Treasure Trove: David Matlow explores how the shekel was a way of counting Jews in ancient and modern times

The word shekel can be traced as far back as 2150 BCE where it meant a unit of weight (approx. 11 grams) and is the source of the Hebrew word ‘to weigh.’

The skekel eventually became a unit of currency, and is referred to in the Torah several times, including when a census of the Jewish people was conducted and every person counted had to pay a half-shekel.

Starting with the Second Zionist Congress in 1898, the number of delegates to the Congress was proportionate to the number of community members who purchased the Zionist Shekel, which indicated they were paid-up members of the World Zionist Organization.

In 1960, in order to comply with American law relating to foreign agents, the constitution of the WZO changed so that organizations rather than individuals were its members. As a result, individual purchases of shekels were discontinued. 

The New Israel Shekel remains the currency of the State of Israel. 

This flyer from 1946 encourages American Jews to purchase a shekel and vote for delegates to the 22nd Zionist Congress. Today, Israeli citizens vote in national elections. Jews outside of Israel can always consider how they can metaphorically vote for the future of Zion.