The disappearing Rosh Hashanah card
Written Rosh Hashanah greetings can be traced back to 14th-century Germany. But social media posts, email blasts and cell phone greetings threaten to endanger the art of the card.
As friends and family send Rosh Hashanah wishes through social media posts, emails and cell phone greetings, some Jews still remember a time — not too long ago — when their mailboxes would be filled with actual paper cards, in envelopes, stamped and delivered by their letter carrier.
But while the days of the old school Rosh Hashanah card are fading fast, they are not gone entirely.
“I’ve been sending out Rosh Hashanah cards since I’ve been married,” said Lorraine Mackler of Squirrel Hill.
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And she still does, finding it a meaningful way to communicate with family and friends who live out of town. Mackler includes a family photo on the card, along with a paragraph sharing news from the past year. She has sent out about 60 cards this year, to family as far away as Australia and Israel.
Still, she does not receive too many anymore.
“That was our primary sukkah decoration,” Mackler recalled. “We used to make garlands out of the cards to hang in the sukkah, but that has gone by the wayside because we just don’t get very many.”
She estimates the number of Rosh Hashanah cards she and her husband receive has dwindled from about 100 down to about 10.
Instead, she noted, many of her friends and family post messages on Facebook, or send out e-cards or emails.
While Mackler does sort of miss receiving the paper cards, she also appreciates the fact that technology has facilitated communication.
“Those people who use to send cards are in even closer contact now with social media and email,” she said. “I do like cards in the mail, but I can’t say I mourn the loss of them. I’m grateful for the ease of communication now. If the cards fade into oblivion, it’s because their function has been taken over by other means.”
Written Rosh Hashanah greetings can be traced back to 14th-century Germany; by the 18th century, the custom had spread to other Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, according to the National Library of Israel. Between the end of the 19th century and continuing through the end of World War I, most mail sent by European and American Jews consisted of Rosh Hashanah cards. For many Jewish organizations, the cards helped with fundraising, as charities such as the Jewish National Fund and the Joint Distribution Committee printed cards and mailed them to donors hoping for a check in return.
For Brian Miller of Squirrel Hill, social media and other electronic means of communication are a poor substitute for paper cards.
“People email and post messages on social media and they think it takes the place of a personal card,” he said. “A personal card shows effort, but for some people it’s easier to just put out a message on Facebook, and they think it lets them off the hook.”
Miller said he receives far fewer cards these days than he used to, and he misses them.
“People don’t send birthday cards, either,” he said. “They just don’t take the time.”
Mayda Roth, director of development at Rodef Shalom Congregation, also misses receiving Rosh Hashanah cards.
“It was such an exciting time,” she recalled. “You’d be getting cards from family and friends, and you knew the holidays were coming.”
Roth remembers a time when people would go to stationery stores, look through books of samples, and then order personalized cards.
That practice has slowed considerably, according to Dee Armagost, a printer and designer at Invitations Plus, a specialty card and invitation store in Squirrel Hill.
As of the last week of August, no one had ordered personalized Rosh Hashanah cards from the store, Armagost said, although a few people had come in to purchase ready-made cards.
“I don’t even think this is exclusive to Rosh Hashanah,” Armagost said. “People are not buying too many cards for anything. People just don’t do it anymore. We are a rarity now — to have a card designed and printed in-store just doesn’t happen as much.”
“In a lot of ways, they are becoming obsolete,” she said. “But I think that does make it more special. I wish it wasn’t that way. I wish it were more commonplace.”
Over at Rodef Shalom’s Gift Corner, manager Elaine Rybski noted that while the shop does still sell Rosh Hashanah cards, those sales are down. In fact, she said, several years ago a batch of cards was donated to the store. Sales have been so far and few between, she has not had to procure additional ones to sell.
While sales are good for the store’s selection of Judaica and other gifts, card sales are flat.
“People just don’t buy them,” Rybski said. “I had one person ask about them yesterday, but we still haven’t sold any this year.”
And yet, there are still those holdouts who value sending paper Rosh Hashanah cards, and who have no intention of stopping.
Adrienne Indianer has been sending out about 150 personalized Rosh Hashanah cards for many years.
“It’s a lovely tradition, and for some people, it’s the only contact we have during the whole year,” Indianer said. “It’s how we reach people far and wide. I like getting them, so I also like sending them.”
The Indianers still receive a few cards, too, which they display strung with lights in their foyer.
While noting that many people now opt to send greetings online, Indianer feels that is a bit of a copout.
While email greetings are “nice, it’s not for me,” she said. “I feel like cards are more personal, and little bit less disposable.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.
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