keep those cards coming

chang­ing technologies

orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Octo­ber 2011; updat­ed August 2018

Most peo­ple who know me under­stand that I am not averse to tech­no­log­i­cal change. I have been inter­ested in how com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies have been used and changed for many years. In June of 2010, I wrote about my involve­ment in the devel­op­ment of what I called “the elec­tronic leaflet”. When I was in col­lege I stud­ied music and was involved in per­form­ing “renais­sance music” on my recorder at the same time, as I have writ­ten here before, I pro­duced and was the disk jock­ey for “avant garde” music on the radio pro­gram “Catch­ing Up” on KPFK I had with my broth­er. My inter­est in chang­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies led me to write my rab­binic the­sis on ”The Rab­binic Per­cep­tion of Print­ing as Depict­ed in Haskamot and Respon­sa (con­tem­po­rary with the inven­tion of print­ing). I want­ed to learn what the rab­bis con­tem­po­rary with the inven­tion of the new tech­nol­ogy felt and thought about it (there was pre­cious lit­tle infor­ma­tion).

The Google books QR Code for my the­sis:

let­ters and cards

One item that print­ing enabled was the devel­op­ment of postal sys­tems. Once you could print on paper that had a dried glue on the back that you could use affix to an enve­lope or card, writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tions between peo­ple who lived far from each oth­er increased great­ly. It meant that the sender of an item paid for its deliv­ery in advance. Among the many items sent were cards with pho­tographs or illus­tra­tions on them: the postac­ard.

Jews around the world par­tic­i­pated in this devel­op­ment. As the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion spread across Europe to Amer­ica and beyond, the abil­ity to hold some­thing writ­ten and tan­gi­ble gained deep import. Peo­ple spoke of hav­ing papirene kinder “paper chil­dren” because the only evi­dence they had of them was the let­ters they hope­fully received. The con­cept has made it into a 2003 nov­el by Martha Blum called Paper Chil­dren, and a Yid­dish song that seems to date from the ear­li­est part of the 20th cen­tury. Deeply poignant is the movie A Briv­ele Der Mamen, the title song from which, writ­ten at least 30 years ear­lier, rends the heart and brings tears to the eyes. The song was first record­ed by it’s com­poser Solomon Smule­witz in 1908. It became pop­u­lar on its own with cov­ers by The Bar­ry Sis­ters. It begins in three-quar­ter time, but the famous lyrics, as sung by the pop­u­lar singer Al Bowl­ly are a fox trot.

A Lit­tle Let­ter to Mama

a briv­ele der mamen

Solomon Smule­witz

My child, my com­fort, you are going away.Remember to be a good son.With anx­ious tears and fear I beg you,

your loy­al, dear moth­er.

You are trav­el­ing, my child, my only child,

across dis­tant seas.

Just arrive in good health

and don’t for­get your moth­er.

Oh, trav­el in health and arrive in good spir­it.

Please send a let­ter every week,

and thus light­en your mother’s heart, my child.

A let­ter to your moth­er

you shouldn’t delay.

Write right away,

dear child.

Grant her this con­so­la­tion.

Your moth­er will read your lit­tle let­ter

and she will recov­er.

You’ll heal her pain,

her bit­ter heart.

You’ll delight her soul.

mayn kind, mayn treyst, du forst avek,
ze zay a zun a gutter;dikh bet mit trern un mit shrek,dayn traye libe muter.

du forst mayn kind, mayn eyntsik kind,

ariber vayte yamen,

akh! kum ahin nor frish gezunt,

un nisht farges dayn mamen…

oy, for gezunt, un kum mit glik,

ze yede vokh a brivl shik.

dayn mames harts, mayn kind, derkvik.

a briv­ele der mamen

zol­stu nit farza­men.

shrayb geshvind,

libes kind,

shenk ir di nekhome.

di mame vet dayn briv­ele lezn,

un zi vet genezn.

heylst ir shmerts,

ir biter harts,

derkvikst ir di neshome.

The ver­sion on YouTube by Dudu Fish­er includes (what I think is) a still from the 1938 movie (note the enve­lope on the table):

still from "a brivele der mame"

still from “a briv­ele der mame”

rosh hashan­nah correspondence

Post­cards at the time of Rosh haShan­nah played an impor­tant role. As explained in an online exhib­it Past Per­fect at the Jew­ish The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary of Amer­i­ca:

The ear­li­est and largest num­ber of Jew­ish pic­ture post­cards were cre­ated for Rosh Ha-Shanah greet­ings. The cus­tom of send­ing a New Year’s mes­sage is doc­u­mented as ear­ly as the four­teenth cen­tury when the Mahar­il, Rab­bi Jacob of Moellin (1360?-1427) [in Mainz of all places; he died just under 25 years before Guten­berg devel­oped mov­able type there, cen­turies before post­cards], rec­om­mended that dur­ing the month of Elul one should include wish­es for a good year in all writ­ten cor­re­spon­dence. This cus­tom spread wide­ly through­out the Ashke­nazic world.

