When everything seems to be going wrong, there is nothing like a bit of escapism to calm down. One of my own escapist activities is jigsaw puzzles. Since I have a clear preference for puzzles portraying works of art, life way-back-when or nature, and since the only serious online puzzle outlet in Israel – PuzzleWorld – is expensive and has a selection which does not particularly appeal to me, I am in the habit of ordering from abroad. My current jigsaw escapade was triggered by my nine-year-old granddaughter, who wanted a puzzle of Albrecht Dürer’s famous 1502 drawing of a rabbit, but with less than the 1000 pieces, which the Austrian Piatnik puzzle manufacturer used to produce.

A quick search on Google of sellers that ship to Israel brought me to the Zazzle website. Zazzle is a rather peculiar American online marketplace that enables designers and customers to create their own products with independent manufacturers and market them through its website. The products Zazzle sells are usually simple products – including custom-made puzzles.

Zazzle puzzles had Dürer’s rabbit on its list. I ordered the rabbit and another puzzle.

The evening after I put in my order I had a call from LeumiCard, asking me whether I had ordered anything from Zazzle. I confirmed that I had, to which the LeumiCard representative answered: “so that’s OK”, adding that Zazzle are on a black list because there were cases of credit cards being debited by Zazzle without the owners of the cards having ordered anything from them.

Soon I received a UPS tracking number from Zazzle.

Twice my package reached Israel, only to be returned to the sender in Greenwood South Carolina (population 24,000). I finally got hold of UPS at Ben Gurion Airport to ask why the parcel had been returned, and was told it had arrived without documentation. When I approached Zazzle about this they suggested I cancel my order and reorder from their UK domain, that charges in pounds sterling but operates out of the US.

I finally decided to pass after receiving a refund and canceling my credit card.

My next search was the PuzzleWarehouse – an online American store I had previously ordered from, which has a marvelous selection of puzzles. They didn’t have the rabbit, but I ordered a pile of other puzzles. One parcel was sent via FedEx, and arrived within three days! Two other parcels were sent via the US Postal Service. One arrived after three weeks. USPS send ridiculously detailed tracking information, and I discovered from it that after leaving Ben Gurion Airport it was stuck for 11 days in customs before reaching Jerusalem.

I must say, however, that when I contacted Israel Post they were fully updated, and when the parcel finally arrived at my local post office after a failed delivery to my home, they informed me of the exact shelf location of the parcel.

The other USPS parcel was sent, for some unknown reason, through Warsaw. It left Warsaw on October 16, returned on November 12 and was finally sent to Israel that night. Now it is in transit waiting to go through customs. All efforts to contact USPS failed. There is no way to send them an email from outside the US, and phone calls are answered by answering machines that ask ridiculous questions. I never reached a human.

My next search was on the website of a British outlet called Bits-and-Pieces. They produce their own puzzles, but don’t have the rabbit and do not ship outside the UK. Since I found two puzzles I liked, I had them sent to a cousin in the UK, and she sent them on to me through the recently privatized Royal Mail. The parcel was sent by registered mail, with only partial tracking – enough for me to discover to my horror that it had been sent to Sydney, Australia. Unlike USPS Royal Mail is easily accessible both by email and by phone, and their customs service personnel are very friendly and polite, though frequently useless. Only one person explained that as long as the parcel bore the correct address, the postal authorities in Sydney ought to send it to the correct destination. He apologized for the inconvenience, adding that if the parcel did not arrive within three weeks my cousin in the UK should fill out an online form for compensation.

I finally found my rabbit (300 pieces, produced by the French Grafika) at Jigsaw-and-More – another British outlet, that offers a marvelous selection and ships to Israel via DHL. This parcel is currently in transit in Germany. I also discovered that while Amazon doesn’t usually send puzzles to Israel, Perre Puzzles, manufactured in Anatolia (Turkey), is an exception. I ordered one from Amazon Germany, which is currently in transit at the i-parcel facility of UPS in the UK.

So far only half the puzzles I ordered have arrived, but the experience has been fascinating, though nerve-racking. First of all, I learned that it is not only the Israel Post that is not coping with international parcels – none of the postal service are. Second, Israel Post is relatively easy to contact. Third, Israeli customs authorities are the most serious bottleneck for parcels arriving from abroad.

What do I wish for? That all my puzzles – especially my granddaughter’s rabbit and a 5,000-piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel ceiling – finally arrive safely.