Stamp collecting might sound like a throwback, a hobby geared for the days when people still snail-mailed letters to one another, and let their kids steam off the stamps and place them carefully in albums or scrapbooks for study and safekeeping.
But philately is still a passion for many, and still has the potential to bridge even some of the widest gulfs, as full-time dentist, spare-time dedicated stamp collector Les Glassman recently discovered.
A collector for the last 48 years, he began with stamps of dogs and cats as a 4-year-old, then moved on to amassing a significant collection from the Portuguese colony of Mozambique, and expanded to stamps from Jerusalem, exhibiting the postal history of the city.
Now a Jerusalemite himself, though raised in Johannesburg, Glassman and his siblings were encouraged by their stamp-collecting father. He learned about the world from his stamps, said Glassman, because “stamps know no borders. It was amazing to see all the different countries.”
Glassman has exhibited his collection and won prizes throughout the world, and done so on behalf of the Israel Philatelic Society since moving here. But his most significant experience as a philatelist came in June, when he became an ambassador of sorts while exhibiting in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
The organizers wanted Israel represented at the gathering, the Third World Stamp Championship, whose theme was bridging the world through stamps. And Glassman was one of the few philatelists in Israel who could get into Indonesia, on his South African passport. “I still can’t believe it,” said Glassman. “They were very appreciative that I came.”
Being in Indonesia was interesting enough, but he also found himself sitting next to an Iranian colleague, and socializing with his Egyptian, Turkish and Bahrainian counterparts. Glassman said the barriers were easily broken, since everybody was simply interested in one another’s collections.
“You are representing your country, but you’re looking at each other as individuals,” he said. “Stamps are a great way to build relationships, and it was enlightening for them to hear about Israel.”
He said he talked dentistry with his Turkish colleague, a fellow dentist, discussed Cairo synagogues with the Egyptian collector and mused about vegetarian food with the Iranian’s philatelist’s daughter. They all sat and drank tea together, perusing collections and discussing their respective countries.
Glassman said he talked about many things “they’d never heard of in their media. But we didn’t push the political agenda.”
For many of the participants from Indonesia, Glassman was the first Jew they had ever met, never mind an Israeli, and one wearing a yarmulke at that, he said.
And when he gave out starter stamp packets from the Israel postal society to local kids at the exhibition, he said, “it was like I gave them gold.”