Zebulun Simantov - the last Jew of Afghanistan
Who says that a food column can't teach serious history? Chef Dennis Wasko leads into an Afghan-Jewish Shabbat recipe with a potted history of the sad plight of the Jews of Afghanistan - now reduced to one lonely figure. Article in The Jerusalem Post (with thanks: bh)
Jews have lived in Afghanistan for at least 2000 years. According to Afghan tradition, it is highly likely that Jews have inhabited this area of the world since the Babylonian Exile in 586 B.C.E. and the subsequent Persian conquest.
It is a little known fact, especially in the West, that many of the countries that are today predominantly Muslim once had very large Jewish populations. We hear so much about Afghanistan, but we never hear about the plight of its Jews, and the horrible persecution that led to the destruction and scattering of the Afghan Jewish Community. We never hear about how the Jewish population went from 80,000 in the 12th century to just 1 Jew today. The lone Jew of Afghanistan is named Zebulon Simentov. He is the caretaker of the last, rundown synagogue in Kabul who refuses to leave the country as he sees it his duty to be the last member of the Jewish faith to reside in Afghanistan.
It wasn’t just radical militant Islam that the Jews of Afghanistan had to worry about. They also had to deal with the oppressive Soviet Communists. Long before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1970’s, Afghan culture and politics were being influenced by the Soviet Union. Communism was slowly introduced in the 1950’s and 1960’s by the Soviet education of Afghan school children. Before long, a once tolerant government began to turn against the Jewish Community as it was influenced more and more by Moscow. Those who were lucky emigrated to Israel, New York, and Pakistan.
After the defeat of the Soviet Army by the Mujahidin in the 1980’s, life for the remaining Jews worsened as the country erupted into civil war and the Taliban eventually came into power. More Jews left the country, joining their compatriots in Israel and New York. By 1996 there were only 10 Jews left in Afghanistan. For those who stayed, life was uncertain and filled with strife. The Taliban confiscated the last Torah in Zebulon Simentov’s dilapidated synagogue. Thus ends 2,500 years of Jewish History in Afghanistan.
Today, more than 10,000 Jews of Afghan descent live in Eretz Yisrael, and over 200 Afghani Jewish families live in New York City. They are a very tight, close-knit community.
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