In 1958, then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion established the Israel Coins and Medals Corp. to commemorate the historical events and milestones of the Jewish state.
The company was privatized in 2008 and is responsible for the marketing and distribution of all collector coins issued by the Bank of Israel.
But in a departure from traditional themes, the Israel Coins and Medal Corp. issued a state medal at the end of 2012 to commemorate a different kind of milestone – the success of the Iron Dome missile defense system. The Iron Dome shot down 90 percent of the hundreds of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip that would have otherwise landed in populated areas of southern Israel, during the months that culminated in Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012.
“Iron Dome is an outstanding technological achievement unparalleled anywhere else in the world, worthy of commemoration on a state medal,” said ICMC CEO Aviv Katz. “The medal is a tribute to the initiators of the project, together with those who have participated in its development and operation.”
In a Beersheba ceremony, the medal was presented to Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the company behind the Iron Dome, and the IDF. The face of the coin shows three interceptor missiles fired from the Iron Dome rising over a city skyline. The Israel State Emblem is joined by the biblical inscription, “I will shield this city to save it” (Isaiah 37:35). The reverse side shows the launcher, the civil year of 2012 and the Hebrew year 5773 in Hebrew characters.
Katz joined ICMC after a career in hi-tech and says he connected to the message and sentimental value of the collectors’ items. The collections boast large followings in the US and Israel, but Katz said the stories and images of the Bible printed on the coins also deeply resonate with collectors in China and Singapore. For a formal or informal gift, a unique coin or medal is sometimes affixed to a Bible or book of blessings.
With a team of around 30 people, Katz is responsible for the marketing and distribution of the collectors’ items. The ICMC travels five times a year to international trade shows, most notably in Berlin, Chicago and Singapore. In a show with hundreds of booths and thousands of visitors, Katz says the Israeli coins are very well-accepted among collectors identifying with the stories of Jerusalem and biblical art, and boast a strong base of returning customers.
“These are things people really connect with,” Katz says. “Not just Jews, but generally Israeli supporters.”
A show in Beijing drew positive feedback, with many Christian Chinese showing an interest in the stories of the Bible and the Holy Land.
In May, the ICMC added another feather to its cap – the launch of the “Shrine of the Book” commemorative coin issued by the Bank of Israel and designed by artist Aharon Shevo, prominently features the iconic domeshaped building which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Aleppo Codex and other rare, ancient manuscripts at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
It is the fourth Israeli Bullion Coin in the “Jerusalem of Gold” series. The coin also features an excerpt from the Scroll of Isaiah, one of the seven Dead Sea Scrolls: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
In celebration of the 19th Maccabiah Games – which saw nearly 9,000 participants from 72 countries descend on Israel earlier this year – a commemorative medal was designed with the official logo of the games by David Harel, showing a running athlete surrounded by Magen David-shaped stars and a quote from Mishna Avot 5.23: “Light as an eagle, fleet as a hart.” For the first time, the majority of the games were held in Jerusalem, and around 32,000 spectators took in the opening ceremony, which was also attended by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The commemorative medal distributed after the games were readily available in bronze, but a limited mintage of 360 was struck in silver and an additional 100 in gold.
Commemorative coins and medals also serve as unique gifts for presentation to politicians and visiting diplomats.
In August, a medal release honoring the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was presented to his son, Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, and his daughter, Gilada Diamant. Shamir was Israel’s seventh prime minister and led four governments between 1984 and 1992. When he died in August 2012 at the age of 97, he left behind a legacy dedicated to helping Soviet Jewry, and had established the infrastructure for the presence of the Mossad in Europe. In addition to a long career in the Knesset, Shamir also served in many ministerial capacities, including foreign and defense ministers. In 2001, he was awarded the Israel Prize for his immense contributions to the country.
One hundred and eighty commemorative gold coins were issued, with 1,800 issued in silver.
The ICMC is invested in promoting Israeli art through the sale of art and Judaica by Israeli artists, according to its website. It collaborates with the Antiquities Authority to produce replicas of ancient coins and excavated archeological artifacts. A new coin series issued by the Bank of Israel, “Views of Israel,” celebrates the varied natural landscape, with the first coin in the series dedicated to Eilat’s coral reefs.
Katz and the acting director for the coral reef nature reserve, Golan Ridder, took a deep-sea dive to showcase the commemorative coin, posing underwater in full scuba gear with the coin. The commemorative coin was designed by artist Galia Erez to showcase exotic coral, fish and water life.
Whether at sea or on land, the Israel Coins and Medals Corp. is keeping Israel’s rich heritage alive and thriving.