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My exodus, our exodus

He was terrified when he saw Israeli soldiers standing over him with guns, and then something strange happened

Unlike most Darfurians who want to return to Sudan when conditions improve, I want to become part of the Jewish people and am in the process of converting to Judaism.

My Darfurian companions don’t understand what pulled me to the Jewish people and conversion to Judaism. Israelis ask my friends whom they meet at work, in bars, coffee shops, and at the movies why. Most people don’t ask me why. So, here is my story.

Although born in Darfur, unlike most of my Darfurian friends, my exodus from Sudan began when I was only 3, when terrorists murdered my parents. We survived because a group of other Darfurians fleeing the war zone managed to take me and my baby brother to Libya. How, I don’t know.

In Darfur, we didn’t have the same chance as most children raised in democratic societies who grow up in security and go to school with pens, pencils, books, and even candy and a sandwich in their school bag.

My journey to Eretz Israel took 14 years from the time I left Darfur. I didn’t know that my journey was going to bring me to this lovely country. But I often dreamed that I was going to some far-off destination.

I was in Libya until I was 12. My brother and I, as well as many other displaced Darfurians, faced many challenges from the Libyan authorities and people. We weren’t allowed to speak or travel freely. Children from Darfur did not go to school. Libyans were very aggressive toward us because we had different values and culture. In Benghazi, the people often humiliated us because of our skin color. Despite all these hardships, my brother and I could still smile when playing with other children and appreciate the kind acts of others, like when people gave us children candy, cake, and other treats.

One summer day, a white man took us both to a shopping mall. It was so hot that I couldn’t see properly. The temperature probably was over 36 degrees Celsius.

While we were in the shop, another white man came. After buying me a chocolate cake, he grabbed my hand, took me out of the mall and brought me to live with a Darfurian family who took care of me. I don’t know what happened to my brother. I never saw him again.

I stayed with that family for quite a long time. They then decided to go to Egypt in the hope that living conditions would be better than they were in Libya.

However, Egypt was even worse than Libya. Egyptians were kidnapping African children and forcing them into slavery. The situation of Sudanese refugees in Egypt became increasingly difficult. The family taking care of me decided it would be better for my future to send me to Israel. I didn’t want to go. I was afraid to go to a strange place without them. I knew nothing about Israel. Despite my protests, they arranged for me to go to Israel through the Sinai desert and sent me on my way.

When we approached the Israeli border, Egyptian soldiers started firing at us. There was no turning back. I had to cross the border. As I was running, I felt l something hit me in the stomach and the thigh. I continued to run for about 10 minutes until I fell down and lost consciousness.

I was dreaming that someone was telling me to wake up. When I opened my eyes, I saw soldiers standing over me with guns and was afraid because I thought that they were Egyptian.

Fortunately, they were Israeli soldiers from the IDF. They called in a helicopter which took me to the army base and then took me to Soroka hospital. I am grateful to these soldiers who helped me to survive.

I wasn’t born a Jew. However, I feel that Israel is the only real home I have ever had and want to be part of the Jewish people. Israeli Jews took me in and offered me educational opportunities, along with young Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia. I think I relate much more to Israelis than to any other people on earth.

As someone who came out of oppression from Egypt to Israel, I identify with the Jewish people’s Exodus experience. I came here seeking protection and freedom. I did not come here for money.

I choose to be a Jew through religious conviction. If you ask me why I want to embrace Judaism, I will tell you it is because I believe profoundly in God who is my Creator and the God of Israel.

Unlike Jews born in Israel, I didn’t have the opportunity to learn about religion in school or hang out in Jerusalem and other cities in the country with Jewish teens and adults who gather each week to drink, celebrate a birthday, and learn different ways of connecting to Judaism.

I chose to embrace Judaism because learning Torah makes me happy and influences me to think positively, to be respectful toward others, and to focus on what I need to achieve in life.

Whether easy or challenging, God helps me get through whatever I need to do. I rarely feel depressed or vulnerable, whether or not I have the money to buy food or a ticket on the Jerusalem light rail go to my Sherut Leumi job, where I work with young Israeli school kids

My choice has been made easier because of my contacts with humble, sympathetic, and wonderful people who were always there for me and ready to give whatever was needed. I give thanks to all those perfectly decent Jews who welcome me every Friday to Shabbat dinners with huge open arms to teach me new things that have made my life look brighter and better.

When I studied Torah, I learned about Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, how he prevailed and how his name was changed from Jacob to Israel.

I see some parallels in my own struggle to come to Israel with Jacob’s experience in returning to the land of his fathers to what we now call Israel. In wrestling with the angel, Jacob was wounded in the thigh. I was also wounded in the same spot in the thigh as Jacob when I was about to enter Israel.

I am glad that I made the difficult journey to Israel where I have many different possibilities to choose my own way to make life better. I am sad that my brother was not with me and I hope that someday we will be reunited.

I support Israel and its people in their fierce struggle for survival. Finally, I give my unconditional love to this young country and believe that there is no better place than Israel for me.

About the Author
In the year of 1993, Micha'el Derek Tanju was born in Darfur. At the age of 3 his parents suddenly were murdered by terrorists, because of this he eventually decided to move to Israel in 2008 from Darfur. He feels very grateful to have attended the school of Ayanot. The Youth Village in Rishon LeTzion, where he learned Hebrew and English. He completed the Israeli National Service and converted to Judaism in 2016. Currently he is studying computer science at the Jerusalem College of Technology.
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