This is a postcard from the middle to end of the nineteenth century depicting a Jewish family in their dining room. Three children are greeting and hugging their parents, and one of the daughters is giving her mother a card with the Hebrew New Year’s greeting, “L’Shana Tova.” The room has a wooden floor and wainscoting on the walls, and pictures and a clock are hanging on the walls. A table is set with a tablecloth and serving dishes, and a maid can be seen entering the room from the kitchen carrying a tray with a jug on it. The father is sitting down receiving a hug from one of the daughters. The mother is standing but leaning over to receive a hug from the son, while the youngest child, a daughter, is reaching up to give her the Shana Tova card. A cat is curled up on the floor. The German caption beneath the picture reads: “Children congratulate their parents.”
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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.
German Jews in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries – After many centuries of oppression, segregation from the general population, and poverty, the German Jewish community went through major changes. Germany, together with other European countries, began to adopt liberal ideas about religious equality and civil emancipation. This was also the time of Enlightenment, and many German Jews received a secular education and began to integrate into general German society. The late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries mark the transition of the Jews to modernity and the integration of many into Germany’s cultural, scientific, and financial elite. Moses Mendelssohn is an example of an Enlightenment thinker who aspired to bringing secular culture into Jewish life. These social changes also brought about a transformation in the identity and practices of the German Jews, as exemplified in a famous saying of the time: “Be a man abroad and a Jew in your tent.” Due to these changes, this period saw both the foundation of Orthodox Judaism and the birth of the Reform Movement in Germany, a movement that aimed to adapt traditional Judaism to modern times. This period did not, however, see an end to the discrimination or riots against the Jews, as can be seen by the 1819 Hep Hep riots, tax legislation against Jews, severe limitations on marriages, dismissals from public office, anti-Semitic literature and preaching, more. This discrimination led to many Jews emigrating, in particular to the United States.