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The Jewish Museum was founded in 1904 in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, where it was housed for more than four decades. Located along New York's Museum Mile, this elegant former residence has been the home of the Museum since 1947. Learn More

Stories

Zito’s Bakery, a Family Legacy Read More

In honor of Italian-American Heritage Month, discover the multi-generational history behind a New York City landmark, through a photograph in the Jewish Museum’s collection.

Berenice Abbott, “Zito’s Bakery, 259 Bleecker Street,” from the series “Changing New York, 1935–39,” 1937. Gelatin silver print, 10 × 8 in. Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund. The Jewish Museum, New York.
“My family was impressed with Berenice Abbott’s photos and were proud to be included in her work that highlighted this area of Greenwich Village.”

Berenice Abbott is best known for her black and white photographs of New York in transition in the 1930s. Sponsored by the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program, Abbott produced over 300 photographs of New York’s urban landscape, culminating in the book Changing New York, which was published to coincide with the 1939 New York World’s Fair. One of the photographs in this series is an image of A. Zito & Sons, the famous Italian bakery once located in Greenwich Village.

Antonio Zito emigrated from Palermo, Sicily with his wife Josephine, opening Zito’s bakery on Bleecker Street in 1924. The bakery was well known for their delicious crusty wheat bread, a staple at any Italian family’s Sunday dinner. Zito’s was run by Antonio and Josephine’s grandson, Anthony, at the time it closed its doors in 2004, after 80 years of producing a beloved New York staple.

Anthony Zito happens to be my sister-in-law’s father, and I was able to ask him some questions about the photograph.

The woman in the photograph is Zito’s matriarch, Josephine. Anthony pointed out that there is another person in the photo as well. If you look closely to Josephine’s left, you can see her son Jack, Anthony’s uncle.

Anthony noted that people always asked about the word “sanitary” on the window. According to Anthony, “Back then if you passed the health inspection you were able to put the word sanitary on your window so everyone would know your store had passed.”

Anthony said that the family found out about the photo from Berenice Abbott herself. Not long after she took the photos, she stopped by the bakery, as well as to the other stores she photographed on the block, to talk to all the businesses and people on the street about the photos she took.

The Zito family “loved the photo and felt like it brought prestige to the bakery,” Anthony said. “My family was impressed with Berenice Abbott’s photos and were proud to be included in her work that highlighted this area of Greenwich Village.”

Shortly after Abbott died in 1991, a signed copy of this photo was delivered to the bakery as a gift to the Zito family. The grandchildren and each of the great-grandchildren of Antonio and Josephine Zito have copies of this photo displayed in their homes today.

Daniela Stigh, Director of Marketing Communications

Discover more photographs of iconic New York City landmarks in the Jewish Museum’s collection by visiting TheJewishMuseum.org/Collection.


Zito’s Bakery, a Family Legacy was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Seeking Shelters Outdoors: Celebrating Sukkot this Year Read More

This year, Sukkot begins at sundown on October 2 and ends in the evening of October 9. Dwelling in a sukkah commemorates the tabernacles that protected the ancient Israelites during their Exodus from Egypt.

Etrog Container, Maker’s mark: K B. Germany, late 19th century. Silver: chased and gilt. 7 1/4 × 9 × 5 1/2 in. (18.4 × 22.9 × 14 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 4390.

The weeklong holiday of Sukkot, also known as the Festival of Tabernacles or Booths, begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei (usually September or October in the Gregorian calendar). In the Diaspora, Shemini Atzeret (“The Eighth [Day] of Assembly”) and Simchat Torah (“Rejoicing with the Torah”) immediately follow on October 10 and 11. Jews throughout the world traditionally eat their meals in an outdoor structure called a sukkah, a booth or other form of shelter. Some Jews even sleep in the sukkah, and where the climate is cold, bundle up to keep warm. The act of dwelling in a sukkah commemorates the tabernacles (essentially, huts) that protected the ancient Israelites while they journeyed through the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. As a protective shelter and as an ephemeral structure in the outdoors, the sukkah is meant to evoke that experience of wandering, at one with nature and vulnerable to nature. Perhaps this year, when the outdoors has become a safe haven for dining and socializing, seeking the outdoors and sitting in a sukkah would not seem as unusual as it would in years past.

