Grandfather Blessing Child, 1914
This postcard, published in Vienna in 1914, shows an old man with his hands on the heads of two young children, probably his grandchildren. A tallit (prayer shawl) is draped on the man’s chair. The man is wearing a white kippa, slippers, and a white robe, presumably a kittel (burial shroud) – all traditionally dress for Yom Kippur. One of the boys has payot, the traditional sidelocks of orthodox men and boys. The woman on the right, possibly the children’s mother, is holding a book , maybe a prayer book, and observing the scene. The table behind the children is laid with a white tablecloth and has two candles in candlesticks and another taller one to their left. On the doorpost on the right of the picture is a mezuzah. Underneath the picture there is a verse from Bereshit (Genesis) 48:16: המלאך הגואל אותי מכל רע יברך את הנערים (May the angel who redeemed me from all harm bless these youths). At the very bottom of the photograph are two captions in German: one entitled, “The Grandfather’s Blessing” and the other with the name of the artist, Wilhelm Wachtel.
This scene appears to be from the eve of Yom Kippur, since many of the Yom Kippur traditions are portrayed. It is traditional to bless children with verses from the Torah on the eve of the fast. It is also customary in some Jewish communities to wear a kittel on Yom Kippur, as well as on Seder night, during one’s wedding ceremony, and finally as a burial shroud. The grandfather is wearing slippers due to the halachic law prohibiting the wearing of leather shoes on Yom Kippur. It is also customary to light a special memorial or Yahrzeit candle on the eve of Yom Kippur, as can be seen on the table.
Wilhelm Wachtel was a painter, engraver, and illustrator born in Lvov, Poland. Wachtel studied art in Poland and Germany. He painted various styles and topics, but many of his works depict Jewish scenes. Wachtel immigrated to Israel in 1936 where he created a series of paintings depicting the difficult life of the pioneers in Israel. Most of Wachtel’s work was lost during World War II. He died in the United States in 1942.
The Blessings of Sons and Daughters, Rabbis for Human Rights
Blessing the Children, Aish.com
A Lullaby Blessing (Ha’Malach Hagoel oti), Jewish Treats
Jewish Studies teachers can use this postcard to teach about the traditions of the eve of Yom Kippur. Teachers can also discuss traditions of different Jewish communities on Yom Kippur.
Jewish History teachers and use this postcard to teach about the Jewish community in Vienna and central Europe.
Bible teachers can use this postcard when teaching about Jacob’s blessing to his sons in Bereshit 48.
Art teachers can show this picture as an example of Jewish art and as an example of the work of Wilhelm Wachtel.
What is happening in the picture?
What is the old man doing?
What is the woman doing?
What is the man wearing?
What is placed on the table?
Which text is quoted below the picture?
What is written in German at the bottom of the postcard?
Reading Between the Lines
Who do you think the figures are?
The grandfather is blessing the children with a traditional blessing.
What is the blessing?
When is it usually said?
What biblical story is it based on?
Based on the old man’s clothing, the blessing of the children, and the large candle on the table, when did the scene take place?
Who painted the picture?
What did he usually paint?
Do your parents usually bless you on Yom Kippur or on Shabbat?
Do your parents have another special time when they give you their good wishes?
When is this?
What do they say?
How do you feel when they bless you in this way?
This picture shows a family on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Do you observe Yom Kippur?
What do you do on this day?
Imagine an artist came to your home on Yom Kippur.
Help the artist decide which moment to paint.
Explain why you chose this moment. Draw your own picture of this moment.