Afghanistan’s last Jew is staying (for personal reasons)

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Zebulon Simantov reads his old tatered hebrew prayer book as he celebrates the Jewish New Year feast of Rosh Hashanah September 18, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Zebulon, 57, claims to be the last Jew living in the war-torn conservative Muslim country and says he keeps a Kosher home. The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, coincides this year with Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Born in northwestern Herat, Simantov attended Hebrew school before moving to Kabul at age 27. In 1992, he fled to Tajikistan, fleeing from Afghanistan's growing violence, married a Tajik Jew and had two daughters. The family immigrated in 1998 to Israel, but he returned to Kabul two months later, leaving them behind. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

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.

Zebulon Simantov (L) sits in his home while Shir Gul Ameri, 22, prays, as he gets ready for the Jewish New Year feast of Rosh Hashanah September 18, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Zebulon, 57, claims to be the last Jew living in the war-torn conservative Muslim country and says he keeps a Kosher home. The Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah, coincides this year with Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Born in northwestern Herat, Simantov attended Hebrew school before moving to Kabul at age 27. In 1992, he fled to Tajikistan, fleeing from Afghanistan’s growing violence, married a Tajik Jew and had two daughters. The family immigrated in 1998 to Israel, but he returned to Kabul two months later, leaving them behind. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

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.

A Jewish cemetery in Herat, Afghanistan. (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

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.

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