The Humble Mailbox: Soon to Become a Rare Sight in Israel

Israel Postal Company has started to seal up most of the boxes, as snail-mail use plummets

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
A decomissioned mailbox near the Israel MuseumCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Public telephones have long since disappeared, and now the same is happening to mailboxes. Over the past several weeks, most of Jerusalem’s mailboxes have been sealed up, and soon, the same will be true in the rest of the country.

The Israel Postal Company said this decision was made because of the sharp decline in the number of letters put in these boxes. It added that the reduction is in line with the terms of its new operating license from the state.

Mailboxes first appeared in western Jerusalem in the mid-17th century, but became widespread in the mid-19th century. They acquired their familiar red color under the British Mandate in the first half of the 20th century.

Currently, there are some 4,000 mailboxes in Israel, and according to the postal company, there will still be 2,500 when its downsizing project is completed. But judging by Jerusalem, where the downsizing began, the cuts will be much steeper.

Of the capital’s original 344 mailboxes, only 88 are still functional. The rest have had their mail slots sealed with plastic, and now bear signs in Hebrew and English declaring that the mailbox is no longer in use.

Jerusalem residents, however, aren’t happy with this development.

“We wandered through all the [nearby] neighborhoods – Rehavia, the German Colony and Talbieh – and couldn’t find a mailbox,” said one, S.A., of his recent attempt to mail a charitable donation.

“It’s enough to drive you to despair,” agreed Rehavia resident Lihi Shulov. “I had to send a pile of letters with checks to suppliers and I couldn’t find a working mailbox in the area ... I finally sent my husband to the post office in Givat Ram.”

In the northern neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev, only two mailboxes remain for 50,000 residents, down from several dozen originally.

City councilwoman Yael Antebi said she has received dozens of complaints from unhappy residents.

“It may be kosher, but it stinks,” Antebi said. “I can accept some reduction; I understand that people use the mail less. But to go to the opposite extreme is a very anti-service decision that hurts residents.”

The postal company responded that emptying hundreds of boxes daily wastes a lot of manpower, and often many of the boxes are empty, given the sharp decline in the volume of mail. Moreover, it noted, the terms of its new license only require it to have a mailbox within 1,500 meters of every household.

“The Israel Post is currently working to implement a recovery plan whose goal is to significantly improve service to the citizenry,” the company said in a statement. “Alongside actions like expanding post office operating hours until 8 P.M., opening dedicated centers for sending packages and more, we’re adjusting our needs to the volume of activity on the ground.

“Because of the significant drop in the volume of traditional mail sent through the mailboxes, we’re working to redeploy the red boxes and removing mailboxes where activity is slim to none,” it added. “Nevertheless, we’re being careful to act in accordance with the terms of the company’s new license, under which a red mailbox must be placed at a distance not exceeding 1,500 meters from every household. It should be noted that only about three percent of the mail sent through the Israel Postal Company is sent via the red mailboxes.”

The Communications Ministry said the new license is meant to enable the postal company to adapt to a new era in which few people use mailboxes, while still giving consideration to “people who nevertheless use this service, including the elderly and those without a car.” The reform is meant to reduce long lines at post offices and expand their operating hours, it added.

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