Frum Family Fined $300 For Having Apple, Tomato, 3 Cucumbers From Israel In Backpack At Newark Liberty


newark-airportA family of four from Florida visiting relatives in New Jersey got an unwelcome surprise at the Customs gate – all because of some forgotten fruit and vegetables.

The oversight was an expensive one that has the family fuming, reports CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.

“I don’t have to be traumatized like this. Nobody should have to be traumatized,” Suri Steinberger said.

Suri and Peter Steinberger are livid after what they call an over-reaction by customs agents at Newark Liberty Airport. They were told they had violated a federal crime – forgetting about an apple, a tomato and three cucumbers in their son’s backpack.

“For me it was like, you know, what you see on TV. I thought I was going to get handcuffed, they have my kids. So I just started to cry,” Suri Steinberger said.

The run-in with Customs agents happened Thursday at the end of a long trip from Israel. Suri packed the vegetables as snack for her boys.

“Let them eat it on the plane instead of eating garbage,” Suri said.

The problem was she didn’t sit with her husband and two boys on the flight and Peter didn’t know the produce was in the bag.
So when the declaration form came around, Peter said he “checked no on all the boxes.”

Customs officials told Hennessey strict rules are for “agricultural integrity” and that passengers have multiple opportunities to amend the Customs declaration form.

“I have no idea what they mean by that except for the fact they say you should have been looking at the posted signs,” Peter said.

While passengers were stunned at the strictness, others said it was par for the course.

“Other countries do it, too. They’re pretty strict. I travel a lot for work and I get the same thing,” said Christine Colella of North Brunswick, N.J.
Customs did say it’s up to the discretion of the officer to “destroy” the product or “fine the traveler,” discretion this family said was sorely missing given the Customs sheet showing the prohibited items and their $300 fine.

“You’re coming off a flight after 19 hours. You’re all flustered. You don’t know what world you’re on. The first thing on your mind isn’t vegetables in your backpack,” Peter said.

The family hopes what happened is a lesson to others that even an innocent mistake at customs may be a costly one.

The Steinbergers said they don’t expect to get their money back but do plan on taking the case with higher ups at customs.

{WCBS 880 AM Radio/ Newscenter}


  1. Our family had a similar thing at Newark too! They brought commercial “sealed” pakages of cold cuts and were stopped. They argued that since they were sealed and also the same sealed type of pakaging as this same company’s roduct sold here in the states, they thought it was okay. (They brought it because it had the Badatz hechsher which they preferred while here). But that didn’t work! FINE $300 + the forfeiture of about $150. of the meat! The customs agent told them that they ought be thankful he didn’t mark it onto their passort which would just be a hassle at any future entry to the states! This poor Kollel couple didn’t even have the money to pay the fine.

    It behooves the mind of righteous eople why the laws could be so restrictive, but, hey, we live here and the rules are the rules! I think they did NOT have to be so tough about it neither in this story nor in my children’s.
    The agent even said that had they declared it, which they forgot because of the long, long trip, he would not have penalized the at all!

  2. Dina Dmalchisah was always around. Even in the good days, when customs would let you get away with things, one should of been extra careful NOT to take advantage of them being nice. Maybe it would not of been a chilil Hasheim, but it certainly would of been a kidish Hasheim if onr followed the rules without ‘shtick’.

    But in todays times, when security is a major issue, and they check baggage more often then the olden days, and they need money badly one must follow the rules and go out of ones way to make SURE you do NOT create a chilil Hasheim.

    The days of ‘I thought… – I meant… – I didn’t know…It was a mistake’ are over and gone.

  3. Someone once wanted to bring in some produce from eretz yisroel. they rapped it very well, lifnie v’lifnim and bedavka brought some other produce that they did not have a tzoirech for. Thech check off that they have and declared it and handed it over and was left alone about the yerakos that they bedavka wanted.

  4. @3. Comment from Huh
    Time August 12, 2011 at 10:39 AM
    How about we follow the rules

    -Next time you’re doing 61 in 60 mph speed limit and get slapped with a ticket remember that “How about we follow the rules”

  5. Anyone who has traveled knows that you cannot bring plants, produce or animal products into another country. It is posted at security, on the immigration forms (that requires a check mark that you do not have anything)and on the signs at customs.
    If you are that stupid and illiterate – don’t fly. Israel, of all places, should know the importance of security – whether human or possible pests on vegetation.

  6. #7, the young couple thought it was okay because that company has their product on the store shelves here in America. They SHOULD have declared it! Yes, they should have! But they didn’t intend to “Violate” the law. An expert customs agent would have either let them through because it was commercially packaged or taken it away or fined them. (The fine was $300.00)This guy did all and he marked it in their passport so as to indicate criminal activity. A bit excessive! They were visibly exhausted! And seemingly these stories are all out of Newark Liberty Airport. Kennedy doesn’t seem to have have such complaints! He could have told them that they can’t take it in or to take it to the clerk for inspection just as he would have if they had declared it! Remember, it wasn’t open meat! He didn’t have to growl at them. Clearly he was not a nice fellow. (I didn’t refer to him as anti-semetic, though I think he was good and excited that he nipped a jew!