Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Last Kabul Jew to close cafe

Simontov says his morning prayers

It is a mystery why Zebulun Simintov insists on being the last Jew in Kabul, but one good reason is that it pays - or rather, it used to pay to be treated as a curiosity by the world's media. No longer, however: according to this widely-disseminated Reuters piece, the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan means that his kebab cafe, below the synagogue which Simintov maintains, has fallen on hard times. He will make money out of renting the space (with thanks: Maier):  

"Let me take off my cap, otherwise people will think something bad about me," Simintov said cheerfully as he descended grime-caked stairs to the ground-floor cafe.

In his 50s, Simintov is the last known Afghan Jew to remain in the country. He has become something of a celebrity over the years and his rivalry with the next-to-last Jew, who died in 2005, inspired a play.

Mindful of Afghanistan's extremely conservative Muslim culture, Simintov tries not to advertise his identity to protect the Balkh Bastan or Ancient Balkh kebab cafe he opened four years ago, naming it after a northern Afghan province.
"All food here is prepared by Muslims," he said.

Now the cafe, neat and shiny, faces closure because kebabs are not selling well - largely because of deteriorating security in Kabul that has made people frightened to eat out or visit the city.

Simintov used to rely on hotel catering orders, but even these have dried up as foreign troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, further weakening security and investment.

"Hotels used to order food for 400 to 500 people. Four or five stoves were busy from afternoon to evening," he said.

"I plan to close my restaurant next March and rent its space."

Read article in full (including video clip)

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