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In Israel, The Mystery Of Postage Stamps That Don't Add Up

In Israel, the price of sending mail overseas has dropped recently.
Emily Harris
In Israel, the price of sending mail overseas has dropped recently.

We had a complicated problem on our kitchen table in Jerusalem. A stack of homemade birthday thank-you notes, tucked in brightly colored envelopes, ready to be whisked off to friends in the U.S. And a commemorative packet of Israeli stamps in all sorts of different denominations, none of which added up to the 6.20 NIS (6 New Israeli Shekels, 20 agorot, or $1.74) it took to mail a letter or postcard from here to the States.

I knew this number well, even though we video call and email much more than stay in touch through pen and paper. Last spring I sent a couple of dozen postcards to second-graders who had sent me questions about the Middle East.

Before visiting home over the summer we'd sent out birthday invitations. I could even recognize the standard 6.20 stamp image across a crowded post office: a ghostly face splotched half yellow, half pink, intended to honor mental health medicine.

But no combination of the stamps we had added up to the magic mailing number. This required a post office visit. The conversation with the clerk turned up shocking news, even in this land that's seen so much it sometimes seems there is little left to startle: The price of postage had gone down.

Yep, down. The clerk claimed it now cost a mere 5.70 NIS ($1.60) to mail a regular letter or postcard to folks back home. I was skeptical. I mean, this hasn't happened for almost 100 years in the U.S. I called the Israeli Postal Company and received this kind reply by email:

Dear Emily Harris,

Thank you for your enquiry about the postage rate to USA.

Overseas postage rates for mail up to 2 kg were reduced by 7.5% on 1 July 2013. The price reduction was due to the change in foreign exchange rates.

The current rate for postage a letter up to 100 g to USA is NIS 5.70.

I hope this answers your question.

Yes, it did. Thank you. Later, the Postal Company clarified that it reviews the price of international postage annually with an eye to foreign currency exchange rates. Israeli news reports frequently highlight the rising price of postage — though a spokesman said the cost to mail a letter, at least to another country, has gone both up and down in the past.

Now, can I save enough on postage to make up for everything else that keeps rising in price for us because of the weak dollar?

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International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.