We haven’t met again since that day in the classroom. They rode by the house yesterday and they waved out their car window. They said: ‘Is that Michael?’ It was so much fun. I couldn’t get close, so I just kept blowing them kisses from the porch. It must have been a strange scene—men in black hats and coats blowing kisses at each other. To make the scene even more surprising is that one of the Haredi men—me—is Sudanese.
I came to Israel at age 14. As I headed for the Israeli border, Egyptian soldiers shot me. I managed to get into Israel and was met by IDF soldiers who brought me to the hospital. In that moment, I knew that Jews were my people. After time in a shelter, I went to boarding school in a city called Rishon L’Tzion. I studied and became formally Jewish at age 21.
I say that my connection to other Orthodox Jews looks odd and that is true. But I wish it didn’t—or that, at least, people did not ask me how it is that I am a Jew. Israelis are notoriously blunt and will ask anything. Or respond with obvious surprise: someone lifting their glasses up to get a better look at me from a distance or a driver, stopped at a light as I pass, lowering their window to stretch their head out toward me to get a better look, asking with their eyes, “Is that black man Haredi?”
I am adjusting to that cultural reality, but I also want to teach people that some questions—whether spoken or insinuated—can be hurtful and make me feel like I am seen as inauthentic. But my beautiful skin and my beautiful Neshama (soul) are at one in being a Jew and it is as a Jew that I will struggle with my people and with God—because in that struggle I am shleima—whole.