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Images on currency represent national identity Photo: Jeremy Feldman
Images on currency represent national identity Photo: Jeremy Feldman

Our currency and identity

Our symbols remind us of what we would like our children to become

Moshe Dann
Published: 12.28.09, 00:00 / Israel Opinion

Plans by the Bank of Israel to change the figures depicted on banknotes have stirred controversy. Images and symbols on a country's currency represent who and what is important in national identity.


For the last decade or so, the personalities have been Zalman Shazar (NIS 200), Yizthak Ben-Zvi (NIS 100), Shai Agnon (NIS 50), and Moshe Sharrett (NIS 20). Shazar and Ben-Zvi served as presidents and were scholars; they and Sharrett were Labor Party (Mapai) politicians; Agnon was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.


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Educational and publishing centers in Jerusalem bear the names of Shazar and Ben-Zvi and are devoted to furthering their work.


Substituting Yitzhak Rabin for Shazar and Menachem Begin for Yitzhak Ben-Zvi might be meant to update political reference points. Both Rabin and Begin were controversial and represented differing views of Zionism.


Menachem Begin's legacy is preserved in a Center (in Jerusalem) devoted to his life and work, and hosts public events. The Yitzhak Rabin Center (in Tel Aviv), offers educational programs on themes such as democracy and tolerance; its museum will be open in early 2010, and will portray Israeli history during Rabin's lifetime.


Who, however, deserves to adorn our currency?


There were great figures in Jewish history that would inspire us, for example, Rambam (Maimonides), Ramban (Nachmanides), and Rav Avraham HaCohen Kook.


There are also important national historical sites that could be represented, such as The Cave of the Patriarchs (in Hebron) or the Western Wall.


Challenged to come up with worthy political figures, we might think of more creative symbols of Israel's meaning and importance: faces of children from different origins would suggest the historic process of ingathering Jews to the Land of Israel, kibbutz galuyot, the basic purpose of a Zionist state.


Strangely missing on its paper/plastic currency is the Menorah, Israel's official symbol.


Cultural icon, songwriter and poet Naomi Shemer may also be under consideration. But no one knows, and the committee, led by retired Judge Yaakov Turkel has not presented its final decision.


Our symbols remind us of what we would like our children to become, our integrity as a nation, and our link with Jewish history and Jewish destiny. These choices should depend on a sense of national pride, not on political agendas.


To express your opinion, contact BOI's spokesman: yoav.soffer@boi.org.il  


It's your country, too, at least theoretically.


The author is a writer and journalist


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