Sukkot is also called Hag Ha-asif, or Festival of Ingathering, to commemorate the harvest offerings of the autumn season that were brought to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. To rejoice in Sukkot as a pilgrimage festival, Jews customarily bless four kinds of plant (together referred to as the Four Species) — an etrog (a citron fruit) and a lulav (a bundle of branches from the palm, myrtle, and willow trees).

Burial Plaque, Rome (Italy), 3rd-4th century CE (?). Marble: incised. 11 1/8 × 11 5/16 × 1 in. (28.2 × 28.8 × 2.5 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 4715.

The lulav and etrog are represented on ancient objects, such as this marble burial plaque made in Rome sometime between the 3rd and 4th centuries CE. These motifs, which are also depicted on contemporaneous synagogue mosaics in ancient Israel, served to commemorate the destroyed Temple and symbolize the hope for its rebuilding. Both Jews and Christians owned underground burial grounds, called catacombs, outside of Rome. While less commonly known, Jewish burial sites include six in Rome and one near Naples. This plaque from a Jewish catacomb bears a memorial inscription in Latin: “Aurelia Protogenia set up [this stone] to Aur[elia] Quintilla, her dearest mother, who lived sixty years, 5 m[onths], in grateful memory.” This moving tribute from a daughter to her mother is paired with the lulav and etrog as symbols of hopeful longing for the Temple.

Solomon Joseph Solomon (British, 1860–1927), “High Tea in the Sukkah,” 1906. Ink, graphite, and gouache on paper. 16 1/8 × 12 in. (41 × 30.5 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Edward J. Sovatkin, JM 91–55.

Just as homes look different from one another, so too sukkah structures take distinct forms based on the individual or family dwelling in it, the climate, and the location — picture a sukkah in a suburban backyard versus a sukkah on a balcony of a city apartment. People can construct a sukkah using a range of materials and can decorate its interior with a variety of natural and crafted adornments, while leaving some openings in its foliage roof to allow for viewing the starry sky. In the Jewish Museum’s collection, we are invited into different sukkot (Hebrew plural for sukkah) from distinct places, times, and communities.

A drawing by the British artist Solomon Joseph Solomon offers a glimpse into the sukkah of Dr. Hermann Adler (1839–1911), the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain from 1891 to 1911. The Rabbi, a white-bearded figure wearing spectacles and a distinguished black head covering, greets elegantly dressed guests in his sukkah. At first glance, we would not know that we are in a sukkah. It seems as if we are spectators at a glamorous tea party set in abundant foliage. Yet the moment captures more than a high tea gathering. Jewish tradition and British customs converge in this scene. The men and women are dressed in contemporary British fashion, and in contrast to the Rabbi, the other men do not wear traditional skullcaps. Hat or hatless, the people come together to celebrate the holiday. The lulav — the holiday’s plant — leans against the table in the foreground and an etrog — the holiday’s fruit — hangs from the roof of the sukkah. The appearance of the lulav and etrog in this scene hints at the Jewish festival of Sukkot being celebrated here. Created by Solomon in 1906, the image is also a microcosm of a larger moment in British Jewish history: the revival of the holiday with the influx of Jews from Eastern Europe to England at the end of the nineteenth century and a reaffirmation of Jewish identity following the passing of the Aliens Act of 1905, which curtailed immigration into Britain.

The Benguiat family, late nineteenth century Smyrna (now Izmir), Ottoman Empire, late 19th century. Gelatin silver print. The H. Ephraim and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, U 7628.

