The United States Postal Service's 2022 Hanukkah stamp (left) and 2023 Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp
The United States Postal Service's 2022 Hanukkah stamp (left) and 2023 Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp

From Hanukkah to RBG, 5783 is shaping up to be a great year for Jewish stamp collectors

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On Oct. 20, the United States Postal Service released a new Hanukkah stamp. And USPS recently announced its 2023 slate of stamps, which will include a Ruth Bader Ginsburg stamp, as well as a series of stamps depicting the work of Jewish-American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

The RBG stamp represents a remarkably quick turnaround, considering the Supreme Court justice died just two years ago. The USPS issues stamps honoring only those who are deceased, and its policy regarding timeline states: “proposals for a deceased individual will be considered three years following his/her death” (emphasis mine). Clearly, the consideration already happened, including the notoriously slow stamp-design process — though to keep to their policy, I’m guessing the stamp won’t be released until after RBG’s three-year yahrzeit on Sept. 18, 2023.

The new Hanukkah stamp is, for my money — which is currently 60 cents per Forever stamp — the most beautiful yet of the nine total Hanukkah designs the USPS has issued since 1996. While I’m excited as a stamp collector, as a staunch supporter of religion-state separation, not so much; part of my day job is running Jews for a Secular Democracy. Unfortunately, we lost that battle long ago, in 1962, with the release of the first U.S. Christmas stamp. At least Jews were eventually included … three decades later! More recently, there have also been Kwanzaa, Eid and Diwali stamps.

Like other hobbies, stamp collecting seems to have received a boost during the Covid-19 pandemic, with lockdown providing more time for solitary pursuits in lieu of work commutes or, in some cases, in lieu of work, period. I’d argue that philately is self-care. A profoundly analog activity, handling tiny pieces of art covering any topic you love is a fun and almost meditative escape, especially in a world of ephemeral digital imagery.

Having returned to my childhood hobby a few years before pandemic, my interest increased greatly during lockdown, as did my eBay package deliveries. I joined the American Philatelic Society, for stamp collectors in general, and the American Topical Association, an organization for people who collect stamps by subject area. And because my collecting areas include Jews, Judaism and Israel, I also joined the Judaica Thematic Society and more recently the Society for Israel Philatelists.

RELATED: Meet the artist behind the new USPS Hanukkah stamp

Zoom has been the saving grace of the pandemic for philatelists — as it has been for the Jewish community, and I presume most other affinity/identity groups — in keeping people connected and providing access to content and learning that previously only happened in person. Social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram are where younger collectors congregate. All of it has given me a better sense of the philatelic community. And it seems Jews are overrepresented in the stamp biz! (And I mean that in a good way, not in the Kanye way.)

Jeanette Kuvin Oren, the designer of the new Hanukkah stamp, and Ethel Kessler, the USPS art director of that issue along with hundreds of other stamps on countless topics since 1998, are Jewish. Flipping through any edition of American Philatelist magazine, you’ll find a minyan of stamp dealers with common Jewish last names. And most interesting to me was having the opportunity to meet with Sam Malamud, the Orthodox president of the Inter-Governmental Philatelic Corporation.

Designing and distributing stamps for over 70 countries worldwide, IGPC is frowned upon by some purists as producing “wallpaper” stamps, with little monetary or philatelic value and sold directly to collectors to raise hard currency for mostly emerging-nation clients. It’s why there are some Jewish-themed (or Elvis or astronaut) stamps from places with little to no Jews (or pop stars or space programs), such as Ghana or Dominica.

Still, Malamud assured me his stamps are used in their respective countries, and regardless, his influence and ideas have profoundly transformed philately in all stamp-producing nations. He was the first to license Disney characters for stamps in the 1970s, ushering in a wave of pop culture philately that today explains why New Zealand produces Lord of the Rings stamps and Britain issues Star Trek stamps. As a huge pop-culture fan myself, I wouldn’t be collecting if my topic choices were limited to rippling flags or dead presidents.

Regardless of your interest, there is a stamp collection that can be built around it, and for Jewish-themed philately, now is a great time to be collecting.