Stories of Escape from Sudan to Israel
Review posted July 15, 2012.
Cladach Publishing, 2011. 219 pages.
A People Tall and Smooth tells the stories of many Sudanese refugees who have ended up in Israel.
Judith Galblum Pex and her husband John run a hostel in Eilat, Israel. She introduces the situation that developed in 2007 with these words:
People from over one hundred nations intermingle in Israel. Besides Jews from Kazakhstan and Kansas, Burma and Belgrade, Calcutta, Congo and places in between, over a million tourists every year add to the mosaic. Include in the mixture two hundred thousand legal and illegal workers from countries such as China, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal and Ghana, and it's clear that the average Israeli is used to seeing faces of all colors and shapes.
In 2007, however, a new group appeared on the scene whose appearance and status was unlike any other till this time. We began to notice men, women, children and babies on the streets in our town of Eilat who were exceptionally black and strikingly tall.
"Where do they come from and who are they?" My husband John and I asked ourselves. "What language do they speak?" Having managed The Shelter Hostel in Eilat on the Red Sea since 1984, we are used to interacting with diverse people groups and were eager to meet these new arrivals.
Our questions were answered when a tall, dark man walked through our front gate one morning. "I'm Gabriel, a refugee from Sudan," he introduced himself in perfect English. We then had even more questions. How did these Sudanese get to our city of Eilat in the south of Israel? What made them want to come to Israel of all places? Were they refugees from the genocide in Darfur that we'd been reading about lately?
Their questions were answered by the refugees that came streaming to them. I was fascinated by how many Sudanese believed this passage from Isaiah 18 applied to them:
Woe to the land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush, which sends envoys by sea in papyrus boats over the water. Go swift messengers to a people tall and smooth-skinned, to a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech whose land is divided by rivers ... At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty ... to Mount Zion.
Judith Galblum Pex writes:
Whatever the original meaning, many Sudanese took this passage as a personal encouragement in their complicated struggle as refugees in Israel. Still, life with uncertainties in Israel was better for them than what they had endured in Africa.
This book tells the stories of several Sudanese refugees, of different backgrounds, who wound up on their doorstep and became their friends. The writing is a little uneven. I would have preferred less about how they got the stories and the author's reaction to the stories, and a focus on just the stories themselves. However, the stories are so compelling, you can get past that distraction.
This book contains amazing true stories of powerfully resilient people with a strong faith in God who have come through incredibly difficult events. The stories are both eye-opening and inspiring.