Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The first Hebrew writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Shmuel Yosef (“Shai”) Agnon (1888-1970) was one of the central figures of modern Hebrew fiction. A prolific writer in both Hebrew and Yiddish, his works dealt with the conflict between traditional Jewish life and the modern world, the disintegration of traditional life and the loss of faith and identity, and the attempt to recapture the fading tradition of the European shtetl.

Shai Agnon

In his usual, nearly unreadable scrawl, Agnon sends his regards for “a good and blessed year” to Shmuel Hoofrat in Jerusalem.

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One of Agnon’s best-known works is Days of Awe, a treasury of traditions, legends and commentaries on the Yomim Noraim, which has been characterized as “a stunning anthology compiled by a master storyteller.” As Agnon himself describes it in the preface to the book, “For the benefit of those who wish to be informed of the matters of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and the Days Between, I have assembled some sayings from the Torah and from the Prophets and from the Writings, from the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud, from the halachic Midrash and the aggadic Midrash, and from the Zohar and from other books written by our Early Rabbis and Latter Rabbis, of blessed memory . . . “

Zev Jabotinsky

Unquestionably one of the greatest and most important Jewish leaders of the 20th century, Zev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) is best known for founding the Jewish Legion and for founding and heading three nationalist and militant organizations: the New Zionist Organization, the political arm that maintained contacts with governments and other political institutions; Betar, which educated the youth of the Diaspora for the liberation and building of Eretz Israel; and the Irgun Zvi Leumi, the military arm which fought against the enemies of the Zionist enterprise. Although known primarily for his passionate Revisionist Zionism, he was also an outstanding Hebraist and a prolific and influential author, journalist, playwright and novelist, using the written medium as a forum to disseminate his Zionist philosophy.

In the note dated September 19, 1925, shown here, Jabotinsky, on behalf of his entire family, pens wishes for “a good and successful year” to Mr. Rebelsky in Paris. Mathematician Isaak (Yitzchak) Rebelsky, the son of a Rav in Eretz Yisrael, was a mathematician who was a close friend of the Jabotinsky family and of Albert Einstein.

His literary career a watershed in modern Hebrew literature and considered the greatest Hebrew poet of modern times, Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934) was also an essayist, storywriter, songwriter, translator and editor who profoundly influenced Jewish culture. Forging a new idiom, he is credited with freeing Hebrew poetry of the overwhelming biblical influence which had dominated it for centuries. At the end of his life, he traveled the world in support of Zionism and the Hebrew language, and he dedicated himself to preserving and advancing Jewish culture.

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In the card exhibited here, his wife, Mania (nee Averbuck), writes:

. . . With Hashem’s will, I will give you a [lekach?] a double portion.

And I bless you and your household a good and successful new year

On the verso, he adds and signs: “I join my wife in wishing you a Gemar Chatimah Tovah.

Mendele Mocher Sforim

Journalist, essayist and novelist, Mendele Mocher Sforim (1836-1917), a pseudonym for Sholem Yankev Abramovich, was called “the Grandfather of Modern Yiddish literature” by Sholem Aleichem and was universally respected as such by all. He began writing in Hebrew and became the founder of the Hebrew literary criticism movement but, at a time when Yiddish was deemed unsuitable to literary work, he later perfected a Yiddish prose style that greatly influenced later writers. Much of his work dealt with Jewish life in Russia and, strongly influenced by the secularizing trends of the Haskalah (the “Hebrew Enlightenment”), he tried to use his work to influence Jews to free themselves from the physical and intellectual restraints of the ghetto.

Signing as “Shai Abramovitz,” Mendele writes:

It is already a month, as I sit here idly doing no work and wandering between the grape vines waiting for the grapes to ripen so that I can eat them and heal my body, which has thinned due to much sludge . . . I wrote a book “Shlomo Rav Chaim” . . . Our friend Bialik is getting too lazy to write to me . . . I inquire as to the well-being of your honorable spouse and I bless her and you with peace and all good things for the coming new year.

