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Brother, can you spare an agora?


Know what's nice about being in Canada?

Stepping out of a nationwide cash-coinage crisis, that's what.  In Israel, for whatever reason, you'd swear there was a shortage of coins.  Maybe there is, for all I know.

You know you're not in Israel anymore when you shuffle through your wallet to find the 15¢ (for the overpriced $4.15 iced coffee), and the cashier is mystified, and not particularly grateful that you're giving her your pocket change.


(pocket change in Canada)

For whatever reason, that same pocket change in Israel is precious.

Maybe the mentality started back in 1948, when the government recalled all British Mandate small bills and refused to issue new ones.  At the time, stores in the new nation had to resort to issuing "chits" (like a raincheck?) instead of giving change.

Whatever the reason, you must hold onto every single agora (though you won't find anything less than ten agorot in circulation these days; the single-agora coin shown here, my mother’s, is more of a metaphor now). 

When you're paying for anything in Israel, let the cashier know right away if you think you have exact change, or any multiple of ten agorot that might help her out (for example, if the bill is 10 shekel and 80 agorot, even 30 agorot may be helpful). 

In larger stores, they'll act like they don't mind either way, but in small local stores, they will probably really appreciate the effort.  People in line behind you - even though they are Israelis - will generally wait patiently as you root for change; everybody knows how important it is.

Of course, you can cut the waiting time down drastically by peeking into your wallet before you get to the front of the cash register line.  Check what you've got ahead of time - whether there are a bunch of half-shekels floating around in there to get rid of, or a ton of 10 agorot coins. 

Even though you're doing them a favour by giving them exact (or close) change, you're also helping yourself out, not having to shlep around a bulging wallet.

To avoid a situation like the one shown in this picture, you should also separate out your change immediately when you arrive in Israel. 


(a mad jumble of Israeli and Canadian pocket change on our pilot trip)

I know travelling can be a hectic time.  I like to switch my wallet over on the plane now while things are quiet.  I brought a ziploc baggie from Canada last time and just slipped any bills and coins into it so I’d have a little something to spend on our next visit. 

Don’t take too much to Israel with you, though, or you could cause a nationwide small-change crisis in your country of origin.  They’ll be scrambling around at the cash registers to make change… just like Israelis do now. 

Hmm… could that be what caused the problem in the first place?  I’ve always worried about all the tourists who come home with a small piece of Jerusalem stone.  Will the country eventually run out?  Will they have to recall all those Jerusalem-stone menorahs and décor accents? 

But maybe I’ve been wrong.  Maybe I should worry about all these stray agorot instead.  If every tourist with Israeli coins sitting in a drawer somewhere mailed them back to the Bank of Israel, I’d really appreciate it, on a deep personal level – and so, I’m sure, would every Cofix cashier in the country.

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


  1. Stores love their change! Stores that use the bank to get change for their registers have to pay the bank a fee for every bag of coins. Maybe that's the reason they want your change!

    1. OMG, seriously? I had no idea. In Canada, you can get whatever change you want, although when you bring in a ton of coins, they don't have to take them if they're not rolled properly. That TOTALLY explains a lot... thanks!


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