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February 28, 2013 2:08 pm

The Blinded Sudanese Teen Slave and the Jewish Mother

avatar by Zach Pontz

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Ker Deng with friend. Photo:

I am a very pushy Jewish mother, so I want him to be president of South Sudan some day,” Ellen Ratner said.

She was speaking of Ker Deng, a former Sudanese slave who she, along with her brother, Brooklyn real estate mogul Bruce Ratner, brought to America two years ago after the pair went on  a trip to the war-torn country.

Bruce Ratner said he knew he wanted to help Deng minutes after they met.

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“While other children were playing, [Deng] was sitting down in a chair all day with his head down,” Ratner recalled to the New York Post. “But when I spoke to him, I realized he had an infectious smile and amazing personality.”

Deng was blinded by his slave master years ago. The North Sudanese tribal warlord who had captured both him and his mother rubbed peppers in his eyes and hanged him upside down from a tree over a fire.

Bruce Ratner has since gone about financing a series of surgeries that have helped Deng regain partial sight. Deng has had three eye surgeries and can now differentiate between colors, shapes and sizes.

But it almost wasn’t to be. The Ratners were only able to get a temporary visa for Deng, and in 2011 the boy had to fight to stay in the US.

He was called to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights to explain why he wanted to stay in the country. In November, Deng won his battle to stay in the country and shortly thereafter Ratner helped enroll Deng at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.

Ellen Ratner says he’s “doing well there, excelling in math and physics” and learning to play the piano.

And when he has a chance, he spends his time canoodling with celebrities. On a recent night he joined  Bruce Ratner at Brooklyn, New York’s new Barclays Center to watch a Brooklyn Nets basketball game. At half-time Ratner took him to  meet Nets’ part-owner Jay-Z (Ratner also has a small stake in the team) in his luxury suite at the arena.

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  • Suzie frankel

    This world needs more people like Ellen and Bruce. G-d bless you both.

  • Shmuel Mendelsohn

    I fight it horrendous that a former slave who was blinded by his “master” must fight to stay here, while a Cuban just needs to step on American soil in order to be allowed residence. Does the disgusting word “lobbhy” ring a bell? By the way, I do not mean to imply a thing against Cubans.

  • Very nice story from a sad beginning

  • Thank God for Ellen & Bruce Ratner! You have saved a life & therefore you have saved the world!