Israeli Shepherd with Flock (Image credit: Moshe Milner/Government Press Office of Israel)
Last night, I did not sleep. I volunteered for the "Shomrim (watchmen) of Judea and Samaria."
This organization was formed in order to help isolated Jewish shepherds secure their flocks from the ever-present and ever ready Arab thieves who sneak up at night. These thieves are experts in stealing whole flocks in the wink of an eye - this is their culture and their pride.
The loss of a flock that takes years to raise destroys the lives of the owners and their families. Besides the personal loss, it is yet another painful blow to the cause for which these idealists chose to live and shepherd there in the first place - to secure Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) for the Jewish people and deny ongoing Arab land grabs.
By herding sheep in the general area, the shepherds prevent Arab squatters from establishing yet another trespassing presence, which the Israeli authorities are not quick to evict. Instead, the authorities are much quicker to evict our heroes than the Arab land grabbers. The couple who live on the small farm I guarded can not work during the day and also guard at night. Those who are forced to do so often give up and leave, delivering the very victory that the Arab thieves seek. These idealists are my heroes, and so I decided it was the least I could do to give them a night of my time. The idea of "guard duty" is something that is very familiar to anyone who has ever served even a week in the military. That was quite a few years ago for me so this was a real deja vu experience. At the same time it made me feel both older and younger.
I felt older because I think I am less tolerant of the ever-increasing cold that seeps through one's clothes, and the unique anti-scientific phenomenon of the night seeming to grow longer as the time goes by. I felt younger as I looked up at the star-filled sky that I don't see in the city, but remember from my earlier guarding experiences. I was again greeted by the silence of the night, distant sounds mingling equally with ones nearby, the comradery of a fellow guard, and the exchange of philosophy and rather personal history with a buddy. We sat adjacent to the pen which the sheep shared with some geese. A donkey lay nearby and dogs observed them all. I definitely learned some new things about the habits of these creatures that night.
Between them and the stars above, I was struck by how wonderful are the creation and its Creator. The shepherd greeted us from his truck where he sleeps at night. Volunteers or no (volunteers are not available every night) he wanted to be close to his flock. He has heard too many stories about friends’ lives being wiped out in a single night.
I guess he was the type of man I expected to meet.
A weathered look, few words, individualistic, robust, rugged; these people will not lead the "new Israel" in the near future, but they will definitely be a vital component of its motor and fuel. Just as the "West was won" with pioneers, poets, and lots of other types, so too is the East - this small, holy piece of land in the Eastern Mediterranean that G-d has promised us.
I don't know what my role in that victory is exactly, but I want to be part of it.
Contact Shalom Pollack, veteran licensed tour guide, for upcoming tours at Shalom Pollack Tours: Personalized Tours in Israel.