Remembering the Rosh Hashanah Cards of Yesteryear

By Melody Amsel-Arieli

Published September 23, 2005, issue of September 23, 2005.
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When I was a child in New Jersey, I would correspond with a cousin who lived in Israel. I relished the missives I got from afar. Back then, my thoughts of Israel were based on what I saw in my Hebrew school textbook, “World Over”: women on tractors and desert battles. The letters were a big deal for a Jersey girl. Each one, with its exotic stamps and delicate onion-skin envelope, was a holiday. The letters’ contents were in an unintelligible form of English, but no matter. They were a taste of Israel.

One autumn, instead of a letter I received a card crowded with pictures — fruit, flowers, butterflies, doves, a fat bumblebee hovering over a pot of honey, a braided challah and a cup of wine. A Rosh Hashanah card, Israeli style, every inch sparkling with glitter. And as I turned it over, my hands sparkled, too.

Years later, after making aliya in 1971, I noticed unmistakable signs each time Rosh Hashanah peeked around the corner. Otherworldly shrieks pierced the air: cantors and rabbis working to regain their shofar chops. The open-air markets overflowed with bright-red apples, pomegranates and fresh, yellow dates. Stores featured specials on honey and wine and on holiday gifts. And people paused at street displays of holiday cards, hundreds of them, all as glitzy and glittery as the one I’d gotten years before.

But that state of affairs is no more. In today’s Israel, New Year’s cards have gone the way of the reel-to-reel tape and the black-and-white television, replaced by either immediate-gratification phone calls or impersonal multiple-recipient Internet cards. But though the underlying sentiment remains the same — Best Wishes for a Healthy, Happy New Year — even the warmest of these modern wishes eventually evaporates into thin air.

And yet, old traditions die hard. There is growing nostalgia for the glittery cards of yore, the ones you can savor and then save. Old-fashioned cards seem to be all the rage this year; Jerusalem’s card shops are full of them. A sample is included: Yes, a card bursting with flowers and doves — much like the one I received in America all those years ago. I turn it over and over, wondering where to send it. Putting it down, I notice something: My hands sparkle with glitter.

Melody Amsel-Arieli, a professional flutist, is the author of “Between Galicia and Hungary: The Jews of Stropkov.” (Avotaynu 2002).

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