KIRYAT DOV—This dusty cluster of trailers atop a West Bank hill may seem like an unlikely place to find Paddington Bear and his teddy bear friends. But in a stunning new development in its efforts to bolster the flagging settlement drive, the Israeli government recently assisted Paddington and seventy eight other cuddly toys to convert to Orthodox Judaism and move here to Kiryat Dov.
“Operation Honey Pot” began almost two years ago when a delegation of rabbis from the Yesha Council (the body representing Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories) traveled to Darkest Peru to look for potential converts who could come and populate the dozens of settlements, many of which are only partly empty. They happened upon the tribe of teddy bears whose origins are lost in the mists of time.
Paddington, who still wears his signature blue Duffel coat, but now adorned with a traditional prayer shawl, and a knitted blue kippa under his well-worn bowler hat says that he is very happy to be in the West Bank. Sitting on a plastic chair outside the trailer, with an Uzi lying at his feet, Paddington reflects on the decision to make aliyah. “Things had become very difficult for us in Darkest Peru,” said the bear. “It was not easy to find honey, due to clear cutting of the forest where we live.” Also, we teddy bears very much like to have tea parties and picnics, and this is not possible where we lived. This is when we decided to seek an alternative.”
But the move to Kiryat Dov (which is Hebrew for “Bear Village,” was not Paddington’s first attempt to leave Darkest Peru. “A few years ago,” said the stuffed toy, as he licked honey from his paws, “I traveled to London, with nothing but this Duffel coat and a beaten suitcase. I was found in Paddington station with a sign hanging round my neck which said ‘please look after this bear.’ This is where I got my name. Unfortunately my experience with the English was not very satisfactory and I decided not to bring my people to London, even though the tea is very good.”
After a spell living with a kindly lady, Paddington soon found himself jobless and destitute, drifting through London’s seemier underbelly. He managed to save enough money by appearing in children’s books and cartoons, and returned to Darkest Peru.
Asked how he feels about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict raging all around him, though seemingly far away from this deceptively quiet hilltop, Paddington is philosophical: “We teddy bears, we have nothing against the Arabs. We came here to fulfill a promise to our children that they will always have honey. If the Arabs will leave us alone, we will not have trouble. If they want to bother us, they will see we are not so cuddly.”
Challenged that the land on which Kiryat Dov is built was confiscated by the Israeli army from Palestinian farmers whose trees were plowed by bulldozers, Paddington throws his paws up: “I am just a teddy bear, not a politician. If they shall make a state for the teddy bears, maybe we will go there. But now we are Jews and we belong here in Samaria district.”
How did the settler rabbis convince the bears to convert to Orthodox Judaism?
“They told us that we were a lost tribe of Jewish bears,” says Paddington, “and that our place was in the Moledet, the homeland. At first we did not believe them, but then the chief rabbi asked us, ‘do you bears not live by honey?’ Of course we answered ‘yes.’ Then he said, ‘so your place is in the land of Milk and Honey.’ We said, ‘okay for the honey, but what about the milk?’ The rabbi, said ‘the honey is for you. After we finish here we are going to Wonderland to convert the Cheshire Cat. For him is the milk.”