The morning of Dec. 4 was crisp and chilly, with just the right amount of sunlight to stave off the cold. I found myself standing in a circle of poker-faced men and women listening to an intelligence and organizational brief of a volunteer search-and-rescue operation to recover stolen goats. Many laughed when I told them I was going to the Negev desert to help search for stolen livestock.
The organization in charge of this operation, HaShomer HaChadash (“The New Guardian” in Hebrew), was on a quest to comb the desert for a herd of 200 rare Alpine goats stolen in the dead of night three days prior from Moshav Idan, located in Israel’s Arava region. It may have been a laughable matter for some, but for the farmer who owned the goats, it was a big blow to his livelihood. The prized stolen livestock were valued at 5 million shekels, or approximately $1.3 million, making it one of the largest incidents of agricultural theft in Israel’s history.
HaShomer HaChadash was founded in 2007 by a group of activists who love Israel and strive to uphold Zionist values through assisting farmers in remote areas. In partnership with Jewish National Fund (JNF), they provide security and protection to Israel’s smaller, more vulnerable communities in the Negev and in the Galilee, while also promoting agricultural and pioneering ventures. When they heard about this massive theft, they jumped to action.
Forty volunteers donated their time, cars, and hiking and scouting skills on a Friday before Shabbat just to help a fellow IsraeliS.
“There’s something significant about the fact that I’m choosing to do this on a Friday, when I’m already stressed about Shabbat and preparing things for my family–this gives me purpose,” said a volunteer who has been with the organization for four and a half years and who requested to remain anonymous.
“There are people from many walks of life in our organization,” he added. “There are those from the political right and left, those who are religious and those who are not, and that is what gives us all the motivation to do something bigger than ourselves.”
The search went on for more than a week, with almost daily scouting parties setting out to continue the effort. On Dec. 7, HaShomer HaChadash volunteers found 23 of the 200 goats. The organization is not disclosing the exact location as a safety measure, and will continue its search efforts until the last goat is recovered.