The Lost Sheep of Israel Make Aliyah

July 15, 2019

by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer

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Along a rocky path in the heart of the Judean Hills, a shepherdess named Jenna leads a small sheep harnessed with a pink bridle. The sheep’s wool is speckled with splotches of black on white and its head is crowned with four horns. The shepherdess calls this little ewe Golda Meir, after Israel’s first female prime minister, because it was born on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s statehood.

The Exodus and the Return

Golda is one of the offspring from a small herd of Jacob sheep that has come back to its ancient pastureland after several millennia of dispersion. This breed of sheep once roamed the hills of Judea, but, like many other indigenous animal species deprived of their Jewish caretakers, they too vanished from the Land. Over the course of 2,500 years, the sheep’s trail wound its way through Egypt, Northern Africa, Spain and England—and from there to the United States and Canada.

Their return to Israel was made possible by the passionate vision of a Jewish couple from Canada. Jenna Lewinsky and her husband, Gil, rescued a small herd of Jacob sheep from auction and possible slaughter in Abbotsford, British Columbia. In researching the breed, the Lewinskys realized that these sheep had a genetic connection to the flock tended by Jacob in Genesis 30. In the biblical account, Jacob chose the “streaked, speckled, and spotted” (v. 39) sheep from Laban’s flock as payment for years of working for his father-in-law.

An Unusual Airlift

The Lewinskys believe that the animals belong to the patriarch Jacob and his descendants—the Jewish people. Therefore it was important that they return to the Jewish state. However, not unlike the hardships experienced in the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, the flock’s road home was paved with obstacles, seemingly impassable mountains of red tape and a number of miracles. After three years of negotiations between the Israeli and Canadian governments, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development finally agreed to accept the sheep under the Law of Return. Until then, it was a law that only applied to Jewish people in the Diaspora (the Jewish population outside Israel) who wanted to return to Israel, and made no allowance for animals.

Transported across Canada by truck, 119 sheep were then airlifted from Toronto in 11 separate Air Canada flights—the largest airlift of animals ever made from Canada. The Cdn. $80,000 transportation fee was primarily covered by Canadian Christian and Jewish donors.

Pastured on the Mountains of Israel

On November 30, 2016, the first load of Jacob sheep touched down at Ben Gurion Airport, the same day on the Jewish calendar that Noah emerged from the ark with all the animals. The sheep were first sent to a quarantine camp in southern Israel near the Gaza border, where five of the sheep died from the trauma of their 9,000-mile (14,000-km) journey. The surviving flock was moved to Nes Harim east of Beit Shemesh, and then to Ramot Naftali near the Lebanese border, where half the flock died from the Bluetongue virus. To add to the hardship, round-the-clock vigilance had to be maintained because livestock theft was rampant.

Undeterred by the decimation of her flock and some wildlife experts who were doubtful that the flock had a biblical gene pool, Jenna, now divorced, accepted an offer by the mayor of Efrat to move the flock to, as he termed it, “the Promised Land.” Their new home in Gush Etzion is called Migdal Eder, the site where Jacob pastured his sheep (Gen. 35:21) and the same place where shepherds watched their flocks on the night of Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) birth. Migdal Eder means “Tower of the Flock” and is located about 1 mile (1.6 km) from Bethlehem. Micah 4:8 refers to the site as the place from which the Messiah’s kingdom would come, and the Mishnah (first written recording of Jewish tradition) refers to Migdal Eder as the place where the sheep intended for the Temple sacrifice were pastured.

Heritage Status

Jenna’s flock is not intended for sacrifice or slaughter. The sheep are mainly ornamental and are affectionately dubbed with Israel-centric names, such as Ruth, Yarden, Yehudit and Shoshanna. Jenna also gives the public an opportunity to name the newborn lambs. In the future, she hopes to establish a milking station. The flock’s wool is used for very high-quality prayer shawls, tzitzit (fringes on the prayer shawl) and clothing. The horns from the sheep that die naturally are made into shofars, which Jenna sells to help maintain the flock. She hopes to establish her homestead at Migdal Eder as a heritage farm where visitors can come and view the sheep. Another vision is to have the breed named as a national animal—a cultural and historical symbol of Israel, with protected status and preserved for future generations.

The Sheep of His Pasture

In Ezekiel 34, God parallels the experience of His people with that of a flock of sheep. “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered…I will bring them out from the nations…and I will bring them into their own land…I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land (vv.12–14 NIV).

Though we interpret the sheep in this verse to mean the Jewish people, the Good Shepherd has also fulfilled the promise literally. He has rescued Jacob’s scattered flock from the nations and sovereignly brought them back to good pasture on their ancient grazing land: the mountains of Judea and the biblical heartland of Israel.

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