Some love­ly cards are avail­able at the JTSA site. You can see many more at the Magnes Muse­um site. You can almost always find some old Rosh haShan­nah post­cards to pur­chase on eBay. and you can buy new cards that you can write on at zaz­zle. One of the rea­sons I have enjoyed receiv­ing hard, ana­log, phys­i­cal, print­ed-on-paper Rosh haShan­nah cards is that I can dec­o­rate my Suc­cah with the cards I’ve received from friends and fam­ily that year. It is a phys­i­cal form of ush­pizin.

I find it cute and intrigu­ing that one of the old­er cards depicts a new­er mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion:

a lit­tle meta

I rarely write about the process of main­tain­ing this site. Some may notice that I change the col­or scheme on an annu­al basis. The col­ors for links, block­quotes, tables, and oth­er fea­tures are based on the col­ors of the image you see at the top of the (at this writ­ing) right side­bar. That image is a minia­ture of a linoleum block print that I pre­pare and send out as my own Rosh haShan­nah greet­ing card. Since 1996 I have used a por­tion of my sum­mer (at one time at camp (Swig or New­man)) to pro­duce a linoleum block (or oth­er visu­al). Each block rep­re­sents a verse from clas­sic Jew­ish texts. Ini­tially, (usu­ally) these texts were from the book of Psalms, but now they range much more wide­ly. Each text becomes a mini visu­al midrash. I col­lect them here for your view­ing plea­sure.

Psalm 16:8 1996 For a new year of peace
Psalm 113:3 1997 May the year 5758 bring bless­ings of peace from east to west…
Isa­iah 45:7 1998 May the year 5759 bring bless­ings of peace in both light and dark­ness.
Psalm 119:1 1999 May the new year 5760 bring bless­ings of peace as we con­tinue on our way.
Psalm 92:13 2000 May jus­tice… and with it peace flour­ish in the new year 5761.
Psalm 90:12 2001 May we gain hearts of wis­dom, so that the year 5762 will be one of peace.
Psalm 118:19 2002 May acts of right­eous­ness in the year 5763 open the Gold­en gates of Mer­cy and lead to a world of peace.
Proverbs 3:17b 2003 May all our paths in the com­ing year 5764 lead us toward peace.
Sifra to Psalm 18:11–12 and Sid­dur: Ma’ariv: Hashkiveinu 2004 May our efforts in the year 5765 spread clouds of glo­ry as we build true taber­na­cles of peace.
Lamen­ta­tions 3:52 2005 May our endeav­ors in the year 5766 release all that threat­ens to ensnare us, giv­ing wing to a world of peace, bless­ing and joy.
[In mem­ory of Faye (Faigie, Fan­nie (Avrunin)) Hurvitz Tzip­po­rah bat Meir v’Jannah 21st of Tevet 5674 — 8th of Tam­muz 5765; Decem­ber 20, 1913 (the win­ter sol­stice) — July 14, 2005]
Leviti­cus 25:10 2006 May our endeav­ors in the year 5767 pro­claim lib­erty through­out the land, cre­at­ing a world at peace.
Psalm 118:5 2007 May our voic­es spread from the nar­row places to the broad spaces call­ing for jus­tice and peace in the year 5768.
Psalm 118:22 2008 In our efforts to build a world at peace may we see the poten­tial in every stone.
Leviti­cus 19:10b 2009 As we gath­er our share in the new year may we live in a world of plen­ty and of peace.
Pirei Avot 1:2 2010 May we secure our world on a foun­da­tion of learn­ing, ser­vice and deeds of lov­ing-kind­ness.
Gen­e­sis 1:1–2 2011 May our efforts in the new year bring new cre­ation out of chaos.
Psalm 130:1b 2012 May our voic­es reach up from the depths to achieve a world of whole­ness and peace.
Deuteron­o­my 30:13 2013 May our efforts in the New Year bring a world of whole­ness and peace clos­er to us.
Psalm 23:5b 2014 May our efforts in the New Year over­flow with good­ness and help cre­ate a world of whole­ness and peace.
Psalm 27:9a 2015 May the new year be a time of hon­esty with our­selves and full pres­ence with one anoth­er, bring­ing us clos­er to a world of whole­ness and peace.
Sid­dur : Kedushat haY­om 2016 With puri­fied hearts may our hon­est efforts build a world of jus­tice and peace.
Psalm 1:3 2017 May we plant our­selves by sources of sus­te­nance and use those sources to build a world of peace and plen­ty.

I often spend the months imme­di­ately fol­low­ing Pesach think­ing of a verse that would be appro­pri­ate and could be expressed visu­ally. This year’s card is made of two blocks. I did not know it would work this way, but the shop where I usu­ally pur­chase the linoleum had a block approx­i­mately twice the size of what I want­ed. I was able to find some­one who could cut it in half, and then I had two pieces to work with. In recent years, more of the cards have reflect­ed some­thing in my life at the time; this year is one of them.

