The modern cultural genre of the picture postcard, which is well represented in the Magnes collection (which includes over 3,000 postcards, and many greeting cards), is explored in a recent essay by Hebrew University’s Professor of Folklore and Professor of Hebrew Literature, Galit Hasan-Rokem.
The article, which opens with quotations from Walter Benjamin and Susan Sontag, focuses on the permutation of the concept of Jewish “mobility” and of the imagery drawn from the myth of the wandering Jew in modern times.
I believe that I would gain numerous insights into my later life from my collection of picture postcards, if I were to leaf through it again today.
The wandering Jew can’t be a major collector, except of postage stamps. There are few great collections that can be put on someone’s back.
Hasan-Rokem’s essay is a haunting and compelling read, and a prime example of how research in cultural heritage collections can inspire innovative multi-disciplinary approaches. Below are the article’s abstract and keywords. A pdf document of the entire text here.
The picture postcard is a concrete expression of mobility in modern times. Their illustrations include many themes explicitly referring to travel, emigration and uprooting that will be highlighted in the article. As a cultural practice postcards in general may also serve as concrete indexes of the mobility of their documented senders and receivers. Postcards became very early objects of systematic collecting. Most of the Jewish postcards to be discussed in this study belong to the Joseph and Margit Hoffman Collection of the Folklore Research Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, over seven thousand picture post cards, stemming predominantly from the period before the Shoah. The postcards discussed in the article encompass large parts of the Jewish world of the period including East, Central and West Europe, Palestine, the United States, and North Africa. Based on a semiotic explication of the illustrations of the postcards, as well as in a number of cases the personal texts on their verso side, they are here discussed as part of an attempt to interpret figures of mobility in and with regard to Jewish culture. A major European tradition shared by Christians and Jews, the Wandering Jew, is presented as a possible interpretative key for the postcards. In their particular combination of the visual and the verbal as well as of individual art and folk and popular culture, postcards are shown to present a rich source for illuminating the cultural interactions between Jews and their neighbors
Mobility, modernity, postcards, Wandering Jew, Eastern Europe, US, North Africa, art, Palestine, airplanes, ships, trains, emigration
I was delighted to guide Galit Hasan-Rokem through the Magnes postcard collection when she was last in Berkeley as a Diller Israeli Visiting Scholar at the University of California. It is with equal delight that I’ve noticed a mention of her visit, and of our collection, in her work.