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Now I’m the only Jew in the city (LONDON TIMES) By Catherine Philp South Asia Correspondent 01/29/05)Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-1460727,00.html LONDON TIMES LONDON TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
FOR seven years they lived and worshipped at opposite ends of the same tiny synagogue, a curtain in the middle so that they would not glimpse each other, muttering insults as they came and went.

The feud finally ended after Zebulon Simentov found Ishaq Levin, 80, sprawled dead on the concrete floor, leaving him to claim his lonely crown as the last Jew in Afghanistan.

“He was a very bad man who tried to get me killed,” Mr Simentov, 45, said with a grin as he warmed his toes against the Kabul winter on a gas-burning stove. “Now I am the Jew here, I am the boss.”

The mutual hatred dates from the early Nineties, when Mr Simentov, a carpet trader, returned to his native land from Turkmenistan and took up residence in one end of the synagogue. Mr Levin, the synagogue’s shamash — caretaker — was living there, having stayed on when the last Jewish families left the country after the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Mr Levin initially welcomed his fellow Jew but the two fell out when Mr Simentov offered the caretaker help to emigrate to Israel to join the rest of the former Kabul community.

Mr Simentov is adamant that he made the suggestion only as he thought Kabul was too cold for the old man, but Mr Levin took it as proof that the returnee was trying to take over the synagogue.

A feud ensued, with the Taleban regime becoming involved after both men reported each other to the authorities for alleged wrongdoings ranging from running a brothel to misappropriating religious objects.

Mr Levin told fortunes to Muslim women and prescribed medicines and love potions, which Mr Simentov disapproved of as non-Jewish. He reported Mr Levin to the authorities who jailed him.

Mr Simentov claims that he was jailed and tortured by the Taleban when Mr Levin told them that he was an Israeli spy.

The animosity may have cost the synagogue its most sacred treasure — its Torah scroll, confiscated by the Taleban sometime around 1999.

The 500-year-old scroll, hand-written on deerskin and wrapped in silk, was believed to be worth $2 million (£1.06 million). Mr Simentov accused Mr Levin of wanting to sell it and of boasting about its value, prompting the Taleban to take it for themselves. Mr Levin counter-accused Mr Simentov of asking the Taleban to remove it for safekeeping.

Since the Taleban fled in November 2001, the sacred scroll has never been found. Police have said that it is in the hands of a former Taleban minister now believed to be held in Guantanamo Bay. Mr Simentov said this week that he had asked the US Embassy in Kabul to help to recover it.

There is little left to show that Afghanistan was once home to a Jewish community of 40,000. The Jewish cemetery was wrecked, like so much else, during the civil war and weeds and debris cover the tombstones.

Mr Simentov has no remorse about his isolation. It seems to be what he wanted all along.

After seven years of bickering, the synagogue is his alone. Mr Levin’s body will be flown to Israel for burial, achieving in death what Mr Simentov could not persuade him to do in life. (Copyright 2005 Times Newspapers Ltd. 01/29/05)


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