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A New Year, a New shifskarte

Shifra Epstein

The postcard pictured here, labeled Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte (A Good Year Ship Ticket), is a traditional greeting card sent for Rosh Hashanah. It measures 30 by 20 centimeters. The card was printed in Germany for the Hebrew Publishing Company in New York.

The practice of sending written Rosh Hashanah greetings originates in Germany, circa the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. German rabbis of this period recommended that letters written during the month of Elul should open with the blessing “May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.” 1 1 For the history of the New Years cards, see Shalom Sabar, “The New Years Cards and their History,”Ariel 27 no. 173 (2005): 6-31. (Hebrew)

In the late nineteenth century, postcards came onto the non-Jewish European scene. Almost as soon as people started sending these cards, they began illustrating them as well. Illustrated postcards became popular among Jews in the early twentieth century in Germany, Poland, the United States, and Palestine.

German Jews were leaders in the printing industry in Germany in the early twentieth century, with more than thirty printing houses owned by Jews in Berlin alone. This card is flat, but publishing houses also manufactured more elaborate, three-dimensional pop-up greeting cards for American Jewish companies. Max Victor in Cologne and Adolf Sala in Berlin likely printed many Rosh Hashanah cards. 2 2 For more of the work of Adolf Sala from Berlin, see http://www.jeuxanciensdecollection.com/search/Adol… I would like to thank Mr. Helmfried Luers for his information on the German printing industry in the late nineteenth century and to the place of German Jews in this in industry.

This particular Rosh Hashanah postcard, Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte, is in the collection of several Jewish museums and archives around the world. This photograph comes from the private collection of distinguished scholar Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, who bought several of this same postcard (among others) in the early 1970s at the Hebrew Publishing Co.’s liquidation sale in New York. She subsequently donated the object to many Jewish museum collections.

I’ve seen the Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte posted on online auction houses, where the going rate for it is one to two hundred dollars. 3 3 See, for example, www.liveauctioneers.com.

Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte has a larger format and more elaborate design than other flat New Year’s cards printed in Germany for American companies. 4 4 The Dorot Jewish Division in the New York Public Library has a large collection of pop-up New Year’s Cards printed in Germany c. 1910. See http://www.nypl.org/blog/2010/09/01/happy-new-year… It is meant to resemble a ticket for passage on a luxurious steamship of the time.

The banner in the center of the card, where the name of the ship would normally appear, reads “Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte” (A Good Year Ship Ticket).

Drawing upon the Jewish blessing “May you live until 120,” under the banner in smaller print are the Yiddish words: “Valid for 120 roundtrips in the waves of life.”

Stars of David are prominent in the imagery on this postcard and contribute to the Jewish and Zionist iconography of the ship. You’ll see them in the two life preservers and the two anchors that create the card’s frame, as well as in the fabric draped around the sides.

A shofar, commonly associated with the high holidays, is in the center of one of the life preservers.

Zionism is also represented in the card with a miniature of the “Golden Book” set in the middle of the left life preserver. Theodor Herzl created the Golden Book during the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901 as a way to pay homage to individuals who donated money to the Jewish National Fund.

The text on the card includes traditional greetings for the New Year as well as general greetings: “A year of life, peace, happiness and joy”; “A year in which God will lead us proudly to our country,” and “Blessed are you when you enter and be blessed when you depart.”

Three images engraved in the hearts and minds of Eastern European Jews who came to the United States in this time period are central to the card. The Statue of Liberty represented overcoming obstacles and attaining freedom. A factory symbolizes where many Jews worked at the time, and a locomotive represents the fact that many immigrants continued their journeys to other cities from New York.

On both sides of the Statue of Liberty, the “Blessing of the Road,” recited by Jews upon undertaking a voyage, appears in Hebrew.

The Yiddish text takes the form of a playful contract between the passengers and the supervisor and director of the steamer. The text reads:

Every holder of the free ticket is entitled to 120 free yearly round-trips for himself and his family. Each passenger will prepare himself for the New Year by listening to the blowing of the horn. During each trip each passenger will pray for long life, prosperity, and peace. —The Divine Providence

Each of the passengers is permitted to bring on the ship, free of charge, generosity, charity, happiness, and good deeds and is encouraged to give charity throughout the trip. Each passenger is permitted to bring onboard, free of charge, baggage, which may include items needed for celebrations during 120 years of voyaging. They may include appropriate gifts for children, for bar mitzvahs, as well as wedding gifts such as gold, diamonds, and modern clothing. —The Sustainer of Life

“The Divine Providence” was meant to be the ship’s supervisor; “The Sustainer of Life,” its director.

At the bottom of the card are one large steamship and three small ships in the background.

Recipients of postcards such as Le-shone-toyve shifs-karte might have kept them as decorative items in their homes.

MLA STYLE
Epstein, Shifra. “A New Year, a New shifskarte.” In geveb, September 2015: https://ingeveb.org/blog/a-new-year-a-new-shifskarte.
CHICAGO STYLE
Epstein, Shifra. “A New Year, a New shifskarte.” In geveb (September 2015): Accessed Nov 13, 2019.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Shifra Epstein

Dr. Shifra Epstein is an independent folklorist living in Ann Arbor, Michigan.