This is a Rosh Hashanah greeting card from 1901. At the top of the postcard is the inscription “L’Shana Tova,” and the two faces featured on the card are Sultan Abdul Hamid on the right and Theodor Herzl on the left. Herzl is wearing formal western clothing including a top hat, the Sultan is wearing a Turkish hat (fez) and an embroidered jacket. Above the portrait of the sultan is the verse: “The heart of a king is in the hand of the Lord,” while above Herzl's portrait is written: “May the Lord bless you from Zion.” Below the images are greetings for the new year in both Russian and German.
These images reflect Theodor Herzl’s zionist activities at the beginning of the twentieth century. Herzl was a journalist and statesman who developed the idea of political Zionism and founded Zionism as a national movement. Abdul Hamid II was sultan of the Ottoman Empire between 1876 and 1909, the point at which the Ottoman Empire began to fall apart; its demise was completed during World War I. Herzl made many efforts to convince the Ottoman Sultan to sell the Land of Israel to the Jews. However, despite offers of money to the Ottoman Empire and to the Sultan himself, Herzl’s requests were rejected.
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Shana Tova Cards - The earliest instance of a written “shana tova” greeting is a fourteenth-century letter written by the Ashkenazi rabbi known as the Maharil (Jacob ben Moses Moelin). This letter affirms the existence of this custom in German Jewish communities at the time. In the eighteenth century, the custom began spreading beyond the German-speaking realm to other large concentrations of Jews in Eastern Europe, especially Poland. By the end of the century, Shana Tova cards began to take on distinct characteristics, such as special writing paper, with the custom spreading throughout the entire Ashkenazi world during the nineteenth century. The postal service emerged around this time, and in the 1880s, Jewish entrepreneurs began to print commercial greeting Shana Tova cards. By this time, Shana Tova cards constituted the main body of postcards sent by Jews, and this would remain so for around 100 years.
Between the end of the nineteenth century and the end of First World War, a time known as the “Golden Age of Postcards,” the vast majority of the mail sent by Jews in Europe and America consisted of Shana Tova cards. Today, in the digital era, cards sent by post have given way to text messages and emails.
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.
Theodor Herzl – Theodor (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl (1860–1904) was the visionary behind modern Zionism. Zionism was a political movement with the goal of re-establishing a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael. Herzl, born in Budapest, was a journalist and playwright. He was very affected by the anti-Semitic atmosphere of the nineteenth century, including the Dreyfus Affair in France in 1894 which he covered as a journalist. Herzl became convinced of the need for a Jewish state, and in 1896 he wrote The Jewish State (Der Judenstaat). In the following year he convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, with the aim of creating a modern, secular Jewish state. The delegates of the First Zionist Congress adopted the Basel Program which declared that: “Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law.” The World Zionist Organization was formed as the political arm of the Jewish people, and Herzl was elected its first president. Herzl convened six Zionist Congresses between 1897 and 1903. At the Sixth Zionist Congress in 1903, Herzl proposed the Uganda Plan, which stated that a temporary Jewish State would be created in Uganda for Jews in immediate danger. Although Herzl insisted that the Uganda Plan would not replace the goal of creating a state in the Land of Israel, the idea was very controversial and nearly split the Zionist movement. After Herzl’s death, his Uganda Plan was officially rejected at the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905. Herzl died in 1904 in Vienna where he was buried. In 1949 he was reinterred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.