Historic Postcards Celebrate Jewish New Year

Visits: 0

Rediscovering A Lost Art Rosh Hashanah in the Golden Age of Postcards

Welcoming immigrants

In 1873, the first American “picture postcard” was produced. Today, a significant number of postcards from the late 19th and early to mid-20th century surprisingly exist in a good to excellent state, with fine penmanship and one-cent and two-cent stamps. 

Rosh Hashanah, which is known as the “Beginning of the Year” and also referenced as the Day of Judgment and Day of Remembrance, was held on September 16 and 17 on the Gregorian calendar, but is Tishrei on the Jewish calendar. The year 5784 was brought in by attending services and reviewing one’s relationship with G-D and repenting. It is a tradition to blow the Shofar and eat challah or apples dipped in honey for a sweet year. Over a century ago, it was also customary to mail a hand-colored Rosh Hashanah postcard. 

Deltiology is the collection and study of postcards, which derives from “deltion,” a Greek term for a writing tablet or letter. A postcard collector is a deltiologist. Several decades ago, postcards could be found at a corner pharmacy, but today, vintage postcards are found on eBay, at estate sales and postcard shows, or perhaps in a dusty box in your attic, left behind by an earlier homeowner. Nearly every theme is represented, including holidays, hometowns, and hobbies.  

The majority of postcards were published between 1898 and 1918, with those from the 1920s and 1930s in fewer quantities. Today, all are considered to be collectible works of art and range from a few dollars to over one hundred dollars, depending on their artistry, publisher, and rarity. It is estimated that by 1913, nearly one billion postcards were mailed in America.    

Most Rosh Hashanah postcards are graceful lithographs, where some feature hand-colored traditional home scenes with families having a festive meal in honor of the holiday, as well as couples interacting harmoniously or romantically. Street scenes may include a synagogue or a lake for Tashlich, a ritual which signifies casting away one’s sins. Floral elements and animal scenes can also be observed. Traditional Jewish elements were incorporated into various scenes, including yontef candle-lighting (holiday that forbids work), davening (praying), Shofar-blowing (symbolic ram’s horn instrument), and tallites (shawls). 

Rosh Hashanah, Synagogue postcard

As a result of a very successful market, some Rosh Hashanah postcards would feature various renditions of the same actors and actresses in studios. At times, families were depicted in a variation of both worlds on the same postcard or different postcards, wearing traditional European clothing, reminiscent of their home country, as well as clothing that was deemed fashionable by American standards. Old World and New World themes were prevalent. Postcards helped families remain connected between native countries and America, as well as from state to state. 

On occasion, innovative objects such as telescopes, the radio, telegraph, bicycles, airplanes, hot air balloons, cars, boats, and trains were captured, to emphasize happiness and hopes for productivity and new opportunities in the year to come, while embracing the American Dream. In the early 20th century, there was also a common belief and optimistic perspective, where technology could foster peaceful relations globally. Children, couples, or families would say “Shana Tovah,” Hebrew for “Happy New Year” from a plane or bicycle, for example. Postcards would also state, “L’Shana Tovah Tikatevu,” which means “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year.”  

Decorative motifs enhanced postcards, often in the Victorian or Art Nouveau style. Some postcards were even embossed, adding to their interactive nature.  

Couple on plane for Tashlich, Williamsburg Post Card Company

A major postcard publishing firm for Rosh Hashanah postcards, among other forms of art, was the Williamsburg Art Company or Williamsburg Post Card Company, situated at 25 Delancey Street and later 20 West 20th Street. This firm printed their postcards in Germany, despite being based in Manhattan. Part of their mission was to focus on the Eastern European and Yiddish market in America.

Designers operated in America and Europe, as printers brought the Rosh Hashanah postcards into fruition in Germany and Poland to benefit the influx of patrons in America and Latin America who understood Yiddish.  

Haim (Haggai) Goldberg, who was born circa 1888 in Lukow, Poland and perished in the Bialystok Ghetto in 1943, is remembered as a prominent Jewish Polish illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, and printer, in addition to a Hebrew and Yiddish poet and writer. He is also remembered as an amateur painter. He studied in a yeshiva and later opened a photography studio in Warsaw in 1912. Then was appointed by the Yehudiya publishing house under the Yiddish daily Haynt as a graphic designer of greeting cards and postcards. Goldberg was popular for creating his own style. Operating from his studio, he created scenes featuring amateur actors wearing traditional attire. Then he further applied his talents through painting and graphics to incorporate illustrated elements, and also featured his original Yiddish rhymed greetings. 

Shalom Sabar, a Jewish art and folklore professor, regards Goldberg as a most significant Rosh Hashanah card designer, who pursued his talents in the early 20th century.

Under the Chuppah, Marriage ceremony, Williamsburg Art Co postcard

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Follow by Email