The Rosh Hashanah Card

Rosh Hashanah means apples, honey, pomegranates, shofars (ram’s horns) and… New Years’ cards.

Given our love of all things digital, that last one is something of a throwback. But it might surprise you just how far back in history you have to go to find the origin of this festive tradition. 

We went back in time to discover more about the centuries-old tradition of Shana Tova cards, and to see what made the covers of Rosh Hashanah cards for past generations (hint: it ain’t by Hallmark).

Let us know what you think of this brief history into New Year’s greetings. Is it time to put the funny videos and memes aside and bring the physical Rosh Hashanah Card back?

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Which was the first country where Jews began sending Shana Toyve Cards in the 1400s?
    • Germany
    • France
    • England
    • Palestine
  2. Which scenes were NOT depicted on traditional Shana Toyve cards?
    • Prayer services
    • Children in heder
    • People getting married
    • Jews holding gifts or money
  3. Who were the pioneers of Jewish greeting cards until they perished in the Shoah?
    • Haim and Esther Goldberg
    • Avi and Esther Cohen
    • Chani and Ethel Goldberg
    • Haim and Rachel Goldberg
  4. Which of the following is NOT the name of a Jewish band who make Shana Tova videos?
    • Shofar Thrills
    • Fountainheads
    • Rappin Rabbis
    • Maccabeats
  5. What is the traditional food eaten on Rosh Hashanah?
    • Latkes
    • Apple and Honey
    • Raisin bread
    • Apple Strudel
  1. The historic event that most popularized the sending of Shana Toyve cards stemmed from the 1860s when the postcard was invented. Seeing many non-Jews sending Christmas cards using this new form of stationery, many Jews followed suit with their own version. Does it surprise, bother or inspire you that this very common Jewish tradition of sending written greetings is originally associated with Christmas?
  2. During the years between the end of the 19th century and the end of WWI (1898-1918), a time known as the Golden Age of Postcards, the vast majority of the mail sent by Jews in Europe and America consisted of new year cards.
    The cards usually featured Jewish motifs: traditional and ideological symbols or illustrations depicting events of note in Jewish history. With the advent of the Zionist movement, new year cards became a platform for conveying ideological messages and Zionist perspectives on current events. For example, there were new year cards featuring portraits of Herzl and Nordau, one featuring Herzl and the Ottoman Sultan, and even those addressing current events such as the Dreyfus affair.
    The cards played an important role in fundraising for community purposes. Why do you think a card depicting a Jewish hero or significant historic event would have prompted people at the time to donate money to a Jewish charity in the days before Rosh Hashana? If you were to make a modern version of the card today, which people or events would you include?
  3. How do you explain the popularity of Rosh Hashana videos by groups such as the Fountainheads or the Maccabeats? Do you prefer being sent one of these videos to receiving a handwritten card before the start of the new year?
  4. View this Rosh Hashana Card from which says “Next Year in Jerusalem!” from the Linz Displaced Persons Camp in Austria 1947. How do you think it may have caused the people receiving it to feel, think and act?
  5. Beyond traditional words such as “Happy New Year,” what words, phrases or wishes do you like to see in Rosh Hashana cards that are sent to you?
  1. Festival greetings from politicians and celebrities

Messages of hope and faith from presidents, royalty and elected members of government are so common that these days those who don’t post these messages are almost as noticeable as those who do. Below are some examples of simple, meaningful and controversial festival greetings.

Your Task: Choose one of these greetings or search twitter for a greeting from your favourite celebrity or politician and write a tweet in response letting the individuals how receiving the greetings made you feel.

  1. Play our Kahoot about Rosh Hashanah Cards!
  2. Choose a historic era for which to design a Rosh Hashana card

The card below depicts two eagles in the sky: under the Imperial Eagle of the Russian coat of arms, a group of impoverished, traditionally dressed Russian Jews, carrying their meager belongings, line Europe’s shore, gazing with hope across the ocean.

Waiting for them are their Americanized relatives, whose outstretched arms simultaneously beckon and welcome them to their new home. Above them, an American eagle clutches a banner with a line from Psalms: “Shelter us in the shadow of Your wings”.

It was made at a time of massive Jewish immigration from Russia’s Pale of Settlement to the United States between 1890-1924 and is arguably one of the most well known of all the historic Rosh Hashanah cards.

Your task: Choose one of the historic periods of Jewish history and design a Rosh Hashana card that would have been suitable for the time. Choose from:

  • The first Rosh Hashanah after the Exodus from Egypt
  • From the palace of King Solomon
  • During the Golden Age of Spain
  • From a shtetl at the start of the Haskalah (Enlightenment)
  • From Nazi-occupied Europe
  • In the newly-born State of Israel
  • From your home today

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