I love the shnekel

Nothing spells excitement like the new two-shekel coin.

shnekel 88 (photo credit: )
shnekel 88
(photo credit: )
Little things matter. It's easy to forget, but they do. Maybe we in Israel are just in desperate need of a distraction, or are too easily distracted, from our very real problems, but I've been amazed and delighted by the public's response to the advent of the two-shekel coin. The new two-shekel coin of the realm (which, as a proud member of a Facebook group dedicated to furthering the cause, I will henceforth call the "shnekel") prompted a good deal of press. Articles informed the public of the shnekel's dimensions and design, taking care to stress that the new coin would be "bigger than a one-shekel coin, but smaller than the five-shekel one." Would anyone have expected anything else? And did you know that the shnekel - for the benefit of the blind - features four equidistant sets of eight notches around its edge? Pretty spiffy, indeed. In December, the shnekelim rolled out of the Israel Mint and into cash registers. Undismayed by the fact that none of the nation's vending machines or few remaining pay telephones have been recalibrated to accept the new coinage, lucky recipients of the shnekel have been doing thrilled double-takes the first time one drops into their palms. While I was eager to get my hands on a shnekel, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I finally came into possession of one. I was running through Mahaneh Yehuda market, pressed for time to finish my shopping and get to work. After waiting an unreasonably long time at the market's best nut stand, I barreled away with half a kilo of unshelled sunflower seeds, 100 grams of shelled ones (for salad), and what at first appeared to be a bum coin. On closer inspection, I found that I was holding my first-ever shnekel. I couldn't wait to show it off. I arrived at work slightly out of breath, threw my shopping on a chair, and pulled out my wallet. "Look what I got!" I told my colleagues, and proudly whipped out the gleaming new disc. Outside numismatic circles, coins generally arouse little interest. But not a drop of irony spoiled my coworkers' reaction. "Hey, let us see..." they said. Each one took the shnekel and examined it with the appropriate reverence. Shnekels don't grow on trees, after all. I intended to hang onto my first shnekel and keep it in my London phone booth piggy bank, along with my slush fund of small local change and some French and Italian coins rendered valueless by the advent of the Euro, but a couple of days after it came my way, I found myself short of cash after a traffic jam sent a taxi meter ticking past the NIS 25 I'd budgeted for the ride. I was forced to use my precious shnekel for its intended purpose - remuneration. But coins are ubiquitous objects, and since I parted with the shnekel I'll always think of as "mine," several others have found their way into my pockets. (I should always be so lucky). And, really, it's not just me. This past week, I've seen more than one person - both native Israelis and tourists - shyly ask checkout clerks if they would mind handing over one of those new shnekels. And the register jockeys, not a group known for a can-do customer service attitude, graciously accept the customers' mundane single shekels or four half-shekels and open the drawer with a resounding ka-ching. "Here you go," they say - smiling, no less! The other evening, I happened to need a couple of single shekel coins for a vending machine that doesn't yet take shnekelim. "Would you mind giving me two shekels for a shnekel?" I asked a coworker, holding one out. "No way! You have two-shekel coins?!?" he responded in amazement. He got his first shnekel (I thought I heard him mutter "sucker" as he walked away), and I got my sugar fix. The first year I was in Israel, 10-shekel banknotes were still in use. But the yellow-and-orange bills were discontinued, and Golda Meir's face was relegated to our loose change. And now, as we embrace the shnekel, the Knesset Finance Committee has decided that the time has come to bid farewell to the five-agorot coin. Apparently, our elected leaders think that spending 16 agorot to mint every five-agorot piece makes very little sense, and have decided to pull the light, brassy coins - which never seemed like "real" money to me - out of circulation. Apparently, a recent poll showed that 80 percent of Israelis favored axing the five-agorot coin. Are the other 20% merely sentimentalists, or have they been amassing five-agorot coins for years, hoping to use them - perhaps to make their last mortgage payment, vindictively plopping sacks of agorot on the loan officer's desk? But for anyone who has been hoarding five-agorot pieces - take heart. Banks will accept them until 2011. So it's time to root around in sock drawers, coat pockets, and under the sofa cushions. Shove 40 five-agorot coins across the counter, and - if you're lucky - you'll get a shnekel. [email protected]