The last Jew in Afghanistan

Nick Reed, Scarlet Staff

The United States has officially pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving behind a swath of destruction, pain, and fear as the Taliban surge to fill the power vacuum we left behind. What has resulted is a new age of uncertainty, another dark spot in global memory of American foreign interventionism: Kabul, the Saigon of our generation.

The fates of millions of women, girls, human rights activists, and countless others have been left in limbo as a result. However, it is the fate of one peculiar man that draws me in more than anything else. Zablon Simintov – Afghanistan’s last Jew. 

There’s an old Jewish adage that, to paraphrase, says no matter where in the world you go, you’ll find Jews. Once upon a time, this sentiment wasn’t even hyperbolic; there were entrenched Jewish communities in such disparate far-off places as China, India, Argentina, and Uganda. These peoples made up – and to a large degree still make up – the diverse fabric that is world Jewry. 

Afghanistan isn’t any different, with an ancient Jewish community known as the Bukharan Jews existing in the country for thousands of years. They once flourished, cementing themselves as pillars within Afghan society as traders and artisans. 

Today, however, like over much of the world there isn’t much left of Afghanistan’s Jewish population. It’s just lonely old Shiminov and his synagogue in Kabul. 

Shiminov is an oddity – a relic of a bygone age when Jews not only proliferated throughout strange foreign lands  but identified with those nations. While his family and the rest of Afghanistan’s Jews have fled or emigrated to Israel and the United States, he has remained, steadfast in his conviction to preserve his country’s ancient and storied culture. 

This is nothing shocking. Much of the world’s Jewish community has disappeared, fleeing into the shadows. In communities once foundational to Jewish culture such as Egypt and Yemen – there is nothing or almost nothing left. Afghanistan is following close behind. 

Now that the Taliban has returned to power, the fate of Afghanistan’s last Jew – like the fate of many other Afghans – remains in question. The Taliban has promised to leave him be, to let him practice his ancient religion in peace, though anyone with a basic knowledge of history knows the questionable probability of this statement. 

It’s easy to go around pointing fingers at the United States and the west at large for the fate that’s befallen Afghanistan. Though it wouldn’t be wrong, placing blame without encouraging action solves little. The fate of thousands of people remains unchanged, held in limbo by a radical state. 

It’s strange to live through history, not always know it’s happening when it’s happening. But someday, probably someday soon, the last Jew in Afghanistan will pass away, taking with him a part of history. We live in a changing world, don’t we?