I dove into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find about Valentine’s Day.

It was Valentine’s Day this past Tuesday. For many of us, a time to recognize our love for our sweeties with gifts like candy, greeting cards, or — as some advertisements in the JN over the past 80 years indicate — cars, diamonds and gold jewelry. (I really hope Pam, my wife, was not expecting a Cadillac. I only gave her candy.)

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

Valentine’s Day is also a controversial holiday in the Jewish community. On one hand, it is named after a Catholic saint and considered a Christian religious holiday by some, so why would Jews celebrate this day? On the other hand, after advertising firms and greeting card manufacturers discovered Valentine’s Day, it can be said to be a typical secular American affair — a “Hallmark holiday” — so why not show someone a little love?

Although its Catholic origins can be traced to the third century, Valentine’s Day has its roots in the mid-19th century. Esther Howland is credited with the first production of a Valentine Day card in 1847, beginning the transformation of handwritten notes to greeting cards. Today, when counting school activities, an estimated 1 billion cards will change hands in the U.S.

In 1868, Cadbury, the massive British candy company, contributed to the cause when it created heart-shaped chocolate boxes for Valentine’s Day. An estimated $25 billion will be spent on Valentine candy this year.

A Barton’s ad in the Feb. 12, 1953, JN, boasted of combining the two Valentine’s Day trends. This Jewish-owned national candy store chain created a chocolate greeting card that you could eat!

I dove into the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History to see what I could find about Valentine’s Day. The first mention of Valentine’s Day was in the Feb. 11, 1921, Jewish Chronicle. It was an advertisement for — you guessed it — Valentine’s Day candy.

In fact, more than a thousand pages in the Archive mention Valentine’s Day. The bulk of them are advertisements for gifts, especially candy and jewelry. There were also lots of ads for restaurants with Valentine’s Day offerings. In this regard, Danny Raskin often noted particular eateries that had special menus for the day.

I also found other stories beyond advertisements. For one example, beginning in the early 1920s, in the Chronicle’s Society News, there are many announcements for Valentine’s Day dances or dinners sponsored by Jewish communal organizations.

Several articles in the JN discuss Valentine’s Day mitzvahs. Patty Rosenfeld led Brownie Troop 1082 when it sent Valentine’s Day cards to troops stationed in the Persian Gulf (May 31, 1991, JN). “Heart to Heart” is the story of Jewish youth teaming up with JARC residents to produce Valentines and gift bags for Detroit women, teens and children who were living with AIDS (Feb. 15, 2000).

And there are the love stories. “Reunited” is about the 30-year courtship of Karen Cohen and Richard Tessler, who were engaged on Valentine’s Day and married on “Sweetest Day,” another Hallmark holiday (Oct. 22, 1999). The story of Howard and Nichole (Sorkin) Gold was aired on national TV the week of Valentine’s Day in 1994 (Feb. 11, 1994).

So, is it a good idea to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Maybe Rabbi Benjamin Blech has the answer: “Yes, we should celebrate love … every day of the year!”

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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