Nostalgia Sunday – Asimonim

israel_telephone_token_backNostalgia is defined as “longing for something past” and the asimon, or Israeli telephone token, was a beautiful object for which I’m quite nostalgic. Not only did asimonim have a practical function — to make calls from public phones — they were attractively decorated with the image of a phone dial and had a hole in the middle, so you could string them on a leather thong to wear around your neck. Or, as I did, impaled on a large safety pin and hooked onto a belt loop. All very punk.

And here’s something I’m not at all nostalgic for: scrounging around desperately for an asimon, either because you miscalculated the length of your call, or — in most cases — because the public phone decided to eat your last precious token. This after having waited in line for 45 minutes to make the call.


I thought perhaps it was just me imagining conspiracy theories but it turns out that there actually was a national shortage of telephone tokens! This was between 1973 and the post-Yom Kippur War era, when asimon consumption shot way up, and 1981, when the Ministry of Communications found a way to manufacture asimonim locally instead of farming out the work to our friends at Vereinigte Deutsche Metallwerke AG (VDM). (Rumor had long had it that the arrangement with VDM was part of a reparations deal closed between the Israeli and German governments. Now, there’s a conspiracy theory to mull over).

In any case, by the time 1984 rolled around and the Ministry of Communications privatized Bezeq, there were asimonim aplenty and the black market in phone tokens (yes, there was one) had all but shut down. On the other hand, there was a wave of phone box break-ins. To stop the madness, Bezeq introduced the phone card in 1990, and again, war gave the new technology an unexpected boost in 1991 when the first Gulf War created new demand for international phone calls — mostly placed by those of us in sealed rooms trying to find out from relatives and friends abroad what CNN was reporting and which way the SCUDS were heading.


According to an excellent online article (in Hebrew) by Moshe Lipner, “Israel’s Telephone Tokens“, at their peak, there were 13,000 token telephone boxes around Israel. By 1999, these had been replaced by 22,000 Telecard phone boxes. These can still be found, as can phone cards, but their presence has declined considerably with the massive public switchover to cell phone technology — and who can blame the public for wresting itself out from under Bezeq’s monolithic thumb?

Meanwhile the modest little asimon has become a collector’s item on Ebay and an objet d’art. Given my penchant for wearing asimonim, I think I may need to get a pair of these:

The Israel iphone saga continues…Steve Jobs responds

June 26, 2008 - 12:39 PM by · 12 Comments
Filed under: General 

Will the iPhone make aliyah to Israel?Well, judging by the amount of comments my last post, bringing the iphone to Israel is something of interest to more people than just me. A comment was left by a Yuval Vizel, founder of the Facebook group “Bring the iPhone to Israel

Dear Mr. Jobs,

On behalf of “The Group for the Promotion of the iPhone’s Release in Israel”, I’d like to to bring your attention to the fact that the absence of Israel from Apple’s list of 70 countries, which are slated to release the new iPhone 3G within the next few months, has caused a great disappointment among the Israeli mobile phone users, and particularly among Apple’s loyal Israeli fans. We believe that Apple is missing a great business opportunity by ignoring the Israeli cellular market.

As written in an article by John H. Christy III, editor of Forbes International Investment Report :

“Israel’s mobile telecom market is fairly well developed, with a penetration rate almost 125%. In other words, there are more than nine million mobile phone accounts for a population of 7.2 million people. Furthermore, spending on telecom services in Israel accounts for 4.4% of gross domestic product. That’s a higher proportion than even the US and Europe.” (From “A Clear Connection to Israel”, published in, June 2nd, 2008)

In addition, we’d like to bring your attention to the great demand for iPhones in Israel and to the active community which has evolved to support the Israeli iPhone users. There are well over 10,000 “unlocked” iPhone units in Israel and many Israeli fans have already created web sites and online groups in order to share information about the device, help fellow users and localize it. As written in a recently published CNN article: “Unlocked and pricey, iPhone is coveted in Israel”.

Therefore, we would highly appreciate your effort to release the iPhone in Israel as soon as possible. We are enthusiastically looking forward for the official release of this great device in our country!

The response from Apple headquarters? Actually, from Steve Jobs himself?

“The iPhone currently does not support right to left text. Don’t you think this will severely limit its success in Israel?”

Click here for a screenshot of the email.

Too bad Jobs doesn’t have his facts straight. Several of the countries where the new iPhone will be available are Arabic speaking nations. Including Qatar as well as our neighbors Jordan and Egypt. Last I checked their language is read right from left too.

Israelis are obsessed with their cellphones and gadgets, it would be a natural place to market the iPhone (allegedly there are already over 10,000 iPhone users in Israel) and frankly quite odd that we are being overlooked here…perhaps the other cellphone companies are flexing their collective muscles? I can’t think of any other reason. What are your thoughts? Why was Israel overlooked? Has Israel’s Apple distributor idigital made any statement about this?


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