This is a Shana Tova card from 1910 with an illustration of children celebrating Lag B’Omer. The text at the top of the card says, “A Happy New Year” in Hebrew and English, and the caption in Hebrew beneath the illustration reads, “Lag B’Omer in the Petach Tikvah colony, Eretz Yisrael.” The illustration depicts six children playing with bows and arrows which is a traditional Lag B’Omer activity. The girls are wearing dresses with sashes, and the boys are wearing suits with short trousers and kippot (yarmulkes). The children, who are aiming their arrows in many different directions, are in an open field with the houses of Petach Tikvah in the background.
There are several explanations for the custom of playing with bows and arrows on Lag B’Omer. One reason is that while Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was hiding from the Romans in a cave, his students would continue to study with him. They were afraid of being discovered by the Roman soldiers, so they brought bows and arrows with them and if asked by a Roman soldier where they were going, they would say that they were hunting. Another explanation is that bows and arrows remind us of the Bar Kochva revolt which is commemorated on Lag B’Omer.
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Lag B’Omer – Lag B’Omer, literally the 33rd day of the Omer, is a minor holiday celebrated during the Counting of the Omer, the forty-nine-day period between Pesach and Shavuot described in the Torah. According to the Talmud, this period became a time of semi-mourning due to a plague that killed thousands of Rabbi Akiva’s students. Tradition holds that the plague ended on the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B’Omer), also the day on which Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai – the mystic who, according to tradition wrote the Kabbalistic text, the Zohar – is said to have died. Lag B’Omer is celebrated with bonfires, visits to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s grave on Mt. Meron, and music. Some people also celebrate Lag B’Omer by having their three-year old sons’ first haircuts at Mt. Meron.
Bar Kochva Revolt – This was the last Jewish revolt against the Romans that was led by Shimon bar Kochva between 132 and 136 CE. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and the failure of the Great Revolt, the Jews remaining in Judea were under the oppressive rule of the Roman Empire. The Bar Kochva revolt began as a result of the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a pagan city called Aelia Capitolina and as a protest against religious prohibitions on practices the brit milah (circumcision). The military leader Bar Kochva was supported by Rabbi Akiva, who even pronounced that he was the Messiah. Initially, the Jewish army was victorious against the Romans, and after conquering vast areas in Judea, a Jewish independent state was established with Bar Kochva as “president of Israel.” However, after two years, the Romans sent additional forces to Israel and slowly regained its rule over the Jewish state. In 135, Beitar, the last stronghold of the Bar Kochva’s force, fell after a long siege. Bar Kochva was killed, Judea was captured, Jewish villages and towns were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. Following the defeat, many sages who had not supported Bar Kochva’s struggle against the Romans renamed the leader Ben Kusiba, meaning the “deceptive,” and identified him as a false messiah. The years of Bar Kochva’s rule signified the last independent Jewish rule in Israel until the establishment of the State of Israel close to 2,000 years later.
Petach Tikva - Petach Tikva, located 10 km east of Tel Aviv, was founded in 1878 by religious pioneers from Europe and the Old Yishuv (the Jewish population of Israel during Turkish rule). The name, meaning “Gate of Hope” comes from the book of Hosea (2:17), and it was the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Israel. The land that the Ottoman Sultan allowed the Jewish pioneers to purchase in 1878 was of poor quality and consisted mainly of swamps infested with malaria-spreading mosquitos, and indeed an outbreak of malaria forced the original founders to leave in 1880. However, in 1883, pioneers returned to Petach Tikva, and Baron Edmond de Rothschild provided money to fund the draining of the swamps, thus preventing further outbreaks of malaria. The community slowly grew and prospered. During the period of the British Mandate, industry and citrus farming were developed in the town. After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, several smaller communities merged with Petach Tikva which boosted its population to 22,000. Currently, Petach Tikva has a population of more than 230,000 and is Israel’s fifth largest city. It hosts Israel’s second largest industrial sector after Haifa, and many international high-tech companies have their Israeli headquarters here. The actress Gal Gadot, the poet Yehuda Amichai, and the Nobel laureate Dan Shachtman all grew up in Petach Tikva.
Rosh Hashanah – Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year which takes place on the first two days of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. It is celebrated by blowing the shofar, lighting candles, eating festive meals, and attending services at the synagogue. Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holy days which end 10 days later with Yom Kippur. The ten-day period is called the Ten Days of Repentance, because it is believed that during this period a person’s deeds are judged and the future year is decided. It is a both a festive holiday and a solemn time of introspection which includes prayer, asking forgiveness from others, and giving tzedakah (charity). The prayers on Rosh Hashanah include asking God for a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy year. Rosh Hashanah also celebrates the creation of the world. People greet each other on Rosh Hashanah by saying: “Shana Tova (Happy New Year).” Food customs for Rosh Hashanah vary among the different communities but often include round challahs (instead of the customary long loaf), apples and honey, and pomegranates. Many people send Shana Tova cards to their friends and family.