Canadian toy company Spin Master has shipped thousands of toys to Israeli and Gazan children who are dodging air strikes and rocket fire as a result of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“In between the bombs, I’m getting reports and photographs that they are delivering [the toys] to the children in the kibbutzim,” said Odette Levy, Spin Master director.
Levy, a former Israeli who still spends five months of the year living in Israel, said this is the third time they’ve donated toys to Israeli children during wartime.
The first time was during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, during which they sent 100,000 toys worth about $1 million.
The current initiative saw tens of thousands of toys brought into Israel on three flights by El Al Airlines, which shipped the toys free of charge.
Levy said other companies that distribute toys have been inspired by this effort, including Ganz, TCG Toys, Indigo, Mastermind Toys and Samko, which have donated toys, stickers and colouring books.
She said the “mule operation” started small, when they approached members of the Jewish community, asking anyone who’d be flying to Israel to take boxes of toys with them.
“We started with that and there was tremendous response,” Levy said.
Rabbi Avi Levinson, Thornhill director for Canadian NCSY, an Orthodox youth group, learned about Spin Master’s plan, and he informed Levy that he was planning to fly to Israel with a group of 120 kids.
“I got very excited… We started working with El Al… He had some good contacts, so we started getting this thing going,” Levy said.
Tal Schreiber, the business developer for Spin Master’s Israel office, has been running the operation in Israel, delivering the toys to Israeli children.
Levy connected with Dr. Izzaldin Abuelaish, a Gaza doctor who moved to Canada following the Gaza War in 2012 that claimed the lives of his three daughters. He agreed to help distribute toys to children in Gaza.
“[So far] the toys have gone to 43 kibbutzim and moshavim near the border near Gaza,” Schreiber said from her home in Pardes Hanna, near Hadera.
“We delivered… 70 boxes, a huge amount of toys. In some places, we gave it to the kids and in some places, we couldn’t go in because of the bombs over there,” she said.
In an email Schreiber sent to Spin Master staff, she explained that they are travelling into the “eye of the storm,” into Israeli towns that are being bombarded by rockets from Gaza.
“As soon as we started our journey, as we were entering the city of Ashdod – a siren welcomed us… We stopped the car, stepped out and lay down on the roadside. We could see the rockets being intercepted by the Iron Dome. The whole thing caught us off guard,” she said.
“At Kibbutz Alumim [in the Negev] we received a warm and moving welcome from the kids who are sitting all day long in closed and secured nurseries… We ended the day in Be’er Sheva, where we joined the amazing volunteers of Lev Echad organization – students from all over the country who came to Be’er Sheva to operate summer camps in bomb shelters.”
Schreiber said the reaction from those who received the gifts was indescribable.
“People were so emotional that they sobbed. They didn’t expect this kind of generosity.”