Skip

"...now I am the Jew here, I am the boss."
March 2, 2012 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Afghan Jewry may date back 2700 years. Today, there is but one: Zablon Simintov.

Zablon, of Turkmen-Afghan descent, is a carpet trader and the caretaker of the only synagogue in Kabul.

Zablon had a feud with Ishaq Levin, the second-to-last Jew of Afghanistan.

The two, together (but in separate rooms), lived in the ruins of the last remaining synagogue in Kabul starting in or around 1998, but quickly had a falling out: Simintov suggested that Levin, then in his late 70s, move to Israel, to escape the bitter cold weather in Kabul. Levin took it as an affront, the two quarreled, and each reported the other to the Taliban for various alleged wrongdoings. Each ended up imprisoned by the Taliban.

Ishaq died in 2005. "I was glad when he died. I didn't speak to him for years. He tried to get me killed."

Last year, Zeblon transformed the ground floor of his synagogue in to a commercial space. Zeblon lives upstairs, in a small pink room. He slaughters his own chickens and sheep in keeping with kosher dietary laws. Normally, only a specially designated person can do this, but Simantov said he got permission to do so from a rabbi in Uzbekistan because he's going it alone.

The majority of Jews of Afghan descent, including Zeblon's wife and children, now live in Israel, with the second largest population based in Queens.



In other Afghan Jewry news:

A trove of medieval scrolls, smuggled out of Afghanistan into the hands of London art dealers, could shed new light on a once-vibrant Jewish heritage.

Former synagogues in Western Afghanistan, until recently disused, are being converted into schools.

A recent essay: The story of the Afghan Jews is one of remarkable tolerance.
posted by timshel (36 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's a story I read once. It's told by a survivor of the Holocaust.
I was a young man in Poland. I knew this other man. For some reason, he always ended up driving me into a rage. I wanted to beat him with a stick.

The war came. Decades passed before I saw him again. When we met, he asked about my people. All dead, I told him. I asked about his people. All dead, he said. We shared our grief.

Then we spoke of other things. Soon I found myself in a rage. I wanted to beat him with a stick.
posted by Trurl at 6:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [16 favorites]


Today, there is but one:

I do not wish to derail what appears to be an interesting FPP, but I would like to point out that there are at present 98,250 American troops in Afghanistan as well as soldiers from about 48 other countries as part of the International Security and Assistance Force. Whilst Israel is conspicuously absent, contributing no forces whatsoever to combatting the Taliban, surely some of these other soldiers are Jewish and they are most certainly count, at least for the moment, as "Jews in Afghanistan."

Whether or not one thinks these soldiers should be there, let's respect the sacrifice these poor slobs are making.
posted by three blind mice at 6:58 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


surely some of these other soldiers are Jewish and they are most certainly count, at least for the moment, as "Jews in Afghanistan."

But they (very likely) aren't Afghan Jews (i.e. of Afghan descent).
posted by jedicus at 7:01 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


timshel: " The majority of Jews of Afghan descent, including Zeblon's wife and children, now live in Israel, with the second largest population based in Queens."

The shul in Queens is Anshei Shalom, and it's located in Jamaica Estates. (This may be their website.)

After 9/11, the NYTimes interviewed their rabbi and noted their unique demographic: Coping: Afghan Jews Look Back in Sorrow.
posted by zarq at 7:05 AM on March 2, 2012


Whilst Israel is conspicuously absent, contributing no forces whatsoever to combatting the Taliban, surely some of these other soldiers are Jewish and they are most certainly count, at least for the moment, as "Jews in Afghanistan."

You're misunderstanding -- those people are Jewish but not Afghan Jews. This is about Afghan Jews, not "Jews who are currently in Afghanistan".
posted by clockzero at 7:05 AM on March 2, 2012


Still, the last Jew in Afghanistan wasn't what I had expected. Maybe I was naïve.

Really? You show up to interview the last Jew in Afghanistan, and you're genuinely surprised he's a hardass son-of-a-bitch who wants money and liquor? That's a surprising amount of ignorance from someone who calls themselves a reporter.

...surely some of these other soldiers are Jewish and they are most certainly count, at least for the moment, as "Jews in Afghanistan."