Another kind of sukkah is featured in a late nineteenth century photograph from the Jewish Museum’s collection. Here we meet the Benguiat family standing at the entrance of their sukkah at their home in Smyrna (today Izmir in Turkey). Hadji Ephraim Benguiat (ca. 1852–1918), a major dealer and collector of Jewish ceremonial art, is shown holding a lulav and an etrog. He is likely standing near his wife, Rebecca, and their daughter Luna. In Sephardic and Mizrahi (eastern) Jewish communities it would have been customary to build the sukkah walls out of elaborate textiles or carpets. We can see that practice represented here: patterned rugs form the walls of the Benguiat family sukkah. These opaque walls contrast with the semi-translucent and lightweight fabric, interspersed with foliage, used for the sukkah in the drawing by Solomon.

A magnificent sukkah curtain wall from Isfahan in Iran was recently acquired by the Jewish Museum. Its composition consists of three seven-branched candelabra (in Hebrew, menorot) within decorated niches. Each menorah is comprised of amuletic and biblical verses as well as texts pertaining to the holiday of Sukkot. One of the three menorot, which is shown in the detail here, is flanked by an inscription that indicates the textile was dedicated by a man named Yitzhak, who asks for protection over his two sons Zion and Eliezer.

Haji Rajab and Sons Workshop, Curtain Wall for a Sukkah (detail). Isfahan, Persia (Iran), late 19th-early 20th century. Cotton: block printed and handwritten in ink. 98 1/2 × 131 1/2 in. (250.2 × 334 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Purchase: Traditional Judaica Committee Acquisitions Fund, 2017–44.

The text that forms the seven branches of this menorah derives from the liturgical poem or piyyut “Ana b’Koach,” (“Please, with Power”), a supplication to God to “untangle our knotted fate.” The poem is recited in many communities as part of the Sabbath evening prayers. “Ana b’Koach,” which is believed to have been written by Rabbi Nehunia ben Hakana in the early centuries of the Common Era, is a mystical text composed of forty-two words, the initial letters that form the Forty-Two Letter Name of God. In addition, the Eight-Letter Name of God is presented right above the menorah to strengthen even further the textile’s protective power. This Sukkah curtain wall is a remarkable example of artistic cooperation: Haji Rajab Ali and Sons, a workshop in Isfahan, was responsible for the overall patterned background realized by means of block printing — a technique that entails stamping ink-dipped wooden blocks — and a Jewish scribe executed the handwritten Hebrew inscriptions.

Etrog Container, Maker’s mark: K B. Germany, late 19th century. Silver: chased and gilt. 7 1/4 × 9 × 5 1/2 in. (18.4 × 22.9 × 14 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 4390.
Etrog Container, Ottoman Turkey, 19th century. Silver: repoussé, cast, engraved, and punched. The H. Ephraim and Mordecai Benguiat Family Collection, S 108.

A midrash (commentary) compares each of the four species blessed on Sukkot to a different type of person (Vayikra Rabba on Leviticus 23:40). Taste and smell symbolize the performance of good deeds and the study of Torah, respectively. The etrog, which is infused with flavor and a pleasant scent, is akin to someone who both performs good deeds and studies Torah. Given its pointed end, the etrog is also the most delicate of the four species. To avoid bruising the fruit and thus render it unfit for ritual use, the etrog is carried and kept in a special container.

The Jewish Museum’s collection includes many etrog containers in all shapes and sizes that come from different regions and communities. A late nineteenth-century hammered and gilt container from Germany in the shape of the etrog highlights the preciousness of the festival’s fruit that is stored within. A container made around the late nineteenth to early twentieth century in the Ottoman Empire is inscribed in Hebrew with the biblical injunction to use the fruit on the holiday:

“On the first day you shall take the product of hadar [citron] trees” (Leviticus 23:40).
Allan Wexler (American, b. 1949), Indoor Sukkah, 1991. Mixed media installation. Approximately 38 × 108 × 42 in. (96.5 × 274.3 × 106.7 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Purchase: Gift of Vera G. List, 1997–127.

