"T he Papuans admire your people,” said Joe. “The Israeli flag is the second-best-selling flag in my country, second only to our own flag.”

“How did they ever even hear of us?” Itzik wondered.

“I heard about the people of Israel when I was still in elementary school.”

The children of Yango Bay went to school only occasionally. It was far away, and they went when there was transportation — a ferry that sailed along the river, stopping by the various villages to pick up children from the entire region and dropping them off near the school.

Timothy Hendricks, Joe’s teacher, could have been a cartoon character. He was the stereotypical teacher down to the last detail: a bespectacled gentleman with a white beard and a bald pate whom the children found highly amusing. Mr. Hendricks would leave his home in Victoria, Australia, for several months every year, to volunteer as a teacher in Papua New Guinea. He toiled hard to give the jungle boys the basic tools of arithmetic, proper English, a smattering of science, and Bible. The school had no equipment and no running water or electricity, but its devoted staff of volunteers soldiered on.

Sister Sylvia was Bernadine’s teacher. Joe laughed when he remembered that gloomy figure, trying with all her limited patience to inculcate some knowledge in 20 dark-skinned girls in a big, airy hut devoid of teaching aids. Sylvia was an elderly nun who couldn’t understand the girls’ Tok Pisin, the Papuan dialect of pidgin English they spoke. They, on the other hand, could understand her Australian English well, which gave them the advantage over their teacher. But unfortunately for the boys, they couldn’t put anything over on Mr. Hendricks — he understood every word of their Tok Pisin.

Mr. Hendricks and his helpers went to a lot of trouble to bring in shipments of books, both textbooks and general reading. Joe was practically the only one who read them. In the jungle, talent was measured by survival skills, and knowing the periodic table of elements didn’t improve anyone’s profile in that regard. Most of the boys preferred to spend their time hunting and fishing, farming, swimming, wood carving, and handling traditional warfare.

But Joe was intellectually inclined from birth. Even after graduating from school, he would go back from time to time to see if any new books had come in. Mr. Hendricks was happy to lend him any book he wanted — at least one boy from the riverside villages would grow up with “a little knowledge between his ears,” as he put it. Would he have ever dreamed that his protégé would end up in Jerusalem one day, studying in university?

“My teacher back in school, Mr. Hendricks, told us about the Jewish People,” Joe explained to Itzik. “His eyes lit up when he talked about them. He read to us from the Book of Exodus about G-d taking the Israelites out of Egypt. He even taught us to sing ‘Heveinu Shalom Aleichem,’ and he told us that the Israelite nation still exists today and lives in the Holy Land. We all listened to him with wide eyes, and we felt tremendous admiration for the Chosen People. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 676)