Greetings from Seasons Past

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By James Benjamin Nadel, Communications Outreach Associate

How do you reach out to friends and family for the
New Year? Do you write them an email or make a call? This year you might,
following a long Jewish tradition, consider sending an illustrated postcard.
Such was the norm for many Jews living in the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. A collection of Rosh Hashanah postcards from the Yeshiva University Museum, one of the Center’s partners, are currently on display in
the Center’s Great Treasures in the Great Hall display case.

This style of Rosh Hashanah postcards originated at the end
of the 19th century in Germany, where printing technology was
advanced enough to create unique and even personalized illustrations. The style
soon traveled to Poland, and major printing operations were opened in both
Warsaw and Krakow. The images, which could appear in black and white or in
bright colors, varied greatly from postcard to postcard. Some depicted Jewish
communities conducting religious rituals, such as the prayer for the new moon
at the end of Yom Kippur (Kidush Levanah).
Others showed everyday activities, including several that portray lovers
wishing one another a happy holiday. A few postcards were even written from
areas that had recently experienced pogroms, sent as cries for assistance from
relatives.

All of these postcards incorporate the joyful
refrain, L’shana Tovah!  (Happy New
Year). But many of the postcards also include a charming rhyme, often written
in Yiddish. One of the postcards on display, which shows a man and a women
flying in an air balloon, has the following inscription:

With a baggage
of riches, love, luck

You soar in the
spacious sky, free

There is your
life

Always sweet,
always faithful, always lovely and new

This peculiar and endearing scene, and its
accompanying stylized poem, surely would have made the occasion memorable.    

In addition to being delightful products, these
postcards also provide anthropological details about the lives of Eastern
European Jewry. In them, we see Jews praying, celebrating, mourning,
interacting with new technologies, and experiencing their lives. To see more of
these postcards, see the YIVO Encyclopedia
entry about postcards, which includes many pictures.

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