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Jewish Journal

A Stamp of Approval

by Michael Aushenker

November 21, 2002 | 7:00 pm

There was a time when the holidays meant choosing between a traditional stamp, like Madonna and child, or a modern stamp, like snowmen. But that all changed in 1996.

"That was the first time that a Chanukah stamp had come out," said David Mazer, U.S. Postal Service public affairs and communications manager in Los Angeles. "We made a real to-do about it at the time. I personally made a presentation to 30 area institutions -- Valley Beth Shalom, the University of Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion -- and it really went over well."

This month, the Postal Service will re-issue the Chanukah commemorative stamp in the 37-cent denomination. About 35 million copies of the self-adhesive menorah stamp, designed by Washington, D.C., artist Hannah Smotrich, have been produced for this season.

Every year, the Postal Service's 15-member Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee sifts through 40,000-50,000 stamp ideas sent in by the public. From that, the panel sends 25-30 new stamp ideas to the postmaster general, who has final say.

While stamps based on Passover and other Jewish holidays have not been created, Mazer pointed out that hundreds of Jews and Jewish-related images including composers Irving Berlin and Franz Waxman, artist Frida Kahlo and the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., have graced U.S. stamps over the years.

So when it comes to holiday imagery

on government-issued stamps, are there any conflicts of separation of church and state?

A U.S. stamp will not bear individuals or institutions specifically associated with religious beliefs. However, if there is a larger humanitarian or pop culture component, these rules can be bypassed.

"Stamps are a reflection of popular culture and history," Smeraldi said. "[Christmas and Chanukah] are so widely celebrated, so it doesn't go against those criteria."

Sounds like a stamp of approval to us.

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