Atenkut Alhan has struggled hard at every step of his life. But last week, he stepped up to the stage to be awarded the Israel 73rd Independence Day “Exemplary Soldier” citation by Brig. General Ilan Elia, Chief Officer of the IDF Technology and Maintenance Division.

The handsome Ethiopian-born graduate of Boys Town Jerusalem’s College of Applied Engineering declares he could have never achieved this honor without the encouragement of the “angels” who would not let him fall.

“My studies at Boys Town were so hard that I was ready to quit after several months,” Atenkut claims. “Then I was devastated by my father’s death.”

Yet BTJ dean of students Rabbi Meir Linchner and dorm mother Rachel Cohen-Pur remained at his side through every challenge ahead.

We gave him money and time off to travel to Beersheva to be with his mother, who is a remarkable woman,” Rabbi Linchner notes. “Despite her poverty wages as a cleaner, she’d travel to the campus to encourage Atenkut to persevere.”

Rachel Cohen-Pur supplied Atenkut with clothes, funds, love and care. “He always thanked me,” she recalls. In time, the young man garnered strength. “Within the first year, Atenkut went from the weakest student to the top in his class,” says Rabbi Linchner proudly.

“I grew up in the jungle,” quips Atenkut, who immigrated to Israel with his family in 2013 at age 17. “In 2017 I was accepted to BTJ’s College of Applied Engineering, majoring in Electrical Systems Technology. Each time Rabbi Linchner said, ‘We believe in you,’ I gained more conviction and courage to succeed.

Today Atenkut directly applies his knowledge to meeting the physical and mental demands of maintaining highly-advanced Merkava tanks. Marveling at being chosen over thousands of soldiers for the Exemplary Soldier award, he admits, “When I’m given an assignment, I always go one step further.” In future, the BTJ grad plans to pursue a career in the military. “I want to keep giving to this country.

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