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Friday, March 11, 2011

Israeli Poets to Appear on Israeli Currency

Israel, it seems, is really trying to tone down its political and controversial image. At least in the world of finance and money.

Just this week, Bank of Israel's governor, Stanley Fischer, chose the newest nominations for national personalities to be printed on a planned series of new Israeli bills.

Instead of choosing presidents or politicians, which has been the tradition in the past, Fischer has chosen four of the most well known Israeli literary figures: Natan Alterman, Lea Goldberg, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Rachel the Poet.

These four personalities, who Fischer is submitting for government approval to be replace the image of Nobel Prize laureate Shai Agnon (Smuel Yosef Agnon), former Presidents Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi and Zalman Shazar, and former Prime Minister Moshe Sharet on 20,50,100 and 200 shekel bills were first proposed to Fischer by the Committee for the Planning of Banknotes, Coins and Commemorative Coins- a proposal which he quickly accepted.

It seems that in a land of conflict and discord, Fischer is trying to keep the shekel as free of controversy as possible. In fact, past prime minister Menachem Begin, famous for striking a peace accord with Egypt in 1979 and past prime minister Yitzchak Rabin, famous for his progressive peace work with Yassir Arafat, had both been mentioned as possible candidates for the new bills. However, Begin's family objected, and some believed that Rabin was a controversial and overly-political figure.

According to Fischer, he agreed that printing these four literary figures on shekel bills would help to foster an appreciation of their contribution to Israeli culture, Israeli society and the state in members of the younger generation and instill in them regard for Israeli literature.

I'm not so sure about that, as most young Israelis don't really know who Yitzchak Ben-Tzvi and Zalman Shazar were, for example, or what they were notable for and they've been on shekel bills since the birth of the NIS in 1985.

But, for optimism's sake, and since I'm all for Israeli literary figures on national currency, let's take a closer look at these four personalities who will hopefully be gracing the inside sleeves of our purses, pockets and wallets:

Natan Alterman (1910-1970) Translator, poet, author, playwright, and journalist, Alterman's literary efforts were duly awarded in 1968 with the Israel Prize in Literature. Although he never ran for office, he was considered to be a politically influential figure who wrote highly influential political newspaper articles during Israel's struggle against the British mandate.Alterman also allied himself with David Ben-Gurion and Socialist Zionism for many years. However, in 1968 he helped found the Greater Land of Israel Movement.

Rachel Blowstein Sela (1890-1931) I had no idea that she even had a last name. Today, this famous Israeli poet is known publicly simply as Rachel (רחל) or Rachel the poetess (רחל המשוררת), and was one of the first pioneering poets in Modern Hebrew. From the stories I remember about Rachel, she wrote her poems with a dictionary at her side, being an immigrant as most Jews were during the early 20th century, and writing in a language that was only just being revived. Many of her poems have been set to music and are part of the foundation of Israeli literary culture and are bittersweet poems about her love for the land.

Leah Goldberg (1911-1970) Known for her modernist literary style, Goldberg was a prolific poet, author, playwright, literary translator, and researcher of Hebrew literature. She help translate great works of literature, such as War and Peace, into Hebrew, and headed Hebrew University's Department of Comparative Literature. She also wrote works of drama and children's literature, but her poetry is known for having a longing, lonely character.

Sha'ul Tchernichovsky (1875-1943) Russian born, Tchernichovsky started writing poetry in Hebrew and editing medical texts in Hebrew even before he moved to Israel. A doctor, poet, translator, member of the Committee of the Hebrew Language, and two-time winner of the Bialik Prize for Literature, Tchernichovsky was a leader in the development of a Hebrew Literary world, and was friends with the Klausner family whose son, Amos Oz, would become one of Israel's most prolific modern writers.

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