Afghan Jew a One-Man Upholder Of Tradition

September 20, 2009

Author: Mark Magnier

