JCCSF handed pair of ancient coins

God only knows what these coins have bought in the past 2,100 years. A donkey? A bushel of saffron? A ticket to the chariot races?

Nate Levine can’t help but ponder questions like that when he holds the two-millennia-old coins in his hands at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

The ancient coins, which bear Hebrew script and are emblazoned with the mark of Roman Emperor Alexander Janneus, were produced somewhere between 103 and 76 BCE. In the ensuing centuries the coins passed from hand to hand until they ended up in the mitts of one Leonid Nakhodkin, a Ukranian-born Jew who serves as the president of San Francisco’s United Humanitarian Mission.

The former Soviet dissident bought the framed coins from a Canadian company and earlier this year presented them to the JCCSF as a gift to posterity.

“One has to be struck by the sense of Jewish history coming to life,” said Levine, the JCC’s executive director.

“These are coins from before the time of Christ. They’re 2,100 years old. The Temple was still standing in Jerusalem. It’s a living history lesson.”

That, said Nakhodkin, is the idea.

“The JCC has regular classes for Jewish history and for children. And I made a gift for these children so they can touch this coin for evidence of that time,” said Nakhodkin, a perpetually upbeat man with a propensity for answering his phone with a shout of “Everything is perfect!”

The tangible history lesson comes in two very small packages. The coins, never large, are smaller than dimes and well worn by eons of changing hands. And, as is common in currency from the era, the edges have been clipped off (and, presumably, melted down), leaving the coins in a shape more closely resembling a stop sign than a manhole cover. Finally, the bronze coins are now a heavily oxidized green.

While he hasn’t put them on public display yet, Levine has plans to do so. And, at that time, the JCC’s oldest attraction will become a teaching tool for its youngest customers.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.