• Gedaliah Borvick

Poets and Cash


20 NIS banknote (Bank of Israel – Public Domain)

United States banknotes feature presidents and founding fathers. On the front of every UK banknote is Queen Elizabeth II, and on the reverse side are British giants, such as Charles Darwin and Adam Smith. In Canada, Queen Elizabeth II and previous prime ministers grace most bills. So, whose face would you expect to find on Israel’s banknotes?

Since Israel’s inception, banknotes have featured a wide spectrum of Jews: founders of the state, including politicians and pioneers; arts and sciences titans such as Nobel laureate Shai Agnon and physicist Albert Einstein; philanthropists Edmond de Rothschild and Moses Montefiore; and philosopher and scholar extraordinaire, Maimonides.


Over the past few years, new banknotes were introduced that honor poets Rachel Bluwstein, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Leah Goldberg and Natan Alterman. All four are cultural icons, evidenced by the fact that numerous streets across Israel have been named in their memory.


The red 20 NIS bill features Rachel Bluwstein, known as Rachel Hamishoreret (Rachel the Poet), and streets in Jerusalem, Petach Tikva, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana and Rosh Ha’ayin have been named for her. A beloved national poet – and considered the “founding mother” of modern Hebrew poetry – her writing impacted future generations of Israeli poets, evidenced by the dozens of books featuring her poetry and other writings that have been published posthumously. Many of her poems, among them Zemer Nogah, Gan Na’ul and Kineret, have been set to music and have become an integral part of Hebrew culture.


The green 50 NIS bill features Shaul Tchernichovsky, and streets in Jerusalem, Rechovot, Hod Hasharon, Afula, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Ramla, Kfar Saba and Netanya were named for him. Tchernichovsky was trained as a physician and practiced medicine throughout his life. Strongly committed to the idea of a national and cultural revival of the Jewish people, Tchernichovsky’s work traces Zionist aspirations through the vicissitudes of Jewish history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the birth of the State of Israel, but many of his works have been widely celebrated in modern songs that use his poetry for its lyrics.


The yellow 100 NIS bill features Leah Goldberg, and streets in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Lod, Mazkeret Batya and Be’er Yaakov have been named for her. Goldberg’s poetry – many of which have been set to music – addresses themes such as love, artistic creativity, speech versus silence, and the shadows of death. Her most famous novels included Ve’Hu ha’Or (And He Is the Light) and Pegishah im Meshorer (Encounter with a Poet). Goldberg wrote hundreds of imaginative poems and books for children, which include Yedidai mi’Rehov Arnon (My Friends from Arnon Street) and Dirah le’Haskir (A Flat to Let). She was also an editor, playwright, gifted translator, scholar (lecturer in Hebrew University), and literary and theater critic.


The blue 200 NIS bill features Natan Alterman, and streets in Herzliya, Tel Aviv-Yafo, Hod Hasharon, Kfar Saba, Gan Yavne, Rechovot, Ness Ziona, Ashdod and Rishon LeZion have been named for him. Known primarily as a poet, Alterman also wrote plays, theatrical sketches, children's literature, and lyrics for several hit songs, and was a distinguished translator. Considered the literary spokesman of the nationalist movement, he expressed the people's longing for independence and some of his lyrics, censored by the British, became anthems of the struggle. Following 1948, Alterman tackled social and political issues, and in the aftermath of the Six Day War became a proponent of the Greater Land of Israel ideology. Some of his poems, such as P’gisha L’ain Ketz (A Meeting with No End), have been turned into popular songs.


From time immemorial, the Jewish nation has been called the Children of the Book. These new banknotes confirm it.

Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at gborvick@gmail.com.

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