This year some people may opt to celebrate the holiday inside. Allan Wexler’s Indoor Sukkah offers us this option. Wexler reinvents the traditional outdoor sukkah by proposing an indoor alternative with an ordinary dining room table and chairs. Yet the work is far from ordinary: Wexler creatively constructs plots of real grass that grow from the legs of the table and chairs and that need to be watered to be sustained. Downward cast lights spotlight the grass, giving a nod to modern technology while illuminating both physically and symbolically the agricultural origins of the holiday; the table and chairs, which are rooted in the grass, highlight the essence of the sukkah and Sukkot. Wexler’s work also thoughtfully comments on the temporary and flexible nature of the sukkah: here, the sukkah is a table that can move and that can be converted from a mundane table into a sukkah. Wexler’s installation challenges the liminality of the sukkah as an indoor and outdoor structure; its walls are the walls of the space that the table and chairs inhabit.

Whether this year Sukkot will be celebrated outdoors or indoors, the welcoming of guests is central to the holiday. Family and friends gather together in the sukkah. It is even a custom to symbolically invite seven biblical figures or ushpizin (Aramaic for “guest”) — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David — one on each day of the festival. The sukkah walls can feature decorations related to these mystical guests, such as a colorful example printed in Montreal in the mid-twentieth century.

Sukkah Decoration, Rodal’s Hebrew Book Store, Montreal, Canada, c. 1950. Lithograph on paper. 19 × 25 in. (48 1/4 × 63 1/2 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 4724.

Replete with detailed imagery and corresponding Hebrew texts, this vibrant work includes the traditional invocation “Enter exalted holy guest,” which is inscribed along its edges. A Hebrew inscription at the center of the image invites the ushpizin — the guests — to partake in the sukkah meal. Biblical verses outline the rituals on Sukkot, such as dwelling in the sukkah and blessing the lulav and etrog. The illustrations, also at the center, symbolize the seven biblical guests. The sides of the image portray Jewish holy sites and the signs of the zodiac; for example, Aquarius is depicted as a bucket (for the Hebrew name of the sign, dli, or pail) that hangs over a well. This representation for Aquarius is a frequent occurrence in works that include the zodiac within Jewish contexts.

The invitation of ushpizin, which was originally a kabbalistic practice mentioned in the Book of Zohar (5:103b), was expanded by Jewish feminists to the welcoming of ushpizot (plural for female guests) into the sukkah. These women are Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther, the seven biblical women connected in the Talmud to prophetic acts (Tractate Megillah 14a-b). Perhaps this year, many people will be opening their sukkah not only in person but also virtually to welcome guests from near and far. As we continue to shelter in place while many have no place to shelter, we should remember Maimonides’s words: when celebrating a holiday with food and drink, a person is obligated to feed “the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Festivals, 6:18). Sukkot is a time to go on expanding the practice of welcoming guests and opening our (virtual) doors to new ushpizin and ushpizot.

— Claudia J. Nahson, Morris and Eva Feld Senior Curator and Abigail Rapoport, Curator of Judaica

Explore these objects and more in the Jewish Museum’s collection by visiting TheJewishMuseum.org/Collection.


Seeking Shelters Outdoors: Celebrating Sukkot this Year was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The High Holidays: New Year Reflections, the Shofar, and Apples and Honey Read More

Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—begins at sundown on September 18 and ends on the evening of September 20, offering time for reflection and the possibility of renewal.

Shofar, probably India, 20th century (?). Kudu horn. 4 7/8 × 23 5/8 × 6 1/4 in. (12.4 × 60 × 15.9 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the International Synagogue, 2016–22

The Jewish New Year — Rosh Hashanah — is celebrated on the first two days of the month of Tishrei in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah initiates the Days of Awe — a ten-day period of repentance, prayer, and self-reflection, that culminates on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday, and a fast day. According to tradition, God opens the “Book of Life” on Rosh Hashanah and closes it on Yom Kippur, offering a time to contemplate the deeds of the past year and an opportunity for renewal on the year ahead. The idea of being inscribed and sealed goes back to the Talmud (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 16a): “All are judged on Rosh Hashanah, and their sentence is sealed on Yom Kippur.”

