Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Special Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
With Zabulon Simintov’s departure, Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan. (Supplied)
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Updated 04 April 2021

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave

Kabul’s ‘Jewish lion’ prepares to leave
  • Last known Afghan Jew who defied the Taliban says he has lost hope for peace

KABUL: Zabulon Simintov is having a Passover meal in a solitary celebration of the Jewish holiday — the last one he is likely to observe in Afghanistan.

Now in his late 50s, Simintov has lived in Kabul through some of the capital’s darkest eras, witnessing a civil war, Soviet and US invasions, Taliban rule and the looming end to America’s decades-long engagement in the country, which he fears will plunge Afghanistan into chaos again.

After losing hope in the peace process, Simintov — the last known Afghan Jew remaining in the country — is preparing to leave.

“I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” he told Arab News.

“I have had enough and plan to leave in the next few months,” he said after reading passages from Jewish scripture at his home in a dilapidated compound that also houses Kabul’s last synagogue.

The Kabul synagogue, established in 1966, has been the only synagogue in Afghanistan for the past two decades, after all Jews have left Herat, the western Afghan city that once hosted four Jewish places of worship.

Although little is known about the origins of Judaism in Afghanistan, it is believed that Jews came to the region about 2,000 years ago.

Until the mid-20th century, hundreds of Jewish families lived peacefully in the Muslim-majority country.

Simintov, a carpet and jewelry merchant, who twice served in the Afghan army, said the best period for Jews in Afghanistan was during the country’s monarchical era, which ended in 1973.

But the gradual departure of Jews began earlier, in the late 1940s, after the creation of Israel. Many left in the 1980s following the Soviet invasion, while others fled during the subsequent civil war under the mujahideen. The remaining ones later escaped Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001.

Simintov spends most of his time in the synagogue compound.

“I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here, stood against the mujahideen and the Taliban,” he proudly said, adding that now he rarely steps out, fearing increasing crime and bomb attacks in Kabul.

Despite his hostility toward the Taliban, he admitted the city was safer under their administration.

With Simintov’s departure, the synagogue will close, and Judaism will come to an end in Afghanistan.

Although he has relatives in New York and photographs at his home show him with US officials visiting Kabul, Simintov is highly critical of American policies in Afghanistan, which he believes seek to bring down President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

“The US makes a mess of the place wherever it goes — Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan are good examples. It is hypocrital, pursues double policies,” he said.

“America is lying and will not leave soon.”  

“This country has no future and will become worse than Syria,” Simintov added. “There are groups and leaders within Afghanistan and the region who are seeking to benefit from its instability.”