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.

(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.”



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