After decades, the ‘last jew’ in Afghanistan mulls exit

Simentov dreads the Taliban’s return

For decades, Zebulon Simentov refused to leave Afghanistan, surviving a Soviet invasion, deadly civil war, the brutal rule by the Taliban and the U.S.-led occupation of his homeland. But for Afghanistan’s last Jew, the prospect of the Taliban’s return has him preparing to say goodbye.

“They [the Taliban] call me an infidel,” Mr. Simentov told AFP at Kabul’s only synagogue. “I’m the last, the only Jew in Afghanistan … It could get worse for me here. I have decided to leave for Israel if the Taliban returns.”

That appears likely given the deal struck by Washington to withdraw all U.S. forces by later this year, and the ongoing peace talks between the insurgents and the Afghan government.

Born in the 1950s in the western city of Herat, Mr. Simentov moved to Kabul during the Soviet invasion in the early 1980s for the capital’s then relative stability. Jews lived in Afghanistan for more than 2,500 years, thousands once residing in Herat. But they steadily left the country since the 19th century. Over the decades, all of Simentov’s relatives left, including his wife and two daughters.

Mr. Simentov fondly remembers the years before the Soviet war as the best time for Afghanistan. But events since have made him bitter — particularly the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, when the Islamists tried to convert him. “This disgraceful Taliban regime put me in prison four times,” he said.

He says when the Taliban were ousted in 2001, he believed that Afghanistan would prosper. “I thought the Europeans and Americans would fix this country … but that didn’t happen.”

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