In 2005, one of the two remaining Jews in Afghanistan—a country that has been home to Jews for at least a millennium—died, leaving Zebulon Simentov with the role of the country’s Last Jew. Now he too has left. Dara Horn observes:
Dozens of countries around the world have had their Last Jews. . . . Places around the world now largely devoid of Jews have come to think fondly of the dead Jews who once shared their streets, and an entire industry has emerged to encourage tourism to these now historical sites. The locals in such places rarely minded when living Jews were either massacred or driven out. But now they pine for the dead Jews, lovingly restoring their synagogues and cemeteries—sometimes while also pining for live Jewish tourists and their magic Jewish money.
It’s apparently in poor taste to point out why people like Mr. Simentov wind up as “Last Jews” to begin with: people decided they no longer wanted to live with those who weren’t exactly like themselves. Nostalgic stories about Last Jews mask a much larger and darker reality about societies that were once ethnic and religious mosaics, but are now home to almost no one but Arab Muslims, Lithuanian Catholics, or Han Chinese. It costs little to wax nostalgic about departed Jews when one lives in a place where diversity, rather than being a living human challenge, is a fairy tale from the past. There is only one way to be.
The cynical use of bygone Jews to “inspire” us can verge on the absurd, but that absurdity isn’t so far-off from our own lip service to diversity, where those who differ from us are wonderful, so long as they see things our way.