Uri Zvi Greenberg

The son of a distinguished Chassidic family, Uri Zvi Greenberg (1896-1981) is known for his poetry, which was fired by an all-consuming ideological commitment to Judaism and a belief that the divine covenant with Abraham, renewed with the Jews at Sinai, is the essence of Jewish existence. For Greenberg, the role of Hebrew poetry was to express that Jewish messianic vision and, having foreseen the destruction of European Jewry – he escaped to Eretz Yisrael, but his entire family perished in the Holocaust – his poetry often sings of his agony as the suffering prophet-priest of the mythos of Jewish catastrophe and redemption. His work has been widely recognized, and he was awarded the Israel Prize in 1957 for his contributions to Hebrew literature.

In this fully handwritten 28 Elul 1966 correspondence, Greenberg writes:

From Ramat Gan, on the road to Jerusalem

With respect to the Rav of our city, Rabbi Zvi Markowitz

I read – and continue to read – Your Honor’s book, but I am still in “Paths of Faith.” This book is more important in my eyes than all the books of thought that have come to readers in the land written by authors who sit in Universities or editorial boards in various journals. I wish that the book would have reached many people, especially among the young people who characterize themselves as “religious.”

I do not know the price of the book, but I want to donate a sum of money; not according to its thoughtful worth, but according to the cost of publicity.

May the Rav receive my blessing and the blessing of my entire household that the upcoming New Year be upon us for good, and total redemption, and health. May our enemies see and be ashamed.

Rav Zvi Markowitz (1917-2006) was a the rav of Ramat Gan, head of the Karlin-Stolin Yeshiva in Jerusalem, and a member of the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah (The Council of Torah Sages). He was an outspoken opponent of Reform Judaism and a strong proponent of a substantive Torah education for every Jewish child. “Paths of Faith,” about which Greenberg waxes enthusiastic, is Netivot Ha-Emunah, by R. Yichye Charozi, is a Kabbalistic work in the form of a dialog between two brothers.

Henrietta Szold (1860-1945) is best known as founder and first president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, and as “the Mother of the Yishuv.” This brilliant and remarkable woman also organized and directed the American Zionist Medical Unit, the precursor to the Hadassah Medical Organization and held the social welfare portfolio as an executive of Va’ad Le’ummi of Jewry in Eretz Yisrael, in which capacity she instituted hygiene programs. She also established vocational schools and served as director of Youth Aliyah, which trained and cared for thousands of Jewish German children escaping the Holocaust.

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Though principally known for Hadassah, Szold also made epic contributions to Jewish literature in America as both a writer and as one of the founders and editors of the Jewish Publication Society of America, and she single-handedly edited the American Jewish Yearbook and helped compile the Jewish Encyclopedia.

In the October 1, 1935, correspondence in English from the Eden Hotel in Jerusalem, Szold writes to a Miss Gellner in Tel Aviv:

My warm thanks to you for the New Year and for the exquisite, extraordinarily fragrant roses that accompanied them.

I hope your brief rest in Jerusalem was efficacious and that good effects, if there were such, were not too quickly dissipated by the work and worries of your office. If my office serves as an example, a futile hope!

With kindest regards and [this in Hebrew] Chatimah Tovah.

Also shown here is a small Rosh Hashanah card to an unidentified recipient written and signed by Szold in her clear and tight handwriting: “Reciprocating your kind wishes for a Happy New Year.”

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Yitzchak Dov Berkowitz (1885-1967) is perhaps best known for Ha-Rishonim ki-Venai Adam (1933-1948), a translation of the collected works of his father-in-law, Sholem Aleichem. He wrote many novels, plays and short stories arising out of the context of the social crisis which shook Eastern European Jewry in his day. His central themes included the cultural isolation and problems resulting from Jewish immigration and the social pressures of adapting to a new and strange world. After he settled in Eretz Yisrael (1928), where he became one of the first editors of the weekly, Moznayim, one of his pet themes became the impact of Eretz Yisrael on new immigrants.