While in the Talmud the holiday is called Rosh Hashanah (literally “head of the year” in Hebrew), in the Bible it is referred as Yom Teruah or “a day when the horn is sounded” (Numbers 29:1). In fact, no object is more deeply linked to Rosh Hashanah than the shofar, the animal horn that is sounded one hundred times each day of the holiday as a call to repentance and is blown at the end of Yom Kippur. Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Shofar 1:1) states that listening rather than blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a mitzvah or commandment. The number, order, and type of blasts blown on the shofar are prescribed in Jewish law. Three kinds of sounds are blown: tekiah is an unbroken sound and a sort of summons, shevarim is a grouping of three sounds akin to weeping, and teruah consists of nine short sounds emitted in rapid succession as an alarm raising spiritual awareness, culminating with the tekiah gedolah or great tekiah, an extended unbroken sound.

Burial Plaque, Venosa (?) (Italy), 4th-5th century CE. Marble: incised. 9 1/2 × 11 × 1 1/8 in. (24.1 × 28.2 × 2.9 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Samuel Friedenberg, JM 3–50.

The soulful sounds of the shofar reverberate in the synagogue space and evoke distant places and ancient times when animal horns were blown to announce important events such as the Jubilee year or the inauguration of a king. A shofar is depicted in an old burial plaque from a Jewish catacomb in Italy, along with other ritual objects once used in the Jerusalem Temple including the seven-branched lampstand (menorah) and the palm branch bundle (lulav) used on Sukkot, the holiday following Yom Kippur. The Latin inscription on the plaque states: “Here lies Flaes the Jew,” while the Hebrew reads: “Pe[a]ce.” These symbols expressed belief in national redemption and the hope for the rebuilding of the Temple.

Shofar (one of the first 15 objects donated to the Jewish Museum). Europe (?), 19th century. Ram’s horn. 1 7/8 × 12 1/4 × 4 1/8 in. (4.8 × 31.1 × 10.5 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Judge Mayer Sulzberger, S 506.

Many shofarot (Hebrew plural for shofar) are among the Museum’s treasured possessions, including one of the first fifteen objects to enter the collection, donated by Judge Mayer Sulzberger in 1904 to help establish the Jewish Museum. An example acquired much more recently, long and twisted, is made of kudu horn, typically found in shofarot from India and Yemen, while a German one made of ram’s horn is inscribed in Hebrew with biblical verses read during the Rosh Hashanah prayer service : “Blow the horn on the new moon, at the full moon for our feast day. For it is a statute for Israel, an ordinance of the God of Jacob” (Psalms 81:4–5) and “With trumpets and the sound of the horn” (Psalms 98:6). Although for Maimonides the shofar must be a ram’s horn, other sources allow horns of other kosher animals, with the exception of those of a cow, bull, and related animals, due to the transgression of the golden calf, worshipped by the Israelites in the desert while Moses was on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32: 1–6).

Shofar, Germany (?), 18th century. Ram’s horn: engraved. 6 1/4 × 17 × 3/4 in. (15.9 × 43.2 × 1.9 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 502

The shofar is linked to the dramatic story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22: 1–19) which is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. In the biblical account, God mandates Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but when Abraham is about to fulfill the command he is stopped by an angel who orders him to sacrifice a ram instead.

