In plot twist after plot twist it appears that the last Jew of Afghanistan is staying despite the Taliban’s takeover of the country.
Zebulon Simantov, 62, reportedly refused an offer to immigrate to the United States and then news came that he would not make Aliyah to Israel despite a direct appeal by the chief rabbi of Moscow.
The whereabouts of Simantov following the immediate fall of Kabul were unknown and there was an international effort to try and locate him.
A carpet and jewelry-seller, Simantov is still living in Kabul and is the caretaker of Afghanistan’s only remaining synagogue. He announced in late March that he was closing up shop and planned to finally leave Afghanistan this year after the High Holidays.
Despite the very public announcement of his decision to leave Simantov is staying put, apparently due to a dispute with his get, or Jewish divorce. The Taliban told an Israeli news outlet that they would allow Simantov to stay, saying they would “respect the rights of minorities in Afghanistan.”
“I don’t know the last Jew,” the spokesman told Kan News.
“We don’t harm minorities. There are Sikhs and Hindus in the country, and they have their religious freedom.”
“People don’t need to fear and run away,” he added.
“I don’t understand why people are running away, nothing will happen here,” he said. “We want to make sure there will be peace, not like in the past.”
It was unclear if the Taliban spokesman knew that he was talking to an Israeli news outlet.
Simantov was born in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, which once boasted a Jewish population in the hundreds. He moved to Tajikistan in 1992 following the Taliban’s first takeover of the country but returned to Kabul after they were ousted by American forces. His wife and two children have been living in Israel for the last 20 years.
There has been a Jewish population in Afghanistan for nearly 2,000 years with an estimated 40,000 Jews living in the country in the early 1900s. The majority started immigrating to Israel or the United States in the 1950s and by 1979 Soviet invasion most of the community was gone.
Originally Published Aug 27 2021 10:55AM EDT