The beginning of the new year, celebrated on the first and second day of the month of Tishrei, is one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah is also the day of judgment, on which God judges people and writes down their fates in two books: the Book of Life or Death. It is followed by ten days of repentance and celebration of Yom Kippur and therefore it is a special time of renewal of the bond with God and people, a time of penance, reflection on our behaviour, and time when we seek forgiveness. Clearly, it is also a time of the new beginning.
Particular signs of reconciliation with people are greetings with the blessing „Le’shana Tova Tikoteiv Vetichoteim” which is Hebrew for „May you (immediately) be inscribed and sealed for a Good Year”. The tradition of sending greetings by mail on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah dates back to the Middle Ages. However, greeting cards appeared not earlier than in the 19th century. Immediately, they became popular gaining a codified form. At the beginning, cards were made by hand. However, over time they started being partially or entirely printed. The heyday of the production of greeting cards for the Jewish New Year appears at the same time as an emerging fashion for their Christian equivalents. It often happened that the same publishing houses were engaged in the production of both types of New Year’s cards. Thus, in addition to images and texts characteristic for these religions we can also observe common motifs for both of these traditions.
What draws attention amid the greeting cards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the variety of forms. The most characteristic are cards depicting genre scenes relating to the celebrations of Rosh Hashanah: Jews praying by the river bank, going to the synagogue, a family having a meal. In addition to them, we can also find traditional, ornament cards with decorative elements rather loosely relating to the Jewish culture, such as doves, baskets of flowers, hearts. These cards, usually embossed and enriched with gilt, were very popular i among German and English publishing houses which excelled on the European market in the late nineteenth century. There are also cards with scenes depicting weddings, births, with views of Palestine, as well as playful promissory notes for 365 happy days. New Year’s greetings were also sent in a form of ordinary visiting cards.
Greeting cards for the Jewish New Year are something of a rarity among Polish collections. Distinguishable is the collection of the National Library, which stores an album with 229 cards, and of the Jewish Historical Institute with 115 greeting and visiting cards. All of them were made before 1939 in a Warsaw publishing house „Jehudia” located at 8 Chłodna Street. It belonged to the magazine „Hajnt” published in Yiddish. In the JHI’s collections there is also an album with card designs, telegrams and New Year’s notes.
The items of the JHI are ornament cards with simple, decorative motifs rather than depictions of festive scenes. Among them, one can notice recurring embossed basic motifs which were later hand-painted, decorated with embroidery or glitter. They are usually bouquets of flowers, birds sitting on branches, doves carrying flowers or letters, hands clasping flowers. More rarely can we observe motifs relating directly to the Jewish iconography: the menorah, lions, the figure of Moses and Aaron, and a rabbi with a Torah scroll. Sometimes, small bouquets of dried flowers, ribbons or telegram forms were placed into the cards. The majority of the preserved cards have embossed decorative frames and an inscription „L’shanah tovah” — „Happy Year”. Sometimes these short greetings are enriched with longer texts in Yiddish, placed on the obverse of the card or on insertions.