Torah Mantle, Pfaffenhoffen, Alsace (France), 1875/76. Silk: embroidered with silk and metallic thread and sequins. 34 1/16 × 17 1/2 in. (86.5 × 44.5 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of Dr. Harry G. Friedman, F 3546

A Torah mantle in the Jewish Museum collection features the climactic scene when the angel stays Abraham’s hand to prevent him from sacrificing his own son. As stated in the Hebrew inscription below the scene, the mantle was dedicated in 1875/76 to the synagogue of Pfaffenhoffen, a small town in Alsace, in northeastern France. A crown surmounts the composition, flanked by the Hebrew initials for “Crown of Torah.” Below the crown is the all-seeing eye, a symbol of divine providence in Christianity, reflecting Jewish acculturation following Emancipation. A few similar Torah mantles exist, all featuring the same biblical scene and all made for Jewish communities in Alsace in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Their color is also white, traditional in synagogue textiles made for use in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Reflection and prayer are important aspects of the Days of Awe. The prayers for the High Holidays are contained in the mahzor or prayer book for the Jewish festivals. Among Italian Jews, it was customary for bride and groom to exchange gifts (sivlonot). An elaborate silver book cover for a mahzor in the Jewish Museum collection exemplifies this custom as well as the adoption of unofficial coats of arms among affluent Italian Jews. At center on the front of this cover is a gate above which rests a lion, the emblem of the Portaleone family of Rome (“porta” and “leone” meaning “gate” and “lion” in Italian). The back cover is decorated with the crest of the Grassini family, two rampant lions flanking a tower, indicating that this lavish festival prayer book cover was made to celebrate a marriage between the two families.

Maker: EB, Book Cover with Prayer Book, Rome (Italy), 1715. Silver: repoussé, hammered, and chased. 12 3/4 × 9 1/2 × 2 in. (32.4 × 24.1 × 5.1 cm). The Jewish Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert A. List. JM 3–72

While white is the preponderant color of synagogue textiles used in the High Holidays, and some Ashkenazi men wear a kittel (white robe) at synagogue during this time as a symbol of spiritual purity, in Jewish communities in Yemen and Central Asia dark colors are associated with the sobering spirit of the Days of Awe. The lulwi, an indigo-dyed grand dress used by a Sanaa Jewish woman on Yom Kippur, was first worn by her on the Sabbath after giving birth, when she received her female guests at home. At death it became her burial dress, placed over her funeral shroud. The lulwi reminded a new mother that she had been close to death while giving birth, symbolically linking the beginning and the end of life.

Ceremonial dress (lulwi), Sanaa, Yemen, late 19th century. Indigo-dyed; cotton and cotton and gilt-silver thread embroidery. The Jewish Museum, JM 2–55a

A traditional ceremony performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the symbolic casting of sins by a moving body of water. Known as Tashlich (Hebrew for “you will hurl”) this practice is derived from the passage in the biblical Book of Micah (7:19): “You will hurl all our [their] sins into the depths of the sea.” If the first day of Rosh Hashanah falls on a Sabbath, Tashlich is done on the second day of the holiday and if unable to perform this ceremony on Rosh Hashanah, one may do so until the last day of Sukkot.

In the mid-1950s as photographer Robert Frank embarked in a cross-country trip to document post-war America in thousands of images, he captured a Tashlich ceremony being performed at the East River in New York. Published in the resulting book titled The Americans (1958), the scene evokes Jack Kerouac’s words about Frank in the introduction: “unobtrusive…with that little camera he raises and snaps with one hand, he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film.”

Robert Frank (American, b. Switzerland, 1924–2019), “East River, Jewish Holiday, NYC 1955,” printed c.1970. Gelatin silver print. 9 × 13 1/4 in. (22.9 × 33.7 cm). The Jewish Museum, 1993–111

Like Robert Frank, but some twenty years later, and thousands of miles away from the United States, the Tbilisi born photographer Nodar Djindjihashvili set out on a quest of his own. Compelled by a drive to capture for posterity the last remaining traces of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, he went on a two-year secret journey photographing dwindling communities in the then far reaches of the Caucasus Mountains and Central Asia, from his native Georgia to the mountain villages in today Azerbaijan, and beyond to Bukhara (today in Uzbekistan).

