It was almost lost in a quick turn of the page (yes, I still like ink-on-your-fingers, old-school newspapers). The headline was a little too long for 21st century readers, so I imagine that quite a few chose – in the one and a half seconds of decision-making time now allotted – to skip to something more… pertinent? Interesting? Celebrity-based?
No matter – I bucked the trend. “U.S. Returns Rare Coin Minted by Jews During the Rebellion From Rome” was like a neodymium magnet and I was a vulnerable hunk of metal, drawn to it by forces out of my control (neodymium is like Eveready and Duracell – on steroids). The story was about a rare silver coin that had recently been seized in an illegal auction, and after some legal and bureaucratic twists and turns, the quarter-shekel piece made its way back to Israel – where it had been minted nearly two millennia ago.
That, as we say in Jewish text study, is the p’shat (the surface reading of the story). Accurate, but far from the more significant lessons derived from a superficial understanding of the issue. What drew me to the story, and what I think is the Big Takeaway, is that this small piece of metal is a tangible link to our ancestors and to that tiny sliver of land abutting the Mediterranean, between Egypt and Lebanon and Syria, just to the west of Jordan.
Not only is this nearly unique coin – there are supposedly only two others like it in existence – a connector to those Jews who lived in Judea during the Second Temple period; it’s a powerful reminder of our former sovereignty (the one regained and reclaimed in 1948) – and the insistence of our long-ago ancestors to fight against all odds, even against the mightiest empire of the time.
When our children and teens and college students – and we – travel to Israel and pick up the change left from paying our bill, the shekels we put into our pocket are the descendants of that coin – of that Jewish Commonwealth – of those Jews. The palm leaf on today’s one-shekel coin and the menorah on the modern ten-agorah piece are tethered to that purloined quarter-shekel by an unbreakable chain of Jewish resistance and Jewish pride, a chain that remains intact after 3,500 years.
The next time you’re in Israel, don’t just throw those coins into a pocket or purse without thinking. Take a good, long look. You’re seeing Jewish history in the palm of your hand.
Debbie and I wish all of you a good, sweet and healthy New Year. Thank you to everyone who has welcomed us so warmly (and no, that’s not an Arizona heat reference). This is an extraordinary community, and we’re very happy to be a part of it.
שנה טובה ומתוקה and שבת שלום – Shabbat shalom,