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'Operation Bear' sends tens of thousands of US teddy bears to kids at Israeli hospital

Ten years ago, New Jersey resident Claire Ginsburg started collecting used teddy bears from people across the U.S. About 130,000 have now made the 5,600-mile journey to a hospital in Israel. NBC News' Paul Goldman reports.

TEL AVIV — Every week, Betty and Eddie Wolfe come to the arrivals terminal at Ben Gurion Airport to pick up some very important passengers from the United States.

But these fliers are not executives, diplomats or dignitaries of the usual sort. Instead, they are furry toys on a mission to cheer up sick children in Israel.

It is all part of "Operation Bear," an effort begun by Clair Ginsburg from New Jersey that collects used teddy bears from the United States and sends them to an Israeli hospital.

In a decade of operation, Ginsburg has sent more than 130,000 teddy bears here.

"I think we're very lucky," Betty, who stood at the terminal holding a long stuck with a teddy bear attached to it, said. "Because were at retirement age and we're doing something that makes us feel great.”

'It's all benefit
Every week, Claire packs the toys into huge duffel bags, which are hand-carried by volunteers like Erez Gotlib to Israel.

"The whole idea is brilliant." Erez said, adding "it's all benefit."

Upon arrival, Gotlib meets Betty and Eddie Wolfe, who take the treasured toys and sort them out to make sure the bears are clean and in good condition.

The Meir hospital in central Israeli city of Kfar Saba is the next stop for the bears on this long journey. That is where Eddie hands them to his daughter, Debbie, who is the head nurse at the hospital.

"We have 50,000 children coming every year," Debbie said, "and each child receives a teddy bear."

Once the children hold the teddy bears, their faces light up and a huge smile appears on their face, she said.

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"It calms them down." Debbie explained. "And we say that when a child is calm it'll make him feel better."

These bears made a 5,600-mile journey from the United States all the way to the Middle East not only to find a new home but also to make ill children here feel a little bit happier.

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