Nodar Djindjihashvili (American, b. Georgia, 1939–2002), “Rosh Hashanah Night,” 1978–80. Krasnaya Sloboda, former USSR (today in Azerbaijan). Chromogenic color print. 16 × 20 in. (40.6 × 50.8 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Purchase: Gift of Stephen and Barbara Friedman, 1989–96

Among Djindjihashvili’s many photographs are some he captured in the small village of Krasnaya Sloboda, then home to a vanishing community of Mountain Jews, which in recent times has experienced somewhat of a revival. Descendants from Babylonian Jews who migrated to Persia, possibly arriving in the region by the sixth century BCE, Mountain Jews lived for centuries in complete isolation from Western Jewish communities, developing their own language and traditions. Yet they shared with other Jews around the world the custom of a festive Rosh Hashanah meal. Djindjihashvili’s image of a solitary man seated at the head of the table, elicits many questions. Are his eyes downcast to avoid the camera on a Jewish holiday when photography is traditionally not allowed? Is he absorbed in a private prayer? The abundant food display on the table intimates that more people have partaken in the festive meal, and that it is now time for fruit and tea. Yet the photographer has chosen to capture this lonely moment, somewhat emblematic of the waning communities he was documenting.

While today many people may send their loved ones best wishes for Rosh Hashanah via email or text message, not too long ago sending paper New Year greetings was very popular. The tradition in fact goes back centuries. The medieval Rabbi Jacob ben Moses Moellin, known as Maharil, encouraged the writing of special greetings to friends and family for Rosh Hashanah. With the rise of modern manufacturing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, greeting cards were produced commercially. Prior to 1939, publishing houses such as the Williamsburg Art Company and the Hebrew Publishing Company of New York had their greeting cards printed in Germany, a major producer of this type of material before World War II.

Happy Jack (born Angokwazhuk) (Inupiaq, b. Alaska, c. 1870–1918), New Year Greeting, Nome, Alaska, United States, 1910. Walrus tusk: engraved; gold inset. 2 5/8 × 9 1/8 × 1 in. (6.7 × 23.2 × 2.5 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Gift of the Kanofsky Family in memory of Minnie Kanofsky, 1984–71

An unusual Rosh Hashanah greeting in the Jewish Museum collection comes from Nome, Alaska, combining the Jewish custom of sending New Year cards with the centuries-old Inuit craft of walrus-tusk carving. The couple depicted on the tusk may have run a store in Nome. The greeting, carved by a prominent artist known as Happy Jack, features the traditional Hebrew expression “May you be inscribed for a good year” within a flower garland, and the year in the Jewish calendar — [5]671 = 1910 — engraved on the gold Star of David. Jews played an important role in the western migration. A Jewish-owned firm secured Alaskan seal-fishing rights, and, in 1885, the first permanent Jewish settlers arrived in Juneau. The discovery of gold near Nome spurred a mass immigration of fortune-seekers, including a number of Jews.

Celia Sylvia Silverberg (American, 1873–1979), Alice Ellen Silverberg (American, 1896–1976), New Year Plate inscribed “A Happy and Sweet New Year,” Buffalo, New York, United States, c. 1935. Redware covered with white slip. Diameter: 9 1/2 in. (24.1 cm). The Jewish Museum, New York. Purchase: Gift of Michael and Luz Zak and Judaica Acquisitions Fund, 1984–59

This year has been a challenging one with the world facing a devastating pandemic. The pleading verses of Avinu Malkenu (“Our Father, our King”), a central prayer in the High Holidays liturgy imploring riddance from disease and healing for the sick, will certainly have an added resonance. Jews around the world will be hoping for a new year filled with health, justice, peace, and prosperity. As they congregate virtually or in person with their families and friends, they will be also partaking in an uplifting ritual, the eating of apples and honey for sweet a new year.

— Claudia J. Nahson, Morris & Eva Feld Senior Curator


The High Holidays: New Year Reflections, the Shofar, and Apples and Honey was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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