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Shanah tovah cards in the social media age

It's not that they're interesting (the new year wishes are really always the same), but that they are sent...and received

Shanah Tovah, social media world!

It seems like there is nothing else that we say, hear and write to each other during these days, and it seems that Facebook is one long holiday greeting.

Facebook — social media in general — has its pros and cons. One of the pros is the ability and range of connectivity it provides to us as individuals and as a community, unmatched in human history.

The fact that in my opinion it closes friendships far more than opens it – you are not close to someone just because you are friends on social media and have liked a post of theirs and loved a picture, and sadly we all make the mistake of thinking that we are close because of said actions — that fact changes nothing about the sheer power of international connectivity we have been blessed with.

We have all reconnected with long lost friends through this amazing tool, and we have all used it to extend our scope of influence and both affect more people and be affected by more.

Never is this more prominent than on Erev Rosh Hashanah, I think — just check your newsfeed! The interesting thing about it is that wishing people Shanah Tovah is a centuries-old institution and a central facet of this time of year, and more specifically not only verbal wishes — which are important as well — but physical greeting cards. One can take a journey though last five centuries of Jewish history through the pictures and messages on these cards that Jews felt it critical to send to each other — a vastly more complicated process than merely clicking a computer mouse — and it dominated the lead-up to the High Holidays.

Fascinatingly, it was not what was written that was really relevant — the content was almost always identical from card to card, a simple wish of a good and sweet New Year — but the fact that it was sent and received. My father told me yesterday that when he was a child they would eagerly await the arrival of the postman bringing cards, looking at the pictures, glancing at the unsurprising words, then stacking them on the mantelpiece and seeing the pile grow as Rosh Hashanah approached.

Sadly, the physical custom has greatly diminished due to social media, perhaps soon to vanish. The concept, though, is more alive than ever — wishing everyone a Shanah Tovah, not simply verbally, but by an individual, tangible and re-readable message, and reading the ones we received despite knowing exactly what is written in them, is as part of the Rosh Hashanah reflective and resolving for the upcoming year process as ever. I find myself scrolling (side point: I love that this is the word that has become the term for it, “scroll” for centuries having had religious connotations!) through my newsfeed and really enjoying the repetitive greetings.

So:

Shanah Tovah, dear family and friends, near and far, close and distant. May you and your family and friends have a sweet, good, fruitful, productive, happy, and meaningful New Year, one where your wishes and desires are fulfilled for the good, one where evil is vanquished and good is upheld.

Finally: when Rosh Hashanah comes in, whatever your religious orientation, let’s put social media away for the duration of it, like the cards were put in a pile on the side in centuries past, and enjoy each others’ company! We all deserve it!

About the Author
Betsalel Steinhart is a Licensed Tour Guide, and the Director of Education for Ramah Israel. He is privileged to live in Jerusalem with his wife and five children.
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