– In 1897 the first Congress of Zionists in Basel (Switzerland) was deciding on what the Congress participant’s fee would be called. Several versions were put forward, while the best idea was suggested by David Wolffsohn (1856-1914), a businessman and one of the organisers of the Congress, who was born in the territory of Lithuania (Darbėnai) and later lived in Klaipėda. He suggested the name shekel (an ancient unit of weight and the name of a monetary unit that weighed 240 grains of barley or 11 grams of silver, later becoming a silver currency unit), which subsequently became the name of the currency of the State of Israel;
– in the territory where the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the Palestine pound had circulated since 1927; this monetary unit became Israel’s first currency. However, it had ceased to be issued since then, although in some surrounding territories (e.g. Jordan), this monetary unit still circulated for a few more years. In the same year, 1948, the Jewish people founded the private Anglo-Palestinian Bank, which until 1954 performed the functions of the Central Bank of Israel and issued banknotes for Israel;
– in 1951, the National Bank of Israel was founded (formally, the same Anglo-Palestinian Bank, after transferring its shares to the new Bank), which started issuing the new currency — Israeli pounds (liras). This currency appeared in 1952 and its design was not much different from the Palestinian pound, although the inscription in Hebrew changed (from ‘the lira of the land of Israel’ to ‘Israeli lira’); also, the money was no longer pegged to the British pound. From 1954 to 1980, four series of Israeli pounds were issued. Banknotes of all the series differed in design: the first depiction of real persons started with the banknotes of the third series (1968); until then, only abstract figures or symbolic human images were depicted. Interestingly, the 5 pound banknote, issued in 1968, featured Albert Einstein, who was an active supporter of the State of Israel;
– in the 1960s, discussions arose over the fact that the name of Israel’s currency was not in Hebrew. The old name shekel was remembered (the first Congress of Zionists was also remembered and commemorated). In 1969, Israel’s parliament — Knesset — adopted the law on a new monetary unit. Nevertheless, the Chairman of the Central Bank had to confirm that the conditions for the new currency were suitable and he only did so in 1977, while the currency itself only appeared in 1980. The design of the currency was no different from that of the pound (lira) of the previous series, but one zero was eliminated from each denomination, and 10 pounds were exchanged into one shekel. Unfortunately, inflation could not be managed and the zeros on the banknotes started multiplying (the largest denomination was 10,000 shekels); therefore, a reform was implemented once more and new shekels were adopted in 1985. 1,000 of the old shekels were equivalent to 1 new shekel. The banknotes circulating today are plastic (polymeric); they feature Israel’s outstanding persons. The highest denomination is 200 new shekels (while it was planned to issue a 500 shekel banknote, there was no need to do so due to low inflation). The newly designed 200 shekel banknote appeared in December 2015;
– the subdivision of Israel’s currency is the agora (1 shekel is equal to 100 agorot). Only 10 agorot coins circulate; 1 and 5 agorot coins had existed before as well, but over time they fell in value and their production cost exceeded their face value, so these coins were abandoned. When payment is made in cash, prices, where necessary, are always rounded to a round sum; when payment is made in different ways (cards, cheques), prices are not rounded. The obverse of the 10 agorot coin features the historic coin of Antigonus II from the 5th c. BCE, depicting a seven-branched candelabrum (this symbol is also featured in the logo of the Central Bank of Israel). A scandal broke out over this coin in the 1990s; in 1990, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat asserted that this was not a coin but rather a map of ‘Great Israel’, which reflected Israel’s expansionary objectives, as the map’s territory comprised Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, etc. The world’s media exploited this, but the Israeli government denied the ‘news’.