Zabulon Simantov laying tefillin at the synagogue in Kabul
Zabulon Simantov laying tefillin at the synagogue in Kabul
Photo: Reuters
Zabulon Simantov blows the shofar at the last synagogue in Kabul

Afghanistan's last living Jew finally leaving for Israel

Zabulon Simantov, 61, stayed behind in Kabul when family made aliya in 1998, in order to look after country's sole remaining synagogue; I'm going to watch TV in Israel to find out what's going to happen in Afghanistan,' he says

Ynet |
Published: 04.05.21 , 15:13
Zabulon Simantov, the last known Jewish person living in Afghanistan, is leaving for Israel more than two decades after his family moved there and left him behind.
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  • According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Simantov stayed behind to care for the last synagogue standing in the country, situated in Kabul, as Afghanistan was wracked with violence and instability.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    Zabulon Simantov blows the shofar at the last synagogue in Kabul
    Zabulon Simantov blows the shofar at the last synagogue in Kabul
    Zabulon Simantov blows the shofar at the last synagogue in Kabul
    (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)
    He stayed throughout the rule of the extremist Taliban movement and the ensuing invasion by the U.S. and its allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C..
    “I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here,” Simantov told Arab News.
    Speaking to Foreign Policy magazine in 2019, Simantov harshly criticized the Taliban, saying they "brought a lot of bloodshed and terrorized Kabul and many other parts of the country."
    Simantov was not the only Jew in the country until 2005, when his coreligionist and frequent sparring partner Isaac Levy passed away aged around 80. The two had a much-reported fractious relationship, fighting to such a degree that the Taliban regime even jailed the two.
    The Taliban "beat me a lot. I was imprisoned a several times because of this charlatan Levy. He wanted to get rid of me to sell the synagogue. But thank God he was not successful,” Simantov told Foreign Policy in 2019.
    The rivalry between the two men also became the subject of a stage play.
    The 61-year-old carpet and jewelry salesman says he will be immigrating in the fall, reuniting with his wife and their two daughters who made aliya in 1998.
    "I'm going to watch TV in Israel to find out what's going to happen in Afghanistan," he said.
    Simantov was born in Herat, the third largest city in the country and the cradle of Jewish culture in Afghanistan.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    Zabulon Simantov laying tefillin at the synagogue in Kabul
    Zabulon Simantov laying tefillin at the synagogue in Kabul
    Zabulon Simantov laying tefillin at the synagogue in Kabul
    (Photo: Reuters)
    He relocated to Kabul before fleeing to Tajikistan in 1992, and then returned to live in the Afghan capital.
    Simantov's departure means that the Kabul synagogue will close, bringing Jewish life in the country to an end after 2,000 years or more.
    The Afghan Jewish community is one of the oldest in Central Asia, once numbering over 80,000 members.
    In 1951 the Jews were allowed to leave the country, the majority flew to Israel. Over 10,000 Afghan Jews or their descendants currently live in Israel.
    Little is known about the origins of Afghan Jews, who some believe may have lived here more than 2,000 years ago. A cache of 11th century scrolls recently discovered in the north provided the first opportunity to study poems, commercial records and judicial agreements of the time.

    i24NEWS contributed to this report

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