Now I’m the only Jew in the city (LONDON TIMES) By Catherine Philp South Asia Correspondent 01/29/05)
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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
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
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
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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