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Women on Israeli Banknotes

What do a school girl, Golda Meir, Henrietta Szold, a woman pioneer-soldier and a female kibbutznik have in common? These are the only female figures that have appeared on Israeli currency todate. The pioneer-soldier and kibbutznik are generic, but the sweet school girl celebrating the Compulsory Education Law was taken from a photo of a real child.Today, education in Israel is not only compulsory, but also free until completion of secondary school. So far five females have appeared on Israeli banknotes. If you consider that only about one dozen nations have featured women on their currency, this is quite an achievement.

Sixteen famous Jews, Zionists and political figures have appeared on Israeli banknotes however only two were women − former Prime Minister Golda Meir and Hadassah Women’s Organization founder Henrietta Szold.

A new series of banknotes dedicated to poets is planned for the end of this year. Two of the poets are women − Rachel ‏(Blobstein‏) the NIS 20 bill and Leah Goldberg on the NIS 100 note and will join the first five females who appeared on Israeli currency. This series was received with much unrest since no Sephardic figures were chosen for this new series. It is noticeable that no Arab has ever appeared on an Israeli banknote. Both groups are lobbying desperately to be represented.

View from Bank of Israel to Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Finance Buildings
View from Bank of Israel to Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Finance Buildings

Israeli Banknote History

During the British Mandate for Palestine, the British Palestine Currency Board chose famous, historical places in Eretz Israel (Land of Israel) and places holy to either the Moslems or the Jews: Tower of David, Dome of the Rock, White Tower, Grave of Rachel the Matriarch. These banknotes were all tri-lingual (English, Hebrew and Arabic).

To fill the need for currency while the new Jewish state was only getting on its feet while under attack on all fronts,  the first post-Mandate bills were issued by a Jewish bank, the Anglo-Palestine Bank, which later became Bank Leumi Le-Israel (Israel National Bank). No reputable printer wanted to print currency for a country that did not yet exist. The bills were printed under cover by the American Banknote company and brought to Israel secretly. To be on the safe side, the Anglo-Palestine Bank design was composed of different combinations of stock guilloches with no historical sites – some of which had previously been used on Chinese currency. The currency was called Palestine pound, לירה א”י, (Lira Eretz-Yisraelit), جنيه فلسطيني.

In 1952, the “Bank Leumi Le-Israel” took over paper money production and issued the same denominations as the Anglo-Palestine Bank except that the 500 mils was replaced by a 500 prutah note. The currency was Hebraicized was now called Lira Yisraelit, לירה ישראלית, junayh isrāīlī, Israel Pound.

The first real Israeli banknotes issued by the new Bank of Israel in 1955 displayed Israeli landscapes on the front and abstract patterns – very ultra-modernistic graphic designs – on the back. The abstract patterns of the first series did not meet with public approval.

The second series of Israeli banknotes printed only generic figures of people on them, such as a fisherman, a scientist, a pioneer woman soldier and a young man and woman representing members of a kibbutz, on the front and archaeological sites on the back.

In the third banknote issue, showing a motif of prominent personalities in the history of the Jewish people was released between 1973 and 1975. It included a feature for the blind added for use in identifying denominations.

Since 1980, the Shekel has been the currency of the modern state of Israel. The Israeli New Shekel was introduced in 1985.

You can see specimens of all Israeli banknotes and coins here.

Bank of Israel flag
Bank of Israel flag

Visit the Bank of Israel

The Bank of Israel does not receive all the visitors it deserves. There is a fine Visitors Center is in the Bank of Israel building at Giv’at Ram, 2 Kaplan Street, Jerusalem, right next to the Knesset. The Visitors Center is completely disabled-accessible. Visiting hours are Monday–Thursday, 9:00–16:00, except for festivals and festival eves. There is no admission charge but prior arrangement is required. Admission request forms must  be downloaded on Firefox or Explorer. (Isn’t that exasperating!)

The permanent exhibition of all the Mandate and Israeli banknotes and coins is complete and offers explanation of each display. This currency exhibition is good enough for Scrooge McDuck. Younger guests (recommended 8 and older) will enjoy the interactive activity stations where they can play and learn Economics simultaneously. The entertaining, educational film explains to purpose of a central bank, but does not explain how to overcome an overdraft.

Lucky you! There are free samples when you leave. Believe me, this is the truth.

About Israel and You

Cameling in the holy land since forever
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