by Hillel Fendel
(IsraelNN.com) More than a year after it was first announced, the Bank of Israel has issued a new 2-shekel coin on Sunday – the first change in Israeli currency in nearly 20 years. Children will undoubtedly introduce it into the popular Chanukah game of spinning a top called a dreidel, in which scores are often tracked with coins.
The new coin is 2.16 centimeters in diameter – smaller than the 5-shekel coin and larger than the dime-sized 1-shekel coin. As with other Israeli coins, the 2-shekel piece’s design is based on ancient Jewish coins. It depicts the “horns of plenty” filled with grapes and wheat, alongside a pomegranate, that were engraved into the coins of Yehochanan Hyrcanus over 2,000 years ago.
Yehochanan was a ruler during the Hasmonean period. His ancestors were the Maccabees instrumental in the battles of Chanukah that Jewry is commemorating this week. The coin was to have been issued a while ago, but its production in the Netherlands was delayed.
The addition of the 2-shekel coin will streamline cash payments, the Bank of Israel says, chiefly for high-volume users but also for individuals searching for change in their pockets. It will also save money in coin production and maintenance.
The new 2-shekel coin was designed to be clearly identifiable to the blind, with notches grooved into its side in four places. The piece is nickel-coated and has the Hebrew year of issuance engraved on it. Though it would have been worth some 45 cents when it was first announced over a year ago, the depreciation of the dollar has raised it to 51.6 cents.
Bank of Israel is planning to issue a new 20-shekel bill this coming February to replace the current one. Made out of a type of plastic, it will be able to better withstand the note’s generally high usage. On the other hand, the five-agorot coin will be phased out of use within a year.
Bank of Israel’s latest report states that the public held 25.5 billion shekels in cash in 2006, up 4.6% from the year before. In general, bills comprise 96% of cash circulation. Roughly half of the bills are 100-shekel notes, with the others valued at 20, 50 and 200 shekels.
Of the coins in circulation, just over half of them are 10-agorot coins, used mostly as change for bus travelers. One-shekel coins make up 23% of coin-turnover – up slightly from the year before – while 5- and 10-shekel coins make up 3% each of coin circulation.
This article was republished with the generous permission of IsraelNationalNews.com.