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TORONTO (Reuters) - A breed of sheep believed to have been raised by the Jewish patriarch Jacob may soon be brought to Israel, its Biblical homeland, after an Israeli couple gathered a herd in Canada and brokered a bureaucratic detente to import the animals.
The effort to bring 130 sheep to the Golan Heights from Canada has been inching along for nearly a year, Israelis Jenna and Gil Lewinsky said on Tuesday, with the reintroduction of the breed stymied by red tape between the two countries.
The couple, based near Vancouver, said the project was initially opposed by Israel's Agriculture Ministry because Canada was not on a list of approved sheep importers.
But the Israeli embassy in Canada facilitated a dialogue between the couple and the ministry and sent along "strong recommendations," embassy spokesman Eitan Weiss said.
"And the ambassador visited Israel. He met some people with the Ministry of Agriculture and issued a letter," Weiss said in an interview. "The idea was very, very nice, and of course we said, 'Let's push it.'"
According to Hebrew and Christian holy books, Jacob had received a flock of a speckled and spotted breed as wages.
The couple said the sheep have since gone extinct in Israel.
Late last year, Israel's Agriculture Ministry changed its stance, and on Monday said it has contacted its Canadian counterpart as part of the import process, Jenna Lewinsky said.
She said Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak walked in on the birth of a lamb when he visited her family's farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia, about 70 km (43 miles) east of Vancouver. The couple had started raising the sheep after receiving a few as a gift from a heritage farm.
"It should be the national animal of the Jewish people," Jenna Lewinsky said. "It would be a very important and historic moment when the sheep return after basically 2,000 years."
The couple said the sheep are expected to reach Israel this year, subject to passing medical tests, and will be used for educational and heritage purposes.
Israel's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Ethan Lou; Editing by Leslie Adler