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Zabulon Simantov spent decades guarding Afghanistan’s only existing synagogue, but he is finally making Aliyah later this year.
By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel
The man known as the “last Jew in Afghanistan” says that after decades of watching over the country’s only remaining synagogue, he has had enough and will move to Israel later this year, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) reported this week.
Zabulon Simantov, 61, said he will leave Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul after the High Holiday season in the fall and join his wife and daughters in Israel.
As Afghanistan’s Jews fled over the years from the civil war in their country, Simantov committed to staying, only leaving in 1992 for a few years to neighboring Tajikistan when life in Kabul was too dangerous. He met his wife there and they have two daughters, but Simantov returned to Kabul when his family moved to Israel in 1998.
He has maintained the synagogue throughout the turmoil there, but has finally decided it’s time to leave. With the peace process with the Taliban on shaky ground and American forces expected to be pulled out, he is afraid the future will be a return to chaos.
“If the Taliban return, they are going to push us out with a slap in the face,” Simantov told Radio Free Europe last week for an article on the exodus of many of the country’s minority populations.
As the only known Jew in Afghanistan, he is often sought out by news reporters for his views.
“I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here, stood against the [jihadists] and the Taliban,” he said in a recent interview with the Saudi-based Arab News, adding that he rarely leaves the building with the synagogue where he lives in Kabul out of fear of crime and terrorist bombings.
Once he is gone, he said, he’ll be like the other Afghans forced to flee their country.
“I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” he told Arab News.
Census-taking was not accurate, but it is estimated that there were as many as 40,000 Jews in Afghanistan in the late 19th century, after Persian Jews fled forced conversion in neighboring Iran, but by the mid-20th century, only about 5,000 remained, and most emigrated to Israel after 1948, the Associated Press reported.
According to JTA, Simantov will have plenty of company: Over 10,000 Afghan Jews or their descendants are currently living in Israel.