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Jamim mikedem - Old Jewish Postcards

 

Spanish Synagogue, 1 March - 31 August 2000

   
Jewish little town in Poland, 1917Postcards featuring Jewish subject matter are a mere fragment of the thematically diverse range of the postcards from the period 1898 to 1938. They capture the long lost world of European Jewry, who at the beginning of the 20th century experienced a culmination of their long-standing efforts to achieve emancipation and equality. This world was almost completely destroyed by the catastrophe of the Shoah during the Second World War. It was therefore postcards that preserved, albeit unwittingly, the richest picture of the life of pre-war Jewish communities, their sites, customs and traditions. The majority of postcards featuring Jewish subject matter, however, have not been preserved - they served the needs of the day, and it was with the day that they most often disappeared. The rest are dispersed across collections throughout the world.


The aim of this exhibition is to show the full range of themes and genres covered by pre-war Jewish postcards from both Bohemia and Europe as a whole. We have selected around 450 Jewish postcards from a single private collection and arranged them into 30 thematic groups. The majority are topographic in nature, featuring synagogues, Rosh Hashanah congratulation, Warsaw 1917Jewish cemeteries and other Jewish sites. As it was not possible to include every geographic area in our selection, we have focused primarily on postcards from Central and Eastern Europe, where Jewish settlements were the most populous and culturally unique. Special attention is devoted to postcards that feature Jewish motifs from Prague, lesser known synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia, the former ghetto and synagogues in Bratislava, and the environment of traditional Jewish communities in Slovakia and Ruthenia.


The second half of the exhibition documents various areas of Jewish life. One of the most interesting thematic groups is that of postcards depicting original settlements, ghettos and Jewish streets, particularly in Galicia and Ruthenia. A related group of photographic postcards capture the expressive faces of the elderly and of children from hadarim (Jewish schools) in traditional dress, Jewish shops and individuals carrying out typical Jewish trades - pedlars, hawkers, second hand dealers, tailors, musicians and knife-grinders. An integral part of the picture of Jewish life a century ago also included Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, where regular visits by Hassidic Rabbis from Galicia and their disciples would attract great attention.
Walking to the synagogue, Poland, ca 1910Other postcards depict traditional scenes from Jewish festivals and religious life - men dressed in their best clothes on their way to the synagogue with their children on the Sabbath, elderly men with prayer shawls during morning services. Many of these are connected to the celebration of the Sabbath - the lighting of candles at the beginning, prayers and family rest, and the Havdalah ceremony marking the close of the Sabbath. Others recall the poetic ceremony of the blessing of the new moon. Many were intended as greetings-cards to mark the most important Jewish festivals - New Year and the Day of Atonement. These include traditional Hebrew greetings and show, for example, a river bank scene during the New Year Tashlikh ceremony, and an old man with a white rooster for the Kaparot ceremony. Much more uncommon are the greetings-cards for the Spring festival Pesach, commemorating the liberation from slavery in Egypt. There are only a few greetings-cards to mark the festivals Simhath Torah, Sukkoth, Hanukkah and Purim.


Important moments in an individual's life were also occasions to be congratulated upon, which was why they also appeared on postcards - in particular, a religious wedding with all the traditions involved (the huppah or wedding canopy, dance and music), the circumcision of a new-born son, and the bar mitzvah (when a boy reaches the age of 13). Original postcards designed by Jewish artists were also used as greetings-cards. Much of the work of these artists has survived only on postcards.


For a fuller picture, we have also selected examples of postcards that are humorous, sport-oriented or Zionist, and those that feature sites in the Holy Land, in addition to postcards that are anti-Semitic.


For a long time, large museums failed to pay sufficient attention to the collecting of postcards. The collections of the Jewish Museum in Prague include only a small set of postcards bearing photographs of Prague Jewish sites, in addition to postcards issued by the Museum itself. On the other hand, there is a long-established tradition of privately collecting postcards. It was not long after the invention of postcards that they began to be collected, exhibited and exchanged with great fervour. František Bányai's collection of Jewish postcards is one of the most interesting of its kind. We are grateful that he was willing to put part of his collection on public display.

Exhibition curator: Dr. Arno Parik
Installation: Pavel Brach

 

 

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