Thirty-four years ago, Tekala, then an 18-year-old Ethiopian woman, left her home together with several other young adults on a perilous journey: clandestine immigration to Israel via Sudan.
But no sooner had they entered Sudan than Tekala was kidnapped and summarily married off to a Sudanese Muslim in the town of Al Qadarif.
Fearing for her life, Tekala kept her Jewish background a secret for decades, living as a Muslim and bearing her husband five children.
Yet, earlier this week she finally completed her escape from Africa, joining her mother and brothers at a Passover seder in Israel on Monday night, Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Wednesday.
“I lived as a Muslim for years, but not for once abandoned my dreams of Israel or forgot my family. I knew one day we would be reunited,” she told the paper.
Six years ago, Tekala — whose last name is being withheld for security reasons — managed to make contact with Israeli authorities in order to share with them her story, but ultimately little came of it.
However, four months ago and with the help of a third party, Tekala communicated to a Jewish person working for Israel in Africa her desire to emigrate to Israel. He passed her message along to a Jewish Agency representative in Ethiopia.
It was during this exchange that Tekala was informed that her family had moved to Israel some time ago and was residing in Beersheba. She was also told about the passing of her father.
After receiving the news, she made the decision to run away from her home, leaving behind her five sons, and make her way at last to Israel.
Tekala told the paper she wanted to bring her sons to Israel, but had not told them of her heritage before fleeing.
“I already miss my children. I want to call them and tell them everything, but am afraid how much it will hurt them to discover they are Jewish,” she said.
To facilitate the way to Israel, Jewish Agency representatives instructed Tekala to tell her husband that she urgently needed to return to Ethiopia because her father had passed away and her mother was very ill.
He granted his permission, and two months ago she set out on her journey. After a brief time in Ethiopia she was flown to Israel Monday, where she was reunited with her Ethiopian family.
One of her brothers added: “We have been waiting for this day for many years, and I am so happy that finally this dream has become reality — even more so on Passover, the festival of freedom.”
Despite the arduous journey, Tekala told Yedioth that she will return to Sudan if the Jewish Agency does not manage to get her sons to Israel.
Attempts to reach the Jewish Agency on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Yehuda Scharf, the Jewish Agency’s director of immigration and absorption, told Ynet that “Tekala’s immigration to Israel on the eve of Passover, after years of hiding her Jewish identity, carries enormous emotional and symbolic significance.”