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Afghan Jew to be buried in Holy Land (JERUSALEM POST) By MATI WAGNER 02/01/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1107141483730&p=1078027574097 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 Tuesday night.

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 efforts further.

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 connections.

"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 1948.

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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