There is quite literally a world of difference between being a Jewish member of a most likely first-world country's occupying army, with its own bases, supply chains and community, and growing up in a minority so small and so oppressed that almost everyone moved to Israel the moment they got the go-ahead.
posted by griphus at 7:07 AM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


three blind mice, they're not permanent residents. Afghanistan has one Jewish citizen. Civilian visitors and stationed soldiers do not count as part of the Afghan population.
posted by zarq at 7:08 AM on March 2, 2012


I do not wish to derail what appears to be an interesting FPP

It is and you have.
posted by Trurl at 7:11 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


The story of the last two Afghan Jews reminds me of an old joke. A ship is sailing by a desert island when the crew, to their surprise, sees signs of habitation. When they land, they find Itzik Katz, who was shipwrecked there then years ago. On either side of the island there's a crude building made of heaped stones. The captain says, "Katz, what's that building you made?" Katz says, "Well, a Jew has to have a place to pray, and I had plenty of time to spare, so I built myself a synagogue." And the captain says, "That makes sense - but what about the other building?" And Katz says, "Oh, that's the synagogue I would never go to."
posted by escabeche at 7:13 AM on March 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Can I just say that, whether it's generally considered an offensive term or not (and I'm not technically Jewish, so I don't personally have a dog in this fight), the term "Jewry" really--I don't know, squicks me out. It seems to objectify Jewish people and Judaism in a way that really rubs me wrong. Just gotta put that out there, because it's hard for me to get past in this post.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:16 AM on March 2, 2012


Yes. There are Jewish American soldiers both in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and fighting to bring democracy to those Muslim nations, nations which still refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist.
...but then Jews in just about all Arab countries got booted out:
http://www.meforum.org/263/why-jews-fled-the-arab-countries
so it was not only the Palestinians who had a refugee problem
posted by Postroad at 7:18 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


three blind mice: "Whilst Israel is conspicuously absent, contributing no forces whatsoever to combatting the Taliban"

Also, not for nothing, but Israel's presence in Afghanistan would undoubtedly be more of a hindrance than a help. There are plenty of Islamic countries, including Iran and Pakistan, who would likely take Israeli soldiers on Afghan soil as an affront (or an excuse) and possibly, quietly, fund Taliban efforts against the coalition forces. That is, if the IDF soldiers weren't just considered targets in their own right -- causing an escalation of hostilities.

The situation is more complex than 'Israel isn't doing their fair share.' As griphus notes, the coalition is an occupying force. Israelis joining it would be provocative.
posted by zarq at 7:19 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


For what it's worth, saulgoodman, it's a pretty non-notable term among Jews -- most of us grew up going to synagogues with "Save Soviet Jewry" posters plastered everywhere.
posted by escabeche at 7:20 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interestingly, Mr. Zimintov is also the Highlander.

/the more you know/
posted by Mr. Excellent at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


escabeche: "most of us grew up going to synagogues with "Save Soviet Jewry" posters plastered everywhere."

Seconded.
posted by zarq at 7:23 AM on March 2, 2012


"Jewry" is just a collective noun for "community of Jews within a defined area" or "the Jewish people as a whole" (cf. "Christendom.")
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on March 2, 2012


For what it's worth, saulgoodman, it's a pretty non-notable term among Jews -- most of us grew up going to synagogues with "Save Soviet Jewry" posters plastered everywhere.

I know it's not considered offensive--but still. For my part, I've most commonly seen it used in the context of right-wing hate literature (knew a few neo-Nazi skinhead types in high school, and they seemed to relish using that term), so I guess that's where my discomfit with the term originates.

posted by saulgoodman at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2012


9_9 well if it wasn't offensive before, it is now, because some non-jews don't like it
posted by rebent at 7:32 AM on March 2, 2012


Previously.
posted by zarq at 7:43 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, fair enough, rebent, but FWIW, if Nazis ever took over, I'd be on their list, too, because one of my family names is "Mizener," so I feel I do have some small personal stake here...
posted by saulgoodman at 7:44 AM on March 2, 2012


