Williamsburg has always been a place of cultural interface, especially within the Jewish community. To the south and the east, Hasidic Jews occupy the streets and apartments, parks and kosher corner stores, dressed in traditional garb, speaking Hebrew and Yiddish, and largely keeping to themselves. On the north side of the neighborhood is a young person’s playground. Populated largely by 20-something Brooklyn transplants, sunning themselves on hot summer days in McCarren Park or hanging outside of the coolest bars in town. But in such a cramped, bustling metropolis, paths cross, space is inevitably shared, foreign languages are often overheard and, especially in the streets of Williamsburg, old New York and new New York intermingle, helping to create the mosaic that makes our city so famous. However, it’s not every day that an extinct tradition dating back to biblical times is resurrected and re-imagined by the young populous of Williamsburg, but when you’re talking about love, age ‘aint nothing but a number.
On Tuesday night, Brooklyn Bowl, Stonehill Publicity and NYBluePrint.com kicked off their first annual Tu B’Av celebration, a revival of a Jewish holiday—a Jewish version of Valentine’s Day—dating back many thousands of years. The original holiday, celebrated in the days before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, marked the beginning of the grape harvest, and implored young, unmarried Jewish women to don long white garments and dance in the vineyards, where single Jewish men would eventually come after them. The holiday was largely forgotten after the destruction of the Temple, though it has enjoyed a recent renaissance in Israel and, as of last year, in Brooklyn as well.
Though the Tu B’Av event at Brooklyn Bowl was not exactly billed as a singles event—the holiday is famous for encouraging matchmaking, an already popular practice in modern-day Judaism—Melissa Stonehill of Stonehill Publicity and one of the central organizers of the event explained the importance of the holiday as an expression and celebration of traditional romance and love. Stonehill, who specializes in internet marketing for music, television and films, and is in the process of producing a reality show about women’s self defense, said that the internet has, in some ways, muddied the waters for romance, and celebrating holidays like Tu B’Av helps restore a sense of true human connection.
“Internet dating has gotten a little bit scary for a lot of people, you can upload any picture you want,” Stonehill said. “Nothing can replace a skin-to-skin molecular connection. It’s like listening to a record—people will always come to concerts, to see a live show. You can’t replace that. We live in a world with so many veils; how fast can you text? How fast can you send a Blackberry message? Something has been lost, and we want something more.”
Monica Rozenfeld, a freelance journalist representing NYBlueprint.com, an online magazine and events calendar for young Jews in New York, discussed the revival of Tu B’Av as a modern-day twist on a ritual that is as old as Judaism itself: finding a soulmate.
“Times change and relationships change, but in Judaism we’re always seeking to celebrate holidays, and matchmaking and dating is huge,” Rozenfeld said. “Tu B’Av represents the possibility of finding your true love, about finding your one and only.”