Gil and Jenna Lewinsky, the modern-day shepherds who struggled for two years to bring more than 100 heritage “biblical sheep” from Canada to Israel, are on the verge of seeing their dream washed away by massive thunderstorms.
Two weeks of foul weather in Israel have decimated their temporary quarantine site, with heavy rains flooding the sheep pens and strong winds toppling their shelters, leaving the sheep shivering in the cold.
“Our first sheep, Rachel, died [Sunday] morning and more are going to die,” said Jenna Lewinsky. “At least 40 or 50 of the sheep are sick, and there’s flooding. We called the Israeli Agriculture Ministry for help and they have no sympathy whatsoever. We’re shocked at how little they care about animals.”
The Lewinskys raised a herd of heritage sheep in Canada, a breed that traces its genetics back to the ancient Middle East. The breed received the name “Jacob sheep” from Genesis, chapter 30, when Jacob talks about leaving Laban’s home and taking part of the flock as his payment for years of service. “I will pass through all thy flock today, removing from thence every speckled and spotted one, and every dark one among the sheep, and the spotted and speckled among the goats; and of such shall be my hire.” (Genesis 30:32)
Israel prohibits the importation of livestock from Canada due to diseases, but two years of bureaucratic wrangling and high-level negotiations led the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry to approve the sheep’s “baa-liyah” on a one-time basis for tourism purposes. The Lewinskys hope to open an educational farm outside of Jerusalem and have already rented property.
The sheep are now being brought to Israel from Toronto in small groups on a special livestock carrier. Approximately 100 of the 119 sheep are currently in Israel.
Part of the Agriculture Ministry’s requirements for the sheep to arrive in Israel is a quarantine, at least 1 kilometer from other animals and 5 kilometers from a dairy farm, for at least 8 days after the last sheep arrive.
The Lewinskys found an abandoned ostrich farm near Ofakim that fit the bill, and excitedly began moving their sheep into the quarantine on November 30.
But a rainy beginning to the winter season with several strong storms has toppled the temporary structures built to house the sheep, leaving the sheep completely exposed to the elements.
The rain also washed away the dirt road leading to the quarantine, leading a truck with 11 sheep on board stranded at the gate while the Lewinskys scrambled to find donated 4×4 trucks to drive the last kilometer to the farm. They said the Agriculture Ministry is not heeding their desperate pleas to help them find alternate accommodations for the sheep due to the inclement weather.
“In the end we’ll only have 10 animals to show,” said Jenna Lewinsky. “There are so many people in North America who spent so much time with this and are very angry with Israel. People from around the world are writing to us and saying, ‘This can’t be happening. How can Israel do this to the sheep?’ We want the best for the animals but we’re being held hostage.”
A spokeswoman for the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry said the veterinary services had been in touch with the Lewinskys to offer assistance, and that the quarantine site was a private option chosen by the Lewinskys. She added that they were welcome to find another quarantine site that meets all of the requirements regarding distance from other livestock.
“As much as we wish the best for the couple, the public’s health and protection of animals in Israel is not something that the veterinary services take lightly,” she said, noting that all livestock requires a quarantine upon arrival in Israel.
The Lewinskys said they feel abandoned by the Israeli government after so much work went into getting the sheep into the country.
“These animals are meant to be a blessing for Israel,” Gil Lewinsky said.