The Last Afghan Jew Prepares to Say Farewell

May 4, 2021 | Sam Raskin
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Since the U.S. announced its decision to remove all its troops from Afghanistan by September, there is widespread fear that the Taliban will soon vanquish the national government. Having lived through the Islamist group’s rule once already, the country’s last Jew has decided to leave. Sam Raskin writes:

Zebulon Simentov, who was born in the 1950s, has remained in the country throughout a Soviet invasion, imprisonment, and the Taliban’s reign—but the group’s potential resurgence may be the last straw. . . . “Why should I stay? They call me an infidel,” Simentov told [reporters]. Simentov, who lives in Kabul in its only synagogue, said he might move to Israel, where his wife and two daughters live, according to reports.

When the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist group, ruled much of the country from 1996 through 2001, Simentov was imprisoned four times by the “disgraceful” movement, he said. They also tried to convert him. . . . At one point while in prison, the obstinate Simentov argued so vehemently with the then-only other Jew in the country, who has since died, that they were both booted from prison.

Jewish merchants lived and traded in Afghanistan since at least the 7th century, arriving there from nearby Persia—although a local tradition has it that Afghan Jews are descended from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. For most of the community’s history, the largest Jewish population was concentrated in the northwestern city of Herat, where Simentov himself was born, and which was home to a few hundred Jews in the 20th century. Now Afghan Jewry has gone the way of many Jewish communities of the Islamic world.

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