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Rosh Hashanah Cards.... Where did they come from?

Dear IRDS families,

It is that time of year again, “The Chagim” – The High Holy Days, which call for a fresh start, deep self-reflection and lots of time to spend with the people we care about. Speaking of the people who surround us, one of the customs during this time of year is to send L’Shana Tova cards to the people in our community.

The origins of this custom date back to the 14th century Ashkenazi Jewish community in Germany. The Talmudist authority, Maharil (Yaakov Ben Moshe Levi Moelin), asked his community to write a card wishing each other a great new Jewish year. In the 18th century it spread to other communities around Europe, then in the early 19th century the progress of mail and print industries promoted the notion of manufactured cards, and by the end of the 19th century Jews around Europe and America had their mailing season known to be for Shanot Tovot towards the High Holy Days. In Palestine, the Shanot Tovot custom helped create and promote Zionistic ideals, a way to fundraise around the world, develop a new image for a new country, and build a united and strong identity for its people. It was the only custom that was popular with both religious and secular Israelis.

The discussion about “A communal identity” was emphasized by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who argued that: When futures anthropologists examine our culture and ask themselves “What did people in the 21st century worship?” There answer will be that our generation worships the “Self,” the “Me,” the “I”. Our books are about self-help, our morality discussions are all about being true to one’s self. Our politics are about individual rights, and our routine ritual is “The Selfie.” Sacks explains that this is great, liberating, and empowering, but we cannot forget that biologically we are social animals. We need those face to face interactions, where we learn the choreography of altruism, and where we create those spiritual goods like friendship, loyalty and trust that redeem our solitude. When we have too much of the “I” and too little of the “We,” we can find ourselves vulnerable, fearful and alone. According to Sacks, the safest way to guard the future “I” is to strengthen the future “Us” by building a communal identity. Jews have been scattered and exiled in the diaspora for 2,000 years, but we never lost our identity. During holidays are the times we come together and tell our collective stories. We teach the next generation who we are, where we came from, and what ideals by which we live.

This year at IRDS, we have decided to strengthen our communal identity through another vehicle. In honor of Israel’s 70th birthday in April, each month during Rosh Chodesh (a new Jewish month), as part of services, we will be giving students a card with a Jewish leader’s picture who contributed to the foundation of the State of Israel. At the end of the year they will be taking home a packet of 12 cards that represent the foundation of our mutual identity. We have already introduced Binyamin Ze’ev Herzl and David Ben-Gurion for Elul and Tishrei. You are welcome to also discuss these leaders at home.

May this year bring strength, happiness, health and growth to each and every one of you. We are so excited to begin the 2017-18 journey with all of you.

L’Shana Tova,


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