After all, he is not the last Jew in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, once home to a Jewish community of nearly 50,000 members, said goodbye to its last Jewish inhabitant, Zebulon Simantov. Simantov was famous for being the last remaining Jew in the country since the only other remaining Jew, who had a famous feud with Simantov in a story that was eventually adapted into a British play, passed away in 2005. Known locally as simply “The Jew,” Simantov had become something of an international celebrity, happily giving interviews to foreign journalists and was universally known to members of the community, including Taliban officials.

Now it seems the fanfare may have been misplaced.

A woman named Tova Moradi, 83, fled Kabul with her more than 20 grandchildren last month in an escape orchestrated by the humanitarian organization IsraAid. Born into a Jewish family of ten children in Kabul, she ran away from home at 16 and married a Muslim.

Although the local Jewish community overruled her, she never converted to Islam, kept some Jewish traditions, and was known in her neighborhood as a Jew. “She never denied her Judaism, she married to save her life as you cannot be safe as a child in Afghanistan,” Moradi’s daughter Khorshid told the Associated Press.

Moradi noted that his parents and brother fled Afghanistan in the 1960s and 1980s. Many of his surviving siblings and their descendants live in Israel; his parents are even buried in Jerusalem’s Har Menuchot Cemetery. As of this week, however, he hadn’t spoken to some of his siblings 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.”

“It’s like he’s come back from the grave,” Khorshid said.

Moradi had to flee Afghanistan under tense circumstances as the country’s government fell to a resurgent Taliban last August. Moradi and her family were among the various cavalry fleeing the impending Taliban rule, which included women’s rights groups, Afghan informants and translators, military soldiers from the then government and even President Ashraf Ghani.

“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. Moradi has been stationed in a makeshift camp for Afghan refugees in Albania since she was rescued, though arrangements are being made for her to visit Israel, where most of her family lives, and eventually settle in Canada, where her children reside. “We still need them to reach their final destination,” said IsraAid CEO Yotam Polizer. “We are concerned that they will be trapped in limbo.”

Potentially the last resident Jew of Afghanistan, Moradi is actually a distant cousin of the self-proclaimed “Last Jew of Afghanistan”, Zebulon Simantov. Although it was not originally a target of the regime, it housed Yitzhak Levi, one of the remaining Jews in Afghanistan in the 21st century, during the initial reign of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, going so far as to tell authorities that he was Muslim and making plans to help. Levi escapes from Afghanistan.

Yitzhak Levi was famous for fighting with the other “last Jew in Afghanistan”, Zebulon Simantov. The two remaining known Jews in Afghanistan shared the country’s last remaining synagogue as their domicile, but they quickly began to hate each other. They held separate prayer services, had vicious shouting matches that neighbors could hear from a block away, and were quick to point fingers when precious Judaica disappeared.

Simantov, an Afghan Jew, prays at his residence in Kabul (credit: REUTERS)

Simantov told SFGate in 2007 that the dispute started when Jewish elders told him to help Levi, more than 20 years his senior, make “aliyah” and emigrate to Israel. Levi did not back down, accusing Simantov of wanting to sell the synagogue for profit, which Simantov quickly accused Levi of doing himself.

Simantov and Levy, who prayed daily and kept kosher, continued to fight until the latter’s death in 2005. In 1998, Levi wrote to the Taliban interior minister, accusing Simantov of stealing Jewish relics. Simantov responded by telling the Taliban that Levi had a secret brothel where he sold alcohol, which Levi denies. Simantov also spread rumors that Levi had converted to Islam, which Levi also denied.

“I don’t talk to him, he’s the devil … a dog is better than him … I don’t have many complaints about the Taliban, but I have many complaints about him.” “Simantov told The New York Times in 2002. They also denounced each other to the Taliban as spies for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, prompting the Taliban police to beat them and eventually put them in jail, though they were eventually expelled when they continued fighting inside the prison.

The dispute was so intense that when Levi passed away (to Simantov’s delight), the Afghan police suspected that Simantov had murdered Levi himself, until a post-mortem examination showed that diabetes was the leading cause of death. Simantov and Levi’s relationship was captured in the 2006 British black comedy play “My Brother’s Keeper.”

As the old saying goes: “Two Jews, three opinions.” Although it may not be the title of “Last Jew in Afghanistan,” Moradi is quite possibly the last Afghan of Jewish descent to be in the country, and perhaps the last to leave. Regardless, the once vibrant Jewish communities of Kabul and Herat, Afghanistan, no longer exist. All that remains is the synagogue, and although its ownership is disputed, what is not disputed is that the synagogue may not house another Jew for centuries.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *