Rosh Hashana greeting postcard depicting women buying chickens to be used in the shlogn kapores ritual, in which one’s sins are symbolically transferred to chickens shortly before the start of Yom Kippur. (YIVO)

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Postcards and Greeting Cards

On 1 October 1869, the Austrian post office produced the first official governmental Correspodenz-Karte (postal card), based on an idea developed by Emanuel Hermann, a Viennese Jewish economics professor. The first picture postcards appeared in the 1870s in several European countries. Germany, with its advanced print technology, became the center for illustrated cards of Jewish interest in the 1880s. The new form of communication spread to Poland and the United States. As early as 1888, a writer for the Warsaw monthly Izraelita criticized the German Jewish practice of sending ornate and ostentatious postcards for Rosh Hashanah, and was disappointed with the sums of money spent on buying and mailing them. Despite such views, the illustrated postcard became a great success, and by the first decades of the twentieth century the variety, richness, and quantity of them that were produced in Poland exceeded that of Germany.

Rosh Hashanah greeting postcard depicting blessing of the new moon at the end of Yom Kippur—the blessing of the new moon (Kidush Levanah) is customarily recited the end of the Sabbath; in the months of Av and Tishre it is recited after the fasts of Tishah b’Av and Yom Kippur. (YIVO)

Jewish postcard producers in Poland were concentrated chiefly in Warsaw, and included firms such as Jehudia (owned by the newspaper Haynt), Alt-naj-land, Omanut, Verlag Synaj (Sinai), Verlag Central, Libanon, S. Resnik, and A. J. Ostrowski. Non-Jewish Polish firms, the most notable of which was Salon Malarzy Polskich of Kraków, issued postcards on Jewish themes. Images included photographs and art by non-Jewish artists, as well as caricatures and antisemitic scenes and types.

Whereas in Germany biblical themes were popular, in Eastern Europe, Jewish postcards generally featured scenes of present-day life. There was also an emphasis on nostalgic views of the past and Jewish holidays and ceremonies. Many cards depicted shtetl scenes and Jewish streets, synagogues, and cemeteries. Photographs showed children, typical Jewish professions and people at work, and portraits of Jewish writers and personalities. Others displayed Zionist leaders, the new Zionist symbols, and romantic views of Palestine. During wartime, scenes of battle and pogroms showing Jewish victims were sometimes accompanied by a direct appeal for help on the back of the card. Some rare black-and-white photographic postcards are often the only extant images of an event, location, or destroyed synagogue.

Colorful postcards chiefly created to be greeting cards for Rosh Hashanah were the driving force behind the development of Jewish artistic postal cards in general. The leading graphic artist in this field was Khayim Goldberg (1890–1943), who staged holiday tableaux using amateur actors dressed in traditional garb, and added explanatory captions with rhyming verses in Yiddish. Though reflecting artificial scenes, these postcards, which were published by Jehudia, contained invaluable ethnographic information about Jewish practices, costumes, and ritual objects, especially pertaining to the High Holidays and the Sabbath. In addition, “artistic postcards” reproduced popular images by contemporary Jewish artists, or featured original designs.

Rosh Hashanah greeting postcard. The Yiddish verse reads: "Go faster, faster, little rooster / I have to shlog kapores / And must with luck catch up / With the new, good year." The boy riding the rooster on this card holds a sign reading in Hebrew, "This is my atonement, this is my substitute," part of the incantation recited during the shlogn kapores ceremony. (YIVO)

East European postcards were intended mainly for internal Jewish use, and their principal consumers were cosmopolitan Jews longing for a world that was quickly disappearing, a trend that intensified when many of the Polish cards were reprinted or used as models in the United States during the early twentieth century.

Suggested Reading

Eugeniusz Duda and Marek Sosenko, Dawna Pocztowka Zydowska / Old Jewish Postcards (Kraków, 1997), in Polish and English; Sharon Liberman Mintz and Elka Deitsch, curators, Past Perfect: The Jewish Experience in Early 20th Century Postcards (New York, 1998), exhibition catalog of the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, text by Elka Deitsch; Shalom Sabar, “Between Poland and Germany: Jewish Religious Practices in Illustrated Postcards of the Early Twentieth Century,” Polin 16 (2003): 137–166; Gérard Silvain and Henri Minczeles, Yiddishland (Corte Madera, Calif., 1999).