The Havila Diaries

I love the Philadelphia-based clothing store Anthropologie. Unfortunately, living in Israel, it is nearly impossible to buy clothes there, both because some of their pieces cost nearly half of my monthly salary. When there is any sort of sale or markdown on the Anthropologie website, they do not deliver clothes directly to Israel.

Therefore, if I do want to buy Anthropologie clothes, I have to wait until I visit my family in the US, they visit me in Jerusalem, or have the clothes delivered to my mother, who then sends them to me inside a personal package, often with small gifts from my parents.

This is what I decided to do after ordering about $300 worth of clothes after a massive Anthropologie sale in early September. I knew that Doar Yisrael, the Israeli postal service, could tax me for my order. I decided to take the risk, figuring that the Anthro sale was so good, I could afford to pay Israel’s 17% VAT on any purchased goods over $75. I told my mom to send the clothes in a personal package, and I would incur any additional fines. I was secretly hoping that they wouldn’t check the package and tack on fines, which has happened before, but I was willing to suffer the consequences, if it just meant a single small payment.

This was a horrible decision on my part. Instead of paying for a slightly-expensive package of clothes and gifts, I found myself right in the belly of the beast, in a strange post office purgatory. This is the story, a timeline of events, of what happened to my package of clothes, and the two and ½ months of (expensive and time consuming) hell Doar Yisrael put me through to receive a package from my mother.

3 September, 2017: Anthropologie is having a Labor Day sale. There’s some really cute marked down summer clothes here, how great is that! I decide to order about eight items of clothing, which my mom has agreed to send to me in Israel. I also ask my mom to send me a book that my dad has just finished reading, so I don’t have to buy a copy in Israel.

10 September, 2017: My mom has received the clothes and just sent me a notice with a tracking number, informing me that the package has been sent. It should arrive in Israel by September 21st. I wish she sent it via Fed Ex or UPS, but I’m sure it won’t make a difference, it should arrive soon anyway.

21 September, 2017: My package is scheduled to arrive today. It’s Rosh Hashanah, so maybe it will be delayed for a few days.

30 September, 2017: I still haven’t received my package. I learn that Anthropologie is going to start opening stores in Israel, and wonder which will come first, Israeli Anthropologie or my package.

2 October, 2017: I track my package using the tracking number my mom received in the US. According to USPS the package left JFK airport on September 18….. and that’s it. No information on if it ever arrived in Israel.

4 October, 2017: It’s Sukkot. I really hope my package will arrive over Chol Hamoed… I guess what Israelis say about nothing getting done over the chaggim is true!

6 October, 2017: I am leaving on vacation for 10 days. I tell my downstairs neighbor to keep an eye on any package slip that may arrive from Doar Yisrael during that time, and to keep it safe for me. Since he has built a sukkah literally around my mailbox, and the entrance to the building, I imagine he will not miss it. By this point my package was supposed to arrive 15 days prior, so I assume it will come soon. I purchase the book on my Kindle.

15 October, 2017: I arrive back from my vacation to Copenhagen and Stockholm. It was fantastic. I look forward to coming home to my new clothes. I finished the book on my flight home. Still no package.

19 October, 2017: A full month after the estimate my mother received, I get the first notice from Doar Yisrael that my package has arrived. Yippee! The form I receive says that I have to pay 81.90 ILS in value added tax. It’s not ideal, but also not terrible.

I leave work at lunch and rush over the post office before it closes at 13:30. There is no package. The nice lady at the post office tells me that although according to this form, my package has “arrived,” it has only arrived in Israel, not at my post office. She tells me that I should wait for a SMS from my mailman to announce my package’s arrival.

24 October, 2017: 5 days have passed. I have received no text from my mailman. At work I am co-writing, editing, typesetting, and publishing a book that has to be completed in three weeks. It is the busiest work week I have ever had, and I don’t have time to see my friends, cook dinner, or clean my apartment most days, let alone follow up about my package. I find the time. I call the number given on the form I received the week before and ask about the package.

First a very nice lady somewhere at post office headquarters in Tel Aviv gives me number for the meches tax division of the something or other. I call. I call again. I call from my cell phone. I call from my office phone. I call from both phones roughly 15 times each throughout the morning. Nobody answers. I call the post office headquarters again. This time Irina (name changed) answers. At this point, I do not realize quite how well Irina and I will become acquainted.

I explain the situation to Irina. She tells me that the package is currently lost in some sort of tax purgatory, because my mother sent me clothing that was on sale, that was bought for prices that are different than the prices on the tags. Doar Yisrael is not sure what to do. Irina acts like this is my fault, that my mother should have learned the ins and outs of Israeli tax law before declaring the items inside and sending the package. I try to explain the situation to Irina, apologizing for any confusion, and promise I will pay the 81.90 shekels, and fill out any necessary forms.

Irina then says that I need to pay 180 shekels. I ask where this new amount has come from, because I have it in writing that I only need to pay 81.90. Irina does not know where this new amount has come from either. She asks if I can come to her office, in Tel Aviv. Her hours are between 8 AM and 2 PM, Sunday to Thursday. I explain that I work full time, and this is impossible.

Irina gets angry with me. I am still not entirely sure why. Irina yells at me a few times and hangs up on me, when I try to explain the situation and gauge any form of sympathy from her. I call again, and she says she will fax me a few forms. I leave my office fax number.

