Exploring Shana Tova Cards
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is getting closer, and it is customary to send friends and family greetings for a Happy New Year. In the past many people sent Shana Tova (Happy New Year) cards, but today more and more greetings are sent by email, text messages and mobile apps.
The origin of the Jewish tradition of New Year greetings is from the time of the Mishna. According to Jewish tradition, a person’s destiny is decided between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This was the time when it was determined whether the following year would be a good or bad one, and thus it was also the time to pray for a good future.
The first evidence of writing New Year greetings is in an halachic answer written on the subject by the Maharil (an Ashkenazi German rabbi from the fourteenth century). After the eighteenth-century development of post, travel and print, this tradition flourished in communities beyond Germany and throughout Eastern Europe, and printing businesses started to print special Shana Tova cards.
The graphic motifs on these Shana Tova cards were usually traditional or ideological Jewish symbols or images of people and events that were significant to the Jewish communities.
Shana Tova cards from Israel both before and after the establishment of the State of Israel depicted major Zionist values, such as agriculture, the Bible, the landscape of Israel, cultural and industrial achievements, and even the army and soldiers. Indeed many Shana Tova cards from the early years of the State of Israel show soldiers as an example of the revival of the Jewish people in their own land. It is interesting to note that European Shana Tova cards portrayed Jewish soldiers in armies such as the Prussian army. These images represented the new, powerful Jew who was loyalty to his country.
Shana Tova cards are a souvenir of times when communication was far more difficult. Receiving a card from friends and family far away was a major family event. However with the development of more efficient communication devices such as telephones, the internet and mobile phones, the popularity of Shana Tova cards has declined.
The National Library of Israel collects Jewish memories and traditions and has also accumulated a large collection of Shana Tova cards that document the life of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in Israel.
Stage 1 - Searching for a Card
In the first stage of the activity the students look for Shana Tova cards. There are many sources including three links to the National Library collections. Some of the links to the library are in Hebrew, however the Hebrew on those pages is minimal.
There are many other places on the internet where your students can find interesting and creative cards. You could provide links to these sites or suggest that your students search for cards on their own.
Stage 2 - Exploring the Card
This activity is adapted from our analysis worksheets. We advise going through the 4 stages:
Stage 1 – First Impressions
Describe your first impression of the item.
Stage 2 – Exploring the Details
What do you think are the three most important details of the item? Describe them.
Stage 3 – Understanding the Meanings
What can be learned from the item about the time and place where it was created? For what purpose do you think the item was created?
Stage 4 – Reflecting and Evaluating
Write questions that come to mind following your encounter with the item. What information do you lack for a more complete picture of the subject?
We suggest holding a class discussion after the children complete the worksheet. You could print a copy of all of the cards examined and ask each student to give a short explanation about their card. You could create an exhibition of the cards in your classroom or an online exhibition with the students adding explanations or commenting on the work of their peers.
A useful interactive tool is thinglink.
Discussion points should include:
The history of Shana Tova cards
The purpose of sending greetings to friends and families before the Jewish New Year
The designs and their meanings
The texts and their meanings
Stage 3 - Create a Card of Your Own
This is the moment where the students take center stage: After sharing information about the cards, the students are asked to create their own cards, using the ideas you dicussed about illustrations and texts on Shana Tova cards.
This activity could be directed by the art or computer teachers, making the card in the traditional way using paper, paint or pencils or using online tools to create cards that can be shared with friends and family online.
Suggestions for online tools: