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The Last Jew of Afghanistan and His Almost-Vanished Community

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.

Read more at Qantara

More about: Afghanistan, Bukharan Jews, Jewish World, Mizrahi Jewry

Israel’s Economy Thrives While the Middle East Disintegrates

Jan. 19 2018

Now that the data have come in from 2017, it is clear that the Israeli economy had another successful year, expanding at a rate higher than that of any other advanced country. Israel’s per-capita GDP also grew, placing it above those of France and Japan. Daniel Kryger notes some of the implications regarding the Jewish state’s place in the Middle East:

The contrast between first-world Israel and the surrounding third-world Arab states is larger today than ever before. Israel’s GDP per capita is almost twenty times the GDP per capita of impoverished Egypt and five times larger than semi-developed Lebanon.

Like any human project, Israel is a never-ending work in progress and much work remains to integrate ḥaredi Jews and Israeli Arabs into Israel’s knowledge economy. Properly addressing Israel’s high costs of living requires more economic and legislative reforms and breaking up inefficient oligopolies that keep the prices artificially high. However, by any standard, the reborn Jewish state is a remarkable success story. . . .

Much has changed since OPEC launched its oil embargo against the West after the failed Arab aggression against Israel in October 1973. Before the collapse of the pro-Arab Soviet empire, China and India had no official ties with Israel and many Western and Japanese companies avoided doing business with Israel. Collapsing oil prices have dramatically eroded the power of oil-producing countries. It has become obvious that the future belongs to those who innovate, not those who happen to sit on oil. Israel has today strong commercial ties with China and a thriving partnership with India. Business delegations from Jamaica to Japan are eager to do business with Israel and benefit from Israel’s expertise. . . .

[For its part], the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement may bully Jewish and pro-Israel students on Western campuses. However, in real life, BDS stands no chance of succeeding against Israel. The reason is simple: reborn Israel has . . . become too valuable a player in the global economy.

Read more at Mida

More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Middle East, OPEC