Afghan Jew to be buried in Holy Land (JERUSALEM POST) By MATI WAGNER 02/01/05)
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It took more than two weeks and the intervention of the Red Cross,
the Foreign Ministry, the US ambassador to Israel, a US Army base
commander in Kabul and the Sephardi chief rabbi of Israel, but
Yitzhak (Ishaq) Levin, Afghanistan´s second-to-last Jew, will soon be
buried in Israel.
Sources said that Levin´s remains would probably arrive here on
The octogenarian Levin, who was the caretaker of Afghanistan´s only
functioning synagogue, died of natural causes some two weeks ago in
the Afghan capital.
His wife and five children, who all live in Beersheba, wanted him
buried near them. But Afghanistan´s fundamentalist Muslim government
placed a gauntlet of obstacles before them.
There were claims that Levin, who has been estranged from his family
for 22 years, had converted to Islam, that the body was decomposing
too quickly to allow for transfer, and that there was no doctor to
sign the release papers. The four-day-long Id al-Adha holiday delayed
All along, Levin´s Israeli family members had requested an embargo on
media coverage – a request respected by The Jerusalem Post – for fear
that if it became known that Levin was headed for Israel, it would
torpedo the effort.
Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who was instrumental in getting
Levin´s body out of Afghanistan, told the Post how it happened.
"The head of the Afghan community in Israel, Rabbi Zvi Simantov,
appealed to me to help. We began working on two tracks: First, we
turned to the Foreign Ministry and asked to use their diplomatic
"Second, we asked the US ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurzer, for his
help. The ambassador had a lot of influence via the US Army forces
stationed in Kabul. We also contacted the US Marines rabbi in Kabul.
"The Red Cross at first agreed to get involved, then balked. Further
pressure from the US Army on the Red Cross forced it to help get the
body out of Afghanistan to Tashkent, Uzbekistan."
During the years he lived in Kabul, Levin feuded bitterly with his 45-
year-old Jewish neighbor, Zevulun Simantov, now the only known Jew
remaining in Afghanistan.
Rabbi Simantov told the Post that over the past few years relations
between the two men had improved.
Afghanistan´s Jewish community numbered as many as 40,000 in the late
19th century, after Persian Jews fled forced conversion in
neighboring Iran. But by the mid-20th century only about 5,000
remained, and most emigrated after the State of Israel was created in
According to Zevulun Simantov, the last eight or nine families left
following the 1979 Soviet invasion. But Levin stayed on as the
synagogue´s shamash, or caretaker, even through the repressive rule
of the Taliban.
Simantov said he took up residence in the synagogue, built around a
concrete courtyard in the center of the city, after returning from
Turkmenistan in 1992 to deal in carpets, but quickly fell out with
the older man.
Before his death, Levin told reporters he had been jailed and beaten
under the Taliban. He denounced Simantov for claiming he had
converted to Islam in a bid to take possession of the synagogue.
But Simantov insisted he, too, was jailed and beaten after Levin told
the Taliban he was an Israeli spy.
He also blamed Levin for the loss of the synagogue´s most sacred
treasure, a Torah confiscated by the Taliban. Simantov said Levin
wanted to sell the scroll, and provoked the Taliban into taking it by
telling Muslim women their fortunes.
Police have said the scroll was in the hands of a former Taliban
minister now believed to be incarcerated in the American military
prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Simantov said Tuesday that he had
asked the US Embassy in Kabul to help recover it.
But the heart of the argument appears to have been control of the
synagogue, which includes the two men´s quarters, as well as a bare
prayer room where the prized Torah was kept.
Simantov showed the Associated Press what he said was a letter from
Afghan Jews living in Israel ordering Levin to give up his
custodianship of the premises. He said he felt no sadness at the
passing of his sparring partner.
"He was a very bad man who tried to get me killed," he said, grinning
as he warmed his feet on a diesel-burning stove in his run-down
living room. "Now I am the Jew here. I am the boss." AP contributed
to this report. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 02/01/05)
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