25 October, 2017: Odelia, one of my office’s secretaries comes downstairs with roughly eight forms from the post office, all for me. One of them requires my teudat oleh (certificate of Aliyah) and passport numbers. I still do not know why a teudat oleh was needed to receive a package.

26 October, 2017: I fax all forms. Odelia seems more angry than me that this is happening.

1 November, 2017: I do not hear any follow-up regarding my forms or package, so I call the VAT division of Doar Yisrael again. Irina answers. She tells me to fill out two more forms. I explain to her that I have already filled out eight forms regarding a single package, and reiterate that I am willing to pay whatever taxes are necessary to receive this package, whether they are 81.90 ILS or 180 ILS (which I still don’t understand.) Irina yells at me again and asks “Do you want to complain to me or get your package?” I ask her what the procedure is for getting my package, since she does not know herself. Irina hangs up abruptly, and I receive two more forms via fax.

I notice one of the forms asks for me to write down my signature and give all my credit card information, including my CVV. I ask Odelia if this is normal. She rightly advises me not to fill out a form with all my credit card information to fax to an unknown recipient. She asks for Irina’s number and promptly calls her. I am amazed at how quickly she can get to the root of the problem with Irina, unlike me. Irina talks to her like a real person, and in a civil manner. When Odelia explains that I work full time and can’t come to Tel Aviv, Irina does not yell at her, as she did with me, but responds “I understand.” Odelia gives my credit card information to Irina, and says the issue is taken care of.

I then go through my emails to find my order confirmation from Anthropologie, because at this point it has been so long since I placed the order, I have forgotten what is inside the package, and what it is I’m even fighting for at this point.

6 November, 2017: Irina emails me to ask if I approve of a 433 shekel charge on my package. I now owe 253 ILS in VAT, and 180 shekels in “Individual release fee.” I realize that I will be back in the United States in only 2.5 weeks, and maybe I should reject the fees and see if the package can be sent back to my mom. However, I am scared of Irina, and petrified that this will require more bureaucracy. Although by this point the fees from taxes and the post office are costing almost half the value of my clothes, I agree to be charged, just to be done with the situation.

9 November, 2017: My package has arrived! I receive a SMS in the morning asking when I can be at home to sign for it. The SMS message takes me to a link where I can choose delivery times for the package. All delivery times are Sunday-Thursday, between 9 AM and 6 PM, when I am at work. I try to change the address of receipt, so the package can be sent to my office, instead of my apartment. My request is denied. The package inexplicably cannot be sent to my  local post office, so I instead choose to pick it up from some post office building in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem. I am unsure what this building is, and it is about 30 minutes from my South Jerusalem office.

I call up to confirm my package is there, and I leave work early to pick it up. This mysterious big post office building in Givat Shaul is pretty bizarre. I was born in 1990, and have grown up with the idea that smoking is done outdoors, and not in office buildings or at one’s desk. I don’t smoke, but if I did, I would surely be fired for smoking at my desk. As far as I know, smoking is forbidden inside every office, minus a mechanic, that I’ve visited in Israel. In this office, however, everyone was smoking at their desks, seemingly everywhere.

I find a man who says he can help me. We arrive at a storeroom, and he begins searching through packages. He keeps picking up boxes with Chinese, French, and Korean written on them. I explain that the package is coming from America and it will be in a USPS box, with USPS symbols on it, not in  a box with anything written on it in a language other than English. He continues to look through boxes with foreign languages on them.

I get impatient, and begin looking through boxes myself. I notice that most of the boxes in this strange warehouse, boxes like mine that have fallen through the cracks of a tax scheme, are not addressed to people with traditionally Israeli names. Most names sound English, French, and Asian. I wonder if all of us collectively have broken some sort of tax code, don’t know the intricacies of Israeli tax law and packages, or are perceived to be friars who will pay the exorbitant handling and tax fees to the Israeli post office without putting up a fight. I am beginning to think it is the latter.

The post office employee notices that I am searching the piles of packages alone and begins to yell at me. I explain that he is looking through the wrong packages. He yells louder and urges me to be patient. I reply that I have been patient for the last 2.5 months, and can’t take it anymore. He perhaps realizes my desperation, my madness, my relentlessness, and calls a coworker to help. They eventually locate my package. They then ask me to pay the 433 shekel handling fee again, although I have already paid that to Irina. I argue with them more. I become concerned that I may have to pay 866 shekels on this package in the end, if they do not concede. They finally agree that I do not have to pay them, and let me take my package home.

That evening, I finally try on my new clothes. Of the 8 things I order, 7 of them fit, and I really love some of the pieces. However, the happiness of finally receiving my package is quickly overridden by the knowledge that I have wasted roughly 10 work hours, and over a hundred dollars on a single parcel. I wonder if Doar Yisrael has chosen to make an example of me, or if this can just be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps this will forever remain a mystery. It also remains a mystery if Israeli bureaucracy will ever get easier for me, I will one day not be yelled at every time I try to speak to bureaucrats, or if the skills I have learned navigating the Israeli post office bureaucracy will ever be used again. Only time will tell.

About the Author
Jamie Ben-Cnaan has worked for several pro-Israel advocacy and research organizations, and currently works as an analyst for a start-up. She holds degrees from McGill University and Hebrew University. All views stated are her own.
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