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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Gift ideas for friends and family in Israel? Look no further!

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How dumb is this post topic?  Who writes about gift-giving in January?

Right.  Yay!  Can you see my hand up, waving proudly, from all the way over here?

If I was a better, smarter blogger, more interested in dollar signs (and shekel symbols), I would have posted this in December.  Hmm… guess not.

And I could save it for December 2015, but really…?  The way my brain works, it’ll never happen if I put it off.

Anyway, I’m reminded of gifts today because our winter-holiday-seasonal gift arrived from Akiva’s sister in Canada. 

She mailed it on November 24th, and today it is January 27, so that’s a little over 2 months.  And I’m not saying what it cost to mail.  We’ll open it when the kids are home from school, and I can’t wait to see what’s inside.

So that’s one kind of gift.  Don’t get me wrong.  One of the highlights of living here is GETTING STUFF.  I love receiving packages.  Our local post office knows us well and I’m sure they have our number on speed-dial.

But there are other ways to send something special that feel just as “gifty” without breaking the bank on postage charges.

Giving or getting gifts to and from Israel can be a huge challenge, which calls for a little creativity.

Try an “intangible” gift that won’t take up space

If you’re in Israel and want to send gifts back to North America… (if you’re sending the other way, read on anyway)

Instead of buying something bulky and overpriced in Israel and paying more than you spent on the gift to ship it to North America or Europe, think about "intangibles" you can buy and ship for nearly free.

Some good ideas:

  • concert series subscription
  • membership (museum, art gallery, zoo)
  • play tickets
  • email / printable gift cards (starbucks, craft supply store - the sky's the limit for this one)

If you’re sending a gift to Israel, some of these ideas work the other way as well.  There are lots of family memberships available in Israel, from science museum (we have one to Madatech, the science museum in Haifa) to zoos to amusement parks. 

With the small sizes of apartments here, recipients may be grateful you haven’t sent them a big bulky package.

(Not that I’m complaining at ALL!)

Mailing a smaller “add-on” gift

If none of these ideas feels like quite enough, remember you can always mail something small, too, in addition to a larger “intangible” gift.  I suppose non-Jews might refer to these as “stocking stuffers,” but they’re great for any occasion.

I picked up some lovely home blessing plates very inexpensively in Jerusalem's Old City last year to mail to my in-laws.  They didn't cost much to mail, and a gift like that can easily be timed to arrive right on the special occasion to complement the more expensive virtual gift you’ve chosen.

Light, easily-mailed food

Olim miss the food from wherever they came from, in the same way every South African I’ve ever known has waxed poetic in their nostalgic pining for biltong.  (A strange dry South African beef jerky.)

While you can’t mail fruit or dairy due to import restrictions, there are some dry items that you can ship to Israel in small quantities that won’t cost a fortune.

Here’s a gift I’ve arranged for myself so far:  instant Starbucks! 

Famously (but not for antisemitic or anti-Zionist reasons), there are no Starbucks locations in Israel.  So I asked my sisters to send some of their super-overpriced packets of very, very good instant coffee.  In this case, I paid for it, but it would make a great gift for the Sbux-lover on any gift list.

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Shipping for this padded mailer full of coffee was about $11 Canadian.  If it brings down the weight, you can have them open the boxes and ONLY ship the coffee packets themselves.

(if they’re having trouble finding the hechsher (kosher symbol), have them peek at the bottom of the box…)

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Another thing we miss very much that wouldn’t cost much to ship (and you can take it out of the box to lighten the load) is Shake n’ Bake. 

There are lots of crumb coating mixes here, but nothing is quite like the American-style “original.”  Just make sure they know that some flavours (like Ranch) are dairy – someone sent us some of these by accident, and we had to use them for fish instead of meat.

Whatever you send, remember to write the word “GIFT” on the envelope, which could reduce the amount of import tax (perhaps to zero) that the person receiving your envelope will have to pay when it arrives. 

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(adding a smiley, as my sister Sara has done here, may or may not help with the taxes… your mileage may vary)

Books:  best for last!

I’ve saved my very best, most favourite suggestion for last…

BOOKS!!!

Back in Canada, we were library addicts.  I knew I was going to miss our excellent public library very much, and did research online libraries to find out how we could keep some kind of connection to English books.  So far, we’ve managed to keep our memberships so we can get out ebooks and audiobooks… which is great, but which doesn’t help us on Shabbos, or when the kids just want to grab a BOOK.

We have two favourite places to buy books online.   Both offer free shipping worldwide.

  • Better World Books – new and used books.  This one is my favourite, because the prices start at ROCK bottom.  $4-5 for kids’ paperbacks in their bargain bin section.  Plus, can almost always get 10-15% off 2 or more used books with the coupon code BOOKS4GOOD at checkout.
  • Book Depository – this is my husband’s favourite.  The books are all new, so you get better quality books for less than you’d  pay in bookstores here (and a far wider selection), plus shipping to Israel can be pretty fast.  (Some books ship from Europe, which can be quicker.)

As far as I’m concerned, the best best BEST gift anyone could send us is a gift certificate to one of these two online stores.  And that’s exactly what my mother has done for all 4 of us, two Chanukahs in a row.

It goes without saying that these sites work both ways.  The free shipping deal is worldwide and so the gifting can go in either direction.

Stuart, A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters When I read a book last year that I thought my mother would really enjoy (Stuart:  a Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters), I looked at the cost of mailing it from here but then realized it would be cheaper to send her a good-condition used copy through Better World Books.

(And I got to keep my copy, and I didn’t have to schlep to the post office!)

So if you’re in Israel and want to send a specific book to someone special in North America or Europe, you can buy it through one of these sites and have it shipped directly there.  

unboxing the American Girl Rebecca dollSome people don’t like used books, especially for gift giving.  But as far as I’m concerned, we used the library for all those years and what are library books if not used (pre-loved!) books?

Wondering what was in the box?  Forget books, subscriptions and other kinds of stuff.  As far as my daughter’s concerned, this gorgeous American Girl Rebecca doll (she’s the Jewish one) is just about the best gift ever.

(Plus, there were lots of sweet treats inside for the rest of us!)

Have I forgotten any fabulous gift ideas?  Let me know in the Comments!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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