Are Afghan Jews culturally similar to Bukharan Jews?
posted by JPD at 8:01 AM on March 2, 2012


Here, the US Army rabbi in Afghanistan
posted by Postroad at 8:05 AM on March 2, 2012


That's pretty cool. I'd like to see a series on here about the only X left in Y. I bet each one has an interesting story.
posted by michaelh at 8:15 AM on March 2, 2012


Among other factors, Bukharan Jews were Russified, so there are some very distinct cultural differences. Of course, there's also plenty of overlap.
posted by griphus at 8:16 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


They weren't that russified - they still spoke Persian rather than Uzbek or Russian and I suspected most of them would strenuously object to being called russified.
posted by JPD at 8:39 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, no, you're right, they weren't. I think I should have said that the West -- inasmuch as Imperial/Soviet Russia counts as the "West" -- had a more significant influence on Bukharan Jewish culture than it did on Afghani Jewish culture.
posted by griphus at 8:46 AM on March 2, 2012


I, The Jewry....

Simentov: "Move to Israel? What business have I there?"

This man resides in a land beyond metaphor.
posted by mule98J at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2012


I wanted to beat him with a stick.
Why do I have the impression that this goes against some of the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish faith?

My basic pollyannism suggests a heartwarming reunion. I suppose people will be people.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:08 AM on March 2, 2012


growing up in a minority so small and so oppressed that almost everyone moved to Israel the moment they got the go-ahead.

The last link in the FPP begs to differ about the reason for the mass exodus.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on March 2, 2012


Why do I have the impression that this goes against some of the fundamental beliefs of the Jewish faith?

The optimist sees the bagel, the pessimist sees the hole.
posted by timshel at 10:14 AM on March 2, 2012


the term "Jewry" really--I don't know, squicks me out. It seems to objectify Jewish people and Judaism in a way that really rubs me wrong.

Thanks for being sensitive to these issues, but I find nothing offensive about that term. What bothers me is when people use the singular word "Jew" as an adjective or as some kind of way to refer to Jews overall, usually proceeded by the word "the."

Quite frankly, the basically innocent plural of "the Jews" also makes me perk up, since it often appears in the context of an offensive generalization of some sort.
posted by snottydick at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the expression "But is it good for the Jews" was said by jews of a certain generation - when they heard that a new law/policy was annnounced, this was the way of expressing the ultimate question of whether said new law/policy was moral.
posted by lalochezia at 4:23 PM on March 2, 2012


I have no idea how seriously to take the Jewish Virtual Library's claims about Pashtun customs when it says things like that "Pashtun names and customs sound Jewish, from ... the Pashtun custom of a wedding chupah ..."

The chuppah (canopy under which the bride and groom stand) is an Ashkenazi custom of relatively modern vintage, sharing little but the name with earlier customs that involved, e.g., building a sleep-out for the bride and groom to live in for a week.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:12 AM on March 3, 2012


But the expression "But is it good for the Jews" was said by jews of a certain generation - when they heard that a new law/policy was annnounced, this was the way of expressing the ultimate question of whether said new law/policy was moral.

Certainly, but I am not of that generation. I can only speak for my own personal reaction based on my own experience, and I make no pretense of being completely rational in regards to what I feel. I feel a general revulsion to referring to a group with "the" and a plural noun. See also "The Blacks" and "The Gays."
posted by snottydick at 7:00 AM on March 5, 2012


I have no idea how seriously to take the Jewish Virtual Library's claims about Pashtun customs when it says things like that "Pashtun names and customs sound Jewish, from ... the Pashtun custom of a wedding chupah ..."

It's worth clarifying that the Jewish Virtual Library does not make this claim. Pashtun oral tradition does.
posted by snottydick at 7:10 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Postroad: "Here, the US Army rabbi in Afghanistan"

That's a great article. Thanks for sharing it.

From the article: On Friday nights, candles and challah—sent each month by the “challah lady,” a Long Island Jewish woman—made it a synagogue.

Someone from Long Island is actually shipping them challah every week so they can do motzi on shabbat?

Wow.
posted by zarq at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2012


« Older Can I Give It -9999 Stars Instead?   |   Speech Jamming "Gun" Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post