The last, last Jew? Simentov’s relative flees Afghanistan after Taliban take power

AP – For years, Zebulon Simentov called himself the “last Jew in Afghanistan,” the only remnant of a century-old community. He charged journalists for interviews and held court in Kabul’s only remaining synagogue. Last month he left the country for Istanbul after the Taliban seized power.

Now it seems that it was not the last.

Simentov’s distant cousin, Tova Moradi, was born and raised in Kabul and lived there until last week, more than a month after Simentov left in September. Fearing for their safety, Moradi, his children and nearly two dozen grandchildren fled the country in recent weeks in an escape orchestrated by an Israeli aid group, activists and prominent Jewish philanthropists.

“I loved my country, I loved it very much, but I had to leave because my children were in danger,” Moradi told The Associated Press from his modest accommodation in the Albanian town of Golem, whose beachside resorts have been converted into houses. improvised for some. 2,000 Afghan refugees.

Moradi, 83, was one of 10 children of a Jewish family in Kabul. At 16, she ran away from home and married a Muslim. She never converted to Islam, she kept some Jewish traditions, and it was no secret in her neighborhood that she was Jewish.

“She never denied her Judaism, she married to save her life, since you cannot be sure as a child in Afghanistan,” Moradi’s daughter, Khorshid, told the AP from her home in Canada, where she and three of her members The brothers moved in after the Taliban first seized power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Afghan Jew Zebulon Simentov blows a shofar horn at a synagogue located in an old building in Kabul on April 5, 2021 (WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP).

Despite the friction over her decision to marry outside of the faith, Moradi said she remained in contact with some members of her family over the years. His parents and siblings fled Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1980s. His parents are buried in Jerusalem’s Har Menuhot Cemetery, and many of his surviving siblings and their descendants live in Israel.

But until this week, she hadn’t spoken to some of her sisters in more than half a century.

“Yesterday I saw my sisters, nieces and nephews after about 60 years through a video call. We talked for hours, ”Moradi said. “I was very happy, I saw his children and they met mine.”

“They said ‘it’s like she’s coming back from the grave,'” Khorshid said.

During the first term of the Taliban rule, from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, Moradi tried to keep a low profile. But he risked his life hiding Rabbi Isaak Levi, one of the few remaining Afghan Jews, from the Taliban.

Levi and Simentov lived together for years in Kabul’s decrepit synagogue, but they despised each other and fought often. The Taliban usually left them alone, but intervened during one of those disputes, arresting, beating, and confiscating the synagogue’s old Torah scroll, which disappeared after the Taliban were ousted from power.

Tova Moradi, 83, an Afghan Jewish woman who fled Kabul this month with her relatives with the help of an Israeli aid group, speaks to the Associated Press at a resort hosting Afghan refugees in Golem, 45 kilometers west. from Albania’s capital Tirana on October 27, 2021 (AP Photo / Franc Zhurda)

“Isaak came to our house during the Taliban and we hid him for a month,” Moradi said, as her grandson helped her tell the story. They said that when the Taliban came looking for him, they said he was a Muslim. He made preparations to smuggle the rabbi out of the country, but his health deteriorated and he died in 2005. Simentov said he was happy to get rid of him.

Levi’s remains were transferred to Israel for burial, and Moradi has kept his old passport as a souvenir.

When the Taliban returned to power in August, weeks before the United States completed its withdrawal after 20 years of war, Moradi and his family feared for their lives.

The Taliban have vowed to restore peace and security to the country after decades of conflict, but the most radical Islamic State group targets those who do not share its extreme ideology, including the Taliban themselves.

Khorshid said a relative had met an Orthodox Jewish businessman in Toronto, Joseph Friedberg, some years ago. After the fall of Kabul, he met Friedberg and sought help.

“He came to me and said ‘they’re going to kill my mother,'” Friedberg said. Friedberg said he reached out to IsraAid, an Israeli non-governmental humanitarian organization.

Taliban fighters atop Humvees prepare before parading down a road to celebrate after the United States withdrew all its troops from Afghanistan, in Kandahar, on September 1, 2021, following the military takeover of the country by the Taliban. (Javed Tanveer / AFP)

IsraAid CEO Yotam Polizer said the organization, which has provided aid in the aftermath of disasters like the Japanese tsunami in 2011 and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, had already successfully pulled the Afghan women’s cycling team and dozens of others. Afghans from the country when he found out. about Moradi and his family.

He said the two-month effort to get them out was assisted by Afghan diplomats abroad, the office of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Jewish businessmen, including Israeli-Kazakh billionaire Alexander Mashkevich and Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams, who made contacts in Israel. , Albania, Canada and Tajikistan to help facilitate the family’s escape.

Mashkevich said that “it involved all my friends, because it was very difficult.”

The Israeli president’s office declined to comment.

Asylum seekers from Afghanistan arrive in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on September 6, 2021. (IsraAID)

“We are very grateful that they are safe now,” Khorshid said. “For the last two months since the Taliban took office, I did not sleep at night.”

Now Moradi and six of his relatives are in Albania, and another 25 relatives arrived in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates earlier this week. They hope to secure passage to Canada to reunite with their children who live there.

But he also expressed his hope that he would be able to visit Israel, see his siblings and pray at his parents’ graves in Jerusalem. His family in Israel could not be reached for comment.

“We still need them to get to their final destination,” Polizer said. “We are concerned that they will be trapped in limbo.”

Adams, the Israeli-Canadian businessman, said he appealed to the office of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada’s immigration minister on Moradi’s behalf in an effort to secure visas for the family. But the efforts were hampered by the Canadian elections in September.

“We are in close contact and are trying to put the right amount of urgency in describing his plight,” Adams said.

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