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Ari and Ari: Laws of the Jungle

Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan

In Papua New Guinea, a land where hunters live by their arrows, and children wield machetes, there are tribesmen who believe they’re reconnecting to their Jewish roots

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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If the flight was exhausting, we were quickly rejuvenated — as we left the airport terminal, we were greeted by about 100 Gogodala tribesmen waving Israeli flags and singing “Heveinu Shalom Aleichem” and other Hebrew songs (Photos: Ari Z. Zivotofsky and Ari Greenspan)

T here is exotic, and then there is off the charts. When we heard about a tribe in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that claims descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and is now expressing interest in returning to Judaism, we knew we needed to plan a trip. But how do you contact tribesmen who live deep in the jungles of this remote Third World country, where phones are rare and Internet is nonexistent? And what would we do once we got there, in a locale where transportation is primitive at best, and roads don’t exist? (Disclaimer: this had absolutely nothing to do with Mishpacha’s current serial, Normal Like Me, whose protagonists come from PNG.)

Our plan was to visit Papua New Guinea, a country just north of Australia, consisting of dense jungles, tropical rain forests, large wetlands, and hundreds of offshore islands surrounded by vast coral reefs… and cannibals. We were told by a woman whose cousin is in the navy that Indonesian military maps mark PNG’s cannibal regions in red. Shortly before we visited, we read about a British couple who had recently been captured and tortured there. Back in 1961, Michael Rockefeller, youngest son of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, is assumed to have been killed and eaten by cannibals in New Guinea. And although cannibalism was made illegal more than 50 years ago, every so often reports surface of these human feasts.

The Gogodala have several ancient customs that resemble Jewish traditions, and European explorers had even written about “a race of Jews in New Guinea suspected to be a remnant of the Ten Tribes of Israel”

The cannibalism threat was pushed to the back of our minds, though, because we had so many other things to worry about. Our infectious disease expert warned us that there is an extremely high transmission rate of malaria year-round; risk of travelers’ diarrhea exists throughout the country, even in deluxe accommodations; tuberculosis is in the highest-risk category; the chikungunya virus risk is countrywide; and deadly Australian box jellyfish inhabit the coastal waters.

He didn’t tell us that Melioidosis, caused by a bacteria found in soil and water, has recently been found in the soil in Balimo, our exact destination. For good measure, he did let us know that violent crime is very common in the capital, Port Moresby. Despite being a small city by international standards, with only about 400,000 people, it’s considered among the ten most dangerous cities in the world. This was confirmed for us by a hotel owner in Daru, who had been carjacked more than once in Port Moresby. So why, we wondered, were we going?

Because members of the Gogodala tribe in that distant island believe that they are descendants of exiled Jews from the First Temple period, and of course, we wanted to see for ourselves. So we packed our Shabbos supplies and took our shechitah knives just in case — and as usual, siyata d’Shmaya was on our side through what was probably our most astounding halachic adventure to date. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 681)

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