Last Jew in Afghanistan Faces Ruin as Economy Withers

Zabulon Simintov's Kabul Kebab Shop Empty

Bad Times: Zabulon Simintov, thought to be Afghanistan’s last Jew, is facing ruin as his cafe business dries up.
Bad Times: Zabulon Simintov, thought to be Afghanistan’s last Jew, is facing ruin as his cafe business dries up.

By Reuters

Published November 12, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

The community was several thousand strong at the turn of the 20th century, spread across several cities but having limited contact with fellow Jews abroad. They later left the country en masse, mostly for the newly created state of Israel.

Simintov’s wife and daughters also left for the Jewish state, but he decided to stay behind with his Afghan “brothers”.

DUSTY AND DILAPIDATED

A native of the western border city of Herat, the cradle of Jewish culture in Afghanistan, Simintov displays dog-eared posters and prayer books when he shows visitors around the dilapidated synagogue.

He pulled a “shofar” - the ram’s horn used for Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the day of atonement - from a dusty cupboard and blew into it with little effect. Simintov also maintains a nearby cemetery, marked by little more than a few broken pieces of stone in an unkempt yard.

Other religions have fared even worse than Judaism.

There are no Afghan Christians left, at least none who is open about it, and the only permanent church is inside the Italian diplomatic compound. There is a small Hindu population, but it is shrinking rapidly.

Simintov’s personal ill fortune is linked to the increasing risks of running a business.

More than a dozen years since the U.S.-led invasion toppled the hardline Taliban movement to end its five years in power, fear of bombs, shootings and crime is still part of daily life.

Simintov said the cafe had lost $45,000 and all the valuables collected by his father were stolen before the Taliban were ousted in 2001. He hopes that renting the cafe’s space might generate enough money to renovate the synagogue.

Much of the whitewashed building’s interior, including the synagogue’s floors and walls, are covered in a black film. It survived the Taliban, but the contents were ransacked.

However resolute Simintov remains about practising his faith, he is embittered - even enraged - by misfortune and by the failure of the U.S-led NATO force to create conditions for peace and security without the threat of the Taliban.

“It is better to see a dog than to see an American,” he said. “If the situation in the country gets worse, I will escape.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.