This Valentine’s Day, as I’ve watched pink and red hearts crowd pharmacy aisles and store displays, I’ve been thinking about what kind of value this holiday holds for the Jewish community.  With its emphasis on rampant consumerism, surely there is nothing Jewish about Valentine’s Day.  There is no erev Valentine’s Day, no family meals and no way to link cupid with his arrow to the perpetual struggle for the survival of our people.  But then I realized – my own journey as a Jewish leader has centered on the very same symbol that is held up by this secular holiday.

Before returning to graduate school, I spent five years as the director of Heart to Heart — a Toronto-based program that brings a group of Jewish Israeli and Palestinian Israeli teens to an overnight camp in Canada each summer.  The group participates in team-building activities, intensive dialogue sessions and shared society education.  All of the participants are Israeli citizens, but have very different lived experiences of that citizenship.  Our logo is (you guessed it!) a heart.  A big, purple heart made up of interlocking arrows that fold into one another.  The heart symbolism is meant to evoke a safe, caring environment where youth can both build meaningful connections and share their deepest selves.  Quite literally, we facilitate spaces where “heart to heart” can be life changing.

I’ve been witness to countless “heart to heart” moments over the years.  When I think about the connections our participants have made, many shared soccer games and late-night dance parties to both Hebrew and Arabic music come to mind.  However, I think that the most meaningful relationships have been built not in spite of our participants’ differences, but because of them.

The summer of 2014 was the most difficult program we have ever run.  Our curriculum went out the window before breakfast almost every day, as our participants grappled with the news from home about the rising tensions and Israel’s eventual ground invasion into Gaza.  At the same time, the 2014 Heart to Heart cohort formed some of the strongest relationships I have ever seen.

I recall trying to control the conversation as we shared the news that IDF forces had entered Gaza, and mayhem broke out around me.  Two girls were particularly distraught: Sivan, whose brother’s army unit was one of the first to enter the combat zone and Danya, whose extended family lived in Gaza.  As counselors and friends crowded around each to provide comfort, the two girls locked eyes.  I truly did not know what was going to happen, and images of screaming, blaming and hair pulling flashed before my eyes.  To all of our surprise, Danya walked over to Sivan, who was huddled on the grass, and hugged her.  Sivan hugged back and they stayed like that, interlocked and whispering, for the better part of an hour.

The annual Heart to Heart alumni conference took place in Israel this past weekend.  Many of our 140 alumni were there, including those from our 2014 cohort.  I can assure you, that conference room was decked out with as many paper hearts as any CVS in America was this week.  So maybe there is something Jewish about Valentine’s Day.  Maybe there is something behind the heart-shaped chocolate and cards that is important for our community — for Israel and for each one of us individually.  This February, I challenge you to make a connection not just with someone you love, but with someone who is different from you.  What will your “heart to heart” moment be?

Get To Know The Author

Wexner Graduate Fellow and Davidson Scholar Dalia Krusner (Class 29) grew up in the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, and attended its summer camp in Ontario, Camp Shomria, for 15 years.  Dalia graduated with High Distinction from the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.  She is currently pursuing a dual MA in Jewish Professional Leadership and MBA in Non-Profit Management from the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University.