Since the death of his coreligionist (and rival) Isaak Levi, Zebulon Simentov has been the last Jew in Afghanistan. He still makes a living as a kosher butcher (local Muslims consider his meat halal) and as the proprietor of a kebab restaurant. He also gives interviews for a fee. In telling his story, Emran Feroz also offers highlights from the history of a once-sizable community:
On Flower Sellers’ Street, in the Kabul district of Shar-e Nao, everyone knows Zebulon Simentov—Zebulon the Jew, as most people here call him. . . . It is thought that 40,000 Jews were still living in Afghanistan in the 1930s. In the majority-Muslim nation, the minority was not only tolerated, but also enjoyed a special status. To this day, people retell legends claiming that the Pashtun, [the country’s dominant ethnic group], were originally descended from one of the lost tribes of Israel.
Ethnically speaking, however, the Afghan Jews were not Pashtun, but Persian speakers. More specifically the people in question are Bukharan [i.e., Central Asian] Jews who settled in Afghanistan centuries ago, primarily in the western part of the country, in the region around Herat. . . .
A large number of Afghan Jews emigrated upon the foundation of Israel, but many also remained. . . . It wasn’t until the start of the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the ensuing years of devastation that the Jewish population shrank rapidly. Most of them emigrated to Israel and the United States.