These are not the best of times for stamp collectors.
One hundred and sixty-three years after the British post office first sold adhesive stamps to indicate that postage for a letter had been paid, what was once a window to a newly interconnected world and a chance to own a small piece of history or art has become a relic of a distant age.
More and more communications are sent electronically, rather than what has been derided for a quarter century now as “snail mail” — even, as reported in a stunning investigative report in the Conversation, an investigative website — it’s at theconversation.com — the internet’s dark web has enabled largescale mail theft to earn criminals millions of dollars in profits. Not only can criminals buy stolen identity information useful for setting up bank accounts to deposit stolen checks — you can even buy high quality training videos explaining how to steal mail, bleach and rewrite the checks you find, and deposit the results in fraudulently opened bank accounts. According to the Conversation, reported thefts, at gunpoint, of the keys used to unlock mailboxes in the United States has soared, from 80 in 2018 to 717 so far this year. This, of course, means fewer and fewer people are willing to trust checks to the mail — hastening the medium’s death spiral.
And the Israeli post office has not been exempt from this trend.
Our Israeli friends have long reported that their postal service is notably unreliable; package delivery is particularly problematic.
Recently, the Israeli post office’s disregard for paying customers has spread to the high profit realm of stamp collectors who, remember, buy the stamps but never use the delivery service they ostensibly paid for. One Israeli blogger cancelled his planned series of stamp reviews, after the post office decided to stop selling new stamp issues even in the largest post offices.
In this environment, perhaps it is no surprise that the quality of Israeli stamp issues have taken a nosedive in the past year or so.
Back in the spring, we saw that the designs of Israel’s 75th anniversary stamps were distinctly second rate, and not worth mentioning on this page.
Now, with the release of the year’s holiday stamps before Rosh Hashanah, it is clear that the graphic design skills of whoever is running the stamp department have hit rock bottom.
To be fair, this year’s theme — the popular yet problematic Unetaneh Tokef prayer, with its theologically challenging chant of “repentance, prayer, and charity avert the evil decree” — is not one we would have chosen to affix to our holiday greeting cards.
And given that the legend of the prayer — that Rabbi Amnon of Mainz composed it as he was dying of torture inflicted by the local archbishop and then returned in a dream three days after his death to teach it to another rabbi — is historically problematic, we might not have included that.
Props, though, for including an Unetaneh Tokef manuscript from our favorite archive of Jewish history, the Cairo Geniza.
But the third stamp? An apparent attempt to tie into last year’s hit book about Leonard Cohen’s performances for Israeli soldiers during the Yom Kippur War and the Unetaneh Tokef-based song “Who By Fire?” that he began writing there and then?
No. Just no.
Only someone who had never heard of Leonard Cohen before taking on this design assignment would try to show the Montreal Jewish poet who, inspired by Bob Dylan, picked up a guitar to put his words to music, as a piano keyboard.
So in the spirit of the season, allow us to offer a simple prayer for the Israeli post office: Repent.