nights.

First things first, what does Tu B’Av mean? Tu refers to the number 15, and Av is the name of the Jewish month. Av has historically been the month of destruction and mourning. Earlier in the month is Tisha B’Av (ninth day of the month of Av), which is the holiday commemorating the destruction of the first and second Holy Temples in Jerusalem. Tisha B’Av has historically been a bad day for Jews, on which we were expelled from many countries. Coincidentally, I plan to celebrate Obon, a Buddhist and Japanese festival of the dead, to honor my ancestors.

Just a few days later on Tu’B Av the tides turn. Tu’ B Av can be traced back to the grape harvest, when single women would dress in white and dance in the light of the full moon in vineyards to signal their status as being eligible for marriage. It’s been written that Tu B’Av was one of the only times a year that the 12 tribes of Israel would intermingle, making Tu B’Av the original celebration of interfaith marriage and the ultimate matchmaking dance party!

Today, Tu B’Av is making a comeback in Israel, where it’s celebrated as a modern Jewish Valentine’s Day with ancient roots. To me, this holiday is an opportunity to celebrate love and its diverse expressions today. Here are a few ideas of ways to commemorate and celebrate!

Kristin and Bryan Posner
Bryan and I take a stroll at dusk on our recent trip to New Orleans

1. Throw a Loving Day celebration. Loving Day commemorates Loving v. Virginia (1967), the landmark Supreme Court decision that declared all laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional in the U.S. Loving Day is not a national holiday (yet), but it takes place on or around June 12th. Tu B’Av is the perfect Jewish holiday to celebrate the mixed race and interfaith marriages that make up an increasing number of marriages in our Jewish communities. Visit this link to learn more about how to throw a Loving Day party.

2. Though Pride month is officially the month of June, why not keep the celebrations going? While large strides have been made for equality for LGBTQ people, there is still lots more work to be done. Spend the evening watching an LGBT film  and get involved and stay updated with the Human Rights Campaign which advocates for LGBTQ equality. What better way to celebrate love, than to advocate for love in every form?

3. Check out At the Well Project’s month of Av guide. It’s like reading your Jewish horoscope for the month!

4. Go on a date night with your love. Some Tu B’Av-specific ideas include: A moonlit stroll, visiting a wine bar (to celebrate the grape harvest, of course), going out dancing–or have your own little dance party at home.

5. Go dancing with friends and wear all white. Dance in the light of the moon if possible.

6. If you’re having a date night at home, whip up one of my recipes like berry labneh, mochi latkes or Japanese-style cotton cheesecake. Molly Yeh and Joan Nathan are a couple of my favorite Jewish chefs who blend cultures beautifully and deliciously in their recipes. And 18Doors contributor Whitney Fisch created this tahini vanilla ice box cake just for Tu B’Av.

Japanese-Style Cotton Cheesecake

7. Sign up for one of 18Doors’ upcoming events. These are great ways to connect with other couples and discuss how you navigate religion in your lives, and to think about planning a Jewish wedding.

Kristin and her husband

Kristin Eriko Posner

Kristin Eriko Posner (she/her) is a Japanese American Jew and the founder of Nourish Co., a website that inspires multiethnic people and families to create nourishing new rituals drawn from time-honored wisdom. She does this through her writing, recipe development, and a limited-edition collection of modern heirlooms, all of which explore and celebrate her intersecting identities.