Whereabouts of Afghanistan’s last remaining Jew unknown after Taliban takeover

Zebulon Simantov was supposed to leave Afghanistan after the High Holidays.
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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)

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated here. Simantov has decided to stay in Afghanistan despite an international appeal to get him to leave.

The fate of Afghanistan’s only remaining Jew is unknown following the Taliban’s takeover of the country.

Zebulon Simantov, 62, was last reported to be living in Kabul and is the caretaker of Afghanistan’s only synagogue. The carpet and jewelry-seller announced in late March that he was closing up shop and planned to finally leave Afghanistan this year after the High Holidays.

Zebulon Simantov touches the grave of his family members buried over 20 years ago, a tradition for him to visit before the eve of 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: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

“After our important festivals I will leave Afghanistan,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “If you decide to leave then it is difficult to stay,” he added. “If the Taliban return, they are going to push us out with a slap in the face.”

Thousands of people have flocked to Kabul’s airport this weekend hoping to grab one of the last flights out of Afghanistan. Many fear reprisal killings by the Taliban and the U.S. government said that it would evacuate any “particularly vulnerable Afghan nationals.”

Zebulon Simantov eats squash 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: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

“God willing, I cannot say seven to eight months, but I will definitely leave by the time the Taliban come,” Simentov told the Voice of America in June.

“They know that I am working on it, getting my passport and leaving,” he added in the VOA interview.

It is unknown if Simantov left before the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan capital over the weekend and Unpacked has reached out to the Israeli Foreign Ministry for clarification. There has been no followup reporting since his announcement and no indication if he made Aliyah. His wife and two daughters have been living in Israel for the past 20 years.

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: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Simantov was born in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city, which once boasted a Jewish population in the hundreds. He moved to Tajikstan in 1992 following the Taliban’s first takeover of the country but returned to Kabul after they were ousted by American forces.

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

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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