In this undated card from Brooklyn, New York, written during a 1929 trip to the United States shortly after he made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, Berkowitz writes (and he signs for himself and his wife, Ernestine):

May you be inscribed for a good year, dear friends, Baruch and the good woman! Many days have passed since you have heard from me, because they surrounded us with high [ ] walls and did not let us know when we will be able to leave. We have now decided to return to Tel Aviv in two months, and if “the days become full” then in three months. Whether this way or that way – we will come! Meanwhile, please receive our blessings for the new year, may it come upon is for good, and we will hope to find you, amongst the rest of the Jewish people, healthy and whole.

With a shanah tova upon us and upon all the rest of Israel, healthy and whole.

With great friendship.

Also shown is a small 1948 card inscribed “With blessings for a shanah tovah” and signed by Berkowitz.

Alter Druyanov

Alter Druyanov (1870-1938) left Vilna for Eretz Yisrael but, unable to earn a living there, he returned to Russia (1909), where he served as editor of the Hebrew language newspaper, HaOlam (1909-1914). Upon his return to Eretz Yisrael in 1921, he joined Bialik and Ravnitski in editing the first four volumes of Reshumot (1919-1926), a Hebrew journal devoted to Jewish folklore.

Druyanov’s own writing covered many genres, including feuilletons, critical essays, and journalistic articles on subjects of public interest, but he is chiefly remembered today for his three-volume anthology of Jewish humor, Sefer HaBedikha ve-HaKhidud [Book of Jokes and Wit] (1922), which reflects Eastern European Jewish life at the turn of the twentieth century.

In the handwritten letter from Vilna dated 2 Tishrei 1911, Druyanov writes to Jacob Cohen acknowledging receipt of his songs and extending Rosh Hashanah wishes to him.

I received the songs that you sent to me. Thank you.

Please send me immediately (and I mean literally immediately!) the lyric poem that you mentioned, because I want to print it in the Sukkot edition, and it is therefore necessary to deliver it immediately and without delay. Please be so kind and to send it on the very day that you receive this correspondence.

As to “Haolam,” the issue has not been decided. At the beginning of 1912, it will come out in Vilna and from there going forward, either it will come out in Berlin or it will not come out at all. So it seems to me.

With great respect and with blessings for a shanah tovah.

Haolam, the central organ of the World Zionist Organization which was published as a weekly from 1907 to 1950, was originally printed in Berlin but, when it soon became clear that Western Europe was not the best place to publish a Hebrew newspaper, it was moved to Vilna in 1908 under Druyanov’s editorship and then to Russia in 1912.

Yaakov Fichman (1881-1958) was an acclaimed Hebrew poet, essayist and literary critic whose poetry followed a traditional lyric Romantic style. His poetic background is reflected in his works of prose, which were sometimes seen as being nearly works of poetry in themselves, and his other work included textbooks, articles in periodicals, and introductions in literary anthologies. After emigrating from his native Bessarabia to Eretz Yisrael, he became increasingly absorbed with the landscape of the Holy Land but, as a member of a transitional generation whose attitude toward the new landscape was essentially secular, he did not view it through the biblical-Zionist romanticism of some of his other contemporaries.

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Fichman twice received the Bialik Prize – first in 1945 for his book of poetry Peat Sadeh (“A Corner of a Field”) (1943), and again in 1953 for several of his works. He was also awarded the prestigious Israel Prize, for literature, in 1957.

In the note dated Erev Sukkot, 1953, shown here, Fischman extends “Heartfelt blessings for the New Year, may it come upon us for good.”

Best wishes to all for a good and sweet New Year!

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Saul Jay Singer serves as senior legal ethics counsel with the District of Columbia Bar and is a collector of extraordinary original Judaica documents and letters. He welcomes comments at at sauljsing@gmail.com.