In his own words, he was still ‘the only Jew in Afghanistan’. And Zebulun Shimentov, who dwelt in a dilapidated synagogue in Kabul, left the country this week. He took a bus to neighbouring Tajikistan.
Moti Kahana, an American-Israeli businessman who organized the evacuation, told AP. The 62-year-old Simentov, was not so much afraid of the Taliban, and the Islamic State in Afghanistan over the past few years, a large number of attacks are carried out. Kahana and others nevertheless had to talk Simentov into it for a few weeks to convince him that it was better to leave.
The history of the Jewish community in Afghanistan goes back over a thousand years. Many Jews came from Persia, fleeing forced conversion to Islam. By the end of the 19th century, the country had about 40 thousand Jews. Many left after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Most of the others fled after the invasion by the Red Army in 1979.
During the Taliban’s previous reign, 1996-2001, there were only two Jews left in Afghanistan. Simentov then lived in the same synagogue with Ishaq Levin, 35 years older. However, the two men could not stand each other and avoided each other as much as possible.
Wild accusations flew back and forth. Levin claimed that Simentov was an Israeli spy, and Levin was accused by his roommate of running a brothel. Because of the allegations, the two men were brutally questioned by the Taliban, but otherwise they were left alone. However, the Taliban seized the Torah.
When Levin died in 2005 at the age of 80, Simentov showed relief. “He was crazy. He wanted to have me killed’. “Now I’m the only Jew here. I’m the boss.’
Simentov ran a diner until a few years ago. Reporters who visited him from time to time (and had to pay excessive amounts for an interview) met a fat man who loved whiskey and watched Afghan TV. He had a parrot for company.
Simentov’s wife and two daughters departed a long time ago; they lived in Israel. However, for years he stubbornly refused to agree to a divorce. It took businessman Kahana days of talking to get Simentov to apply for divorce papers anyway. If he did not do so, he could have trouble with justice when he arrived in Israel, if he wanted to go there. For the time being, he hopes to be able to stay in the US.