Sudan, land of my grandparents, I believe in you

On a visit, I found myself looking beyond the swastikas and horned Stars of David graffiti


OMDURMAN, SUDAN - NOVEMBER 13: A protester takes part in a protest on the street in the Abbasiya neighborhood of Omdurman on November 13, 2021 in Omdurman, Sudan. In Sudan, three weeks after the coup led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, civil society organizations called for civil disobedience and a general strike. according to the Sudanese resistance committees, , which called for millions to demonstrate against the military coup, seven people were killed and dozens were injured, during the protest of 13 November 2021. (Photo by Stringer/Getty Images)

November 18, 2021 15:50

My flat is cleaner than it’s ever been. I have scrubbed it to within an inch of its life. Why? Because I am watching a coup take place in a country nearly 5,000 miles away. A country I have known all my life but have only ever seen once: Sudan.

When I was a child, the place my family came from was a land from a fairy tale. A place of hot desert winds, red dust storms and a myriad of carefully drawn ancestral caricatures.

As I grew up, it became a place of historical interest. I learned to place it on a map, just below Egypt. I learned it had been part of the British Empire, gaining independence in 1956. I learned that it was a place my grandparents had left because they had no longer felt safe as Jews.

There was very little information about their Jewish community available to me, and so in 2015 I founded Tales of Jewish Sudan. I interviewed over 70 members of the community, documenting their history, stories, and recipes. I also began to research Sudan’s modern history, but political history never has been my strength, so I found summaries and made Sudanese friends through Twitter instead.

And then, in 2018, Sudan changed. A revolution swept through the country, and within a year the Islamist Military Dictator of 30 years, Omar al-Bashir (best known for committing genocide in Darfur), had been overthrown. My social media timelines were flooded with references and acronyms I couldn’t keep track of, and this time I did my best to educate myself on Sudan as it is today.

In January 2020, with al-Bashir gone and a new civilian-military transitional government in place, I decided to visit Sudan with my brother. I was apprehensive. What if they didn’t let us in? What if people found out we were Jewish? Worst of all, what if I got there and didn’t feel anything?

I shouldn’t have worried.

“The Sudanese people are the best people in the world. I am telling you. They are the best people in the world”, my grandfather, Eliaho, told me a few months before he passed away. We quickly understood what he meant. One day, we asked a shopkeeper at the market for a lunch recommendation; he took us to his house and fed us himself. On another occasion, no less than five strangers led us around Omdurman, trying to help us locate my grandparents’ old house.

Almost a month ago, on 25th October 2021, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (Commander-In-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces) launched a coup. Facilitated by an uneasy alliance between al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Himedti’ Dagalo (commander of Sudan’s paramilitary militia), Prime Minister Hamdok and other ministers were put under house arrest, where they remain. The country has been subjected to an internet and communications blackout ever since.

While we were in Sudan, our driver and guide was an English Language graduate, a revolutionary whose best friend Ali had been killed whilst protesting in 2019. He talked passionately of a brighter future for his country. At one point, he gestured to the headscarf I had chosen to wear, saying: “You know, you don’t have to wear that here. Not any more.”

I haven’t been able to contact him since 28th October.

The people of Sudan are now protesting once again. Mobilising miraculously in a country without internet or mobile connections, millions march, peacefully and defiantly risking their lives, refusing to accept another military rule.

I am under no illusions. I understand that a democratic civilian government is likely to be slower to pursue normalisation with Israel than a military dictatorship. I know what the general population of Sudan thinks of Israel and, by extension, of Jews. The reason I study Sudan instead of living there is as a direct result of antisemitism; the numerous graffitied swastikas and horned Stars of David decorating the streets of Khartoum reminded me of that.

And yet, I have faith in the people on the streets. A generation which has grown up knowing nothing but authoritarian military leadership is demanding social, political and religious freedom, facing down brutal violence with peaceful protest. Every day, I open my Twitter feed. I start scrolling and then I start cleaning.

It’s hard to follow the intricacies of a coup in a country far away, using only Google Translate. I can’t understand the individual chants and songs in the videos trickling out through the blackout, but I understand their sentiments.

I understand the bravery of the woman chanting revolutionary demands metres away from Himedti, and the poignancy of softly sung songs the night before a march.

I asked a friend in Sudan recently if there was anything I could do to help. He answered, simply, “pray for us”. There’s not much else I can do.

(As of 18 November partial communications have been restored in Sudan.)


November 18, 2021 15:50

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...


Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive