On wings of El Al, biblical sheep to end 3,000-year exile
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On wings of El Al, biblical sheep to end 3,000-year exile

Flock of 113 Jacob sheep, currently in Canada, expected to arrive in Israel over the summer

Gil and Jenna Lewinsky feed the sheep at their farm in Abbotsford, Vancouver, Canada, in this undated photo from 2016. (courtesy Mustard Seed Imaging)
Gil and Jenna Lewinsky feed the sheep at their farm in Abbotsford, Vancouver, Canada, in this undated photo from 2016. (courtesy Mustard Seed Imaging)

A flock of sheep from Canada is even closer to making “baa-aliyah” after El Al agreed this week to heavily subsidize the cost of flying the 113 sheep from Toronto to Tel Aviv. The holy land-bound sheep belong to Gil and Jenna Lewinsky, and are called “Jacob sheep” because they sport the markings of “spots and speckles” that also characterized the sheep forefather Jacob took from his father-in-law, Laban, in the book of Genesis.

Gil Lewinsky said that El Al had agreed to subsidize approximately 90 percent of the cost of bringing the heritage sheep in special cargo boxes.

In late May, the Canadian government’s Food Inspection Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said they would allow the importation of live sheep to Israel on a one-time basis. According to the agreement, the sheep must undergo a two-week quarantine in Canada and an additional quarantine in Israel.

The Lewinskys are still working to secure land, likely in the Golan Heights, where they hope to house them in an educational farm that will be open to visits from the public.

A Jacob sheep named Rachel, with what the Lewinskys call her 'happy face,' on their rental farm in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. (courtesy Gil Lewinsky/Mustard Seed Imaging)
A Jacob sheep named Rachel, with what the Lewinskys call her ‘happy face,’ on their rental farm in Abbotsford, BC, Canada. (courtesy Gil Lewinsky/Mustard Seed Imaging)

They are still working to raise approximately $200,000 in crowdfunding, including around $30,000 to get the sheep from rural British Columbia, on Canada’s western coast, to Toronto, where they will board a direct flight to Israel. The overland journey is almost 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) and will take a number of days.

“We are very excited and glad it’s happening,” Gil Lewinsky said by phone from the couple’s home in Abbotsford. Just two weeks ago, with no agreement from El Al, the Lewinskys were worried they’d have to leave their rental farm in Canada and lose the entire flock. “A lot of things have to go right for the sheep, it’s very daunting, and obviously there will be hiccups, but we are confident it will be successful.”

The Lewinskys fell into their new profession as shepherds almost by accident, when they met a woman who needed someone to adopt some of her heritage sheep in rural Western Canada. They ended up falling in love with the idea of protecting a vanishing breed of biblical sheep. They now own the largest flock of Jacob sheep in Canada, but that’s not enough.

For the past two years, they have been desperately trying to bring the sheep back to their legendary home of Israel. There are currently no Jacob sheep in Israel, and the species is threatened worldwide as fewer farms have heritage breeds.

During a trip to Israel earlier this month, Gil Lewinsky said that many Israelis he spoke to on the street were excited to hear about the return of Jacob sheep. “They think it’s amazing that there’s an animal that is in the Bible, and they’ll be able to see it, it’s something that still exists,” he said.

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