Pessah teddy bears plagued by taxman

7,000 bears for sick Israeli children held up by customs in Ben Gurion Airport.

teddy bear 88 (photo credit: )
teddy bear 88
(photo credit: )
An American 12-year-old who helped collect 7,000 teddy bears for sick children in Israel for Pessah had no idea that the stuffed animals would be temporarily barred from entering the Promised Land. Shira Goldstein's family spent the first half of this week begging the Customs Authority to let her teddy bears go. But the authorities only agreed to release them after NIS 8,900 in import taxes and duties were paid on Tuesday. "My heart could break. Everybody has stepped to the plate donating things for free and now Israel has charged us this kind of money," Claire Ginsburg Goldstein, Shira's mother, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from New Jersey. "I don't have this kind of money. I'm [already] bringing my daughter to Israel to give out the bears." The family is due to come to Israel on Friday to begin distributing the toys at hospitals over the holiday, during which Shira Goldstein will celebrate her bat mitzva. Her mother arranged for an acquaintance in Israel, Ed Wolfe, who volunteers at a charity for needy children, to pick up the bears when they arrived on Sunday. Stymied for 48 hours, Wolfe ended up paying the customs authorities the NIS 8,900 out of his own pocket but said he couldn't afford the cost and would need to appeal the fee. Goldstein, meanwhile, has tried unsuccessfully to raise funds to cover the levy and warned that future donations of bears would be threatened by this expense. "There is a degree of judgment that could have been used a little bit better, a bit of leniency, or a little bit of compassion for what was done," Wolfe said, "since this was a donation that was given by a 12-year-old girl who wanted to share her bat mitzva with Israel." For one thing, Wolfe described the bears as having no resale value because they were all secondhand or throw-outs. "The value of these toys is only the smile on the faces of the children who are lying in the hospital," he said. "They have no retail value. They can't be sold." Wolfe said customs officials reduced the assessed value from NIS 35,800 to NIS 27,000 because the toys were used. But, according to Wolfe, they included the price of the air shipping - which is standard practice - when calculating the value. El Al, however, shipped the goods free of charge. Israel Tax Authority spokeswoman Idit Lev-Zerahia told the Post that the government should not include the shipping cost in the taxes assessed to donated goods if the goods have been shipped for free. However, she also said that "the law doesn't exempt donations," though customs officials "do their best" to be flexible. She added, "We are not a private company. We cannot decide to donate the taxes." Charitable goods need to be taxed, she said, because otherwise "you will never be able to control what is coming into Israel. It will be a large amount and most of it will get into the market." Goldstein said she understood the concerns of the customs authorities but that she hoped there would be room for compromise. Goldstein started organizing donations of teddy bears following a terror attack at the beginning of the second intifada and has previously had shipping services donated. But that arrangement no longer exists and she said in the future she would have to resort to smaller, less frequent shipments via individuals, if possible. "I don't want to want to give up," she said. "[But] I'm exhausted." Shira took a special role in collecting teddy bears from schools, synagogues and stores across the country in the months leading up to her bat mitzva. "It will be nice to see their faces and see how they react to the gifts that American kids have given up for them," she said of her upcoming visit with Israeli children. "It's kind of sad we can't get all of the bears to the kids because of the money at customs."