Demand grows for mass-market Rosh Hashanah cards

An estimated 12 million Rosh Hashanah cards are exchanged annually in the United States.

And sales are increasing slowly but steadily, according to Terry Kovach, assistant product manager of seasonal cards at American Greetings. The Cleveland-based company has sold Rosh Hashanah cards for roughly 15 years and now offers close to 100 designs.

"It follows an overall return to tradition and family," he said of the trend.

Rosh Hashanah is the third-highest religious card-giving holiday in the country and the 10th largest card-sending occasion. Christmas tops the list, with Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter, Father's Day, Graduation, Thanksgiving and St. Patrick's Day also near the top.

The Greeting Card Association lists 24 manufacturers of Jewish greeting cards and gives out several awards for top cards in several Judaica categories, including Best Jewish Everyday card and Best Jewish Holiday card.

A Rosh Hashanah card from EthnoGraphics in Santa Barbara won in the best holiday category for 1995. The award was announced last year, said Carol Weinstock Silverander, president of the company.

Silverander started EthnoGraphics more than 10 years ago, putting pictures she'd taken in Israel onto cards with Jewish themes. Since then the company has branched out to sell cards in several ethnic themes including African-American, Native American, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Asian, as well as continuing the Judaica collection.

Every Rosh Hashanah card carries the traditional greeting "L'Shana Tova Tikatavu" in Hebrew, Silverander said.

Throughout the years the custom of sending Jewish New Year's cards has waxed and waned, according to several card experts. The types of cards that have been popular have also changed over the years.

In the 1970s and 1980s, families were having Jewish New Year's cards printed up at local printers, said Ken Bodeep, owner of the 22-year-old Budget Print Center in Metuchen, N.J.

There was a time when he had two or three dozen orders a year, he said. This year, Bodeep hasn't had even one.

Bodeep speculated that more people are buying mass-market cards. Several greeting card manufacturers agreed.

"Business is dramatically up," said Miriam Gutfeld, president of Shulsinger Sales Inc., a Brooklyn-based Judaica company. "It's a statement of two things: a reaffirmation of Jewish heritage and a chance for people to catch up and keep in touch."

People use cards as a way to strengthen their family connections, she said.

At the turn of the century and in the early 1900s, Rosh Hashanah postcards were both sent to loved ones as well as collected, according to Gabriel Goldstein, curator of the Yeshiva University Museum in Manhattan. Most of the cards were printed in Eastern Europe, especially in Warsaw.

"There were lavish cards printed in Germany for the American Market," Goldstein said. "As Jewish families were separated by immigration it became a way to stay connected."

Prior to that, greeting cards of all kinds were popular during the Victorian age, and Jewish New Year cards benefited from that trend, he said. Some cards featured immigration themes such as images of ships or groups of new immigrants, while others featured lifecycle events or holiday scenes. A common scenario depicted a man selling Rosh Hashanah cards on a street.

Cards using the relatively new technology of photography were also a hit, Goldstein said.

One of the more elaborate style Victorian cards was made of cut-out cardboard and color printing. A three-dimensional card, when unfolded it depicted a scene from synagogue life, such as a wedding or a sukkah.

"They're cool," Goldstein said of those cards. "Increasingly people are collecting them today."