  • I took the two vers­es:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ. וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל‑פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל‑פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם

  • I removed all the vow­els and dupli­cate (as well as final form) let­ters. This left me with [set one]:

    א ח י כ ל מ נ ע פ צ ר ש

  • I removed/separated those that form the phrase [set two]:

    תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ

  • I ran­dom­ized the remain­ing let­ters.
  • These two sets formed the two linoleum cuts:
    ran­dom­ized (the let­ters, and the cuts that make up the design, enclose a round­ed area):
    randomized letters

    ran­dom­ized let­ters

    remain­ing (the letters/words, read right to left, then flipped… and right to left again, form a shape in the fetal posi­tion while the cuts that extend from the let­ters shoot off in all direc­tions):

    tohu va vohu

    tohu va vohu

  • I print­ed the sil­ver-gray block and then, on top of that the red block:
    genesis 1:1-2

    gen­e­sis 1:1–2

what­ever happened?

In the days when I taught my Intro­duc­tion to Judaism class, part of the les­son for Rosh haShan­nah was to explain the val­ue of mak­ing con­tact with fam­ily and friends, as Chris­tians do at Christ­mas. In a sense, it is a way to ping some­one. I send out a card to every mem­ber of my extend­ed fam­ily for whom I have a geo­graph­i­cal address as well as numer­ous friends and asso­ciates. Often I receive a card in response. Some­times a card comes back with “address unknown” or “past for­ward­ing time”. Oth­ers respond by send­ing an elec­tronic greet­ing, or, there are fam­i­lies who send out a “this is what our fam­ily has been up to this past year” let­ter. Gen­er­ally, if I do not receive any kind of response after three to five years, I drop that recip­i­ent from the list (those of you who hap­pen to read this and are on the list… be fore­warned). Because I have includ­ed a num­ber of peo­ple with whom our par­ents cor­re­sponded I some­times receive notes back let­ting me know that a par­tic­u­lar per­son has died in the past year and I noti­fy my sibs as we take note of the pass­ing of time and gen­er­a­tions.

I usu­ally print enough cards so that our chil­dren can use them to send to their extend­ed fam­ily and friends. How­ever, oth­er than that, it seems few­er peo­ple each year send cards out on their own. This sad­dens me, but, it seems that, oth­er than mod­el­ing the behav­ior I like, I am pow­er­less to change the sit­u­a­tion.

you can send these cards as well

I have repro­duc­tions of the cards avail­able for pur­chase at my Zaz­zle store. You can pur­chase them to send to your fam­i­ly and friends.

keep them coming

I don’t know if these phras­es are used any longer, but there was a time when they played a sig­nif­i­cant role in Amer­i­can pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Thank you for all those cards and let­ters:

Keep those cards and let­ters com­ing in

(which I under­stand was a spe­cial part of The Dean Mar­tin Com­edy Hour”) though this is from a dif­fer­ent source:

not averse to change

Yes, I do miss receiv­ing those phys­i­cal cards. But, that does not mean that I will not express my Rosh haShan­nah greet­ings in a less “tra­di­tional” man­ner. I will wish my Twit­ter fol­low­ers a Shan­nah Tovah (with a link to this page). I will also add a note to my Face­book page that I’ve updat­ed this site in hon­or of the new year, and I will even share the first para­graph of this, with a link on Google+. Beyond those vir­tual wish­es, I often wear this but­ton dur­ing the peri­od lead­ing up to and imme­di­ately fol­low­ing Rosh haShan­nah.

l'shanah tova

l’shanah tova

Date: 1970s
Size: 3.8
Pin Form: clasp
Print Method: cel­lu­loid

your lapel buttons

Many peo­ple have lapel but­tons. They may be attached to a favorite hat or jack­et you no longer wear, or poked into a cork-board on your wall. If you have any lay­ing around that you do not feel emo­tion­ally attached to, please let me know. I pre­serve these for the Jew­ish peo­ple. At some point they will all go to an appro­pri­ate muse­um. You can see all the but­tons shared to date.

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2 Responses to keep those cards coming

  1. Barbara says:

    Thank you for your reflec­tions on the send­ing of hol­i­day cards. I am one of those who has­n’t sent cards in a long time. Ser­mon prep got in they way. Then I start­ed send­ing one of those let­ters to update fam­i­ly and friends about our fam­i­ly. When there were some years which were painful, I decid­ed if I did­n’t have much good to say, I would­n’t say any­thing at all, so I stopped send­ing out the update. I am recon­sid­er­ing what I do from read­ing what you wrote. I do send things out on Face­book and emails. I appre­ci­ate your thought­ful­ness.

  2. davka says:

    I appre­ci­ate the conun­drum you face. I hope my thoughts here did not “guilt you into” the recon­sid­er­a­tion, though I would like you to send out the cards. Though I know it is impos­si­ble to guar­an­tee, I hope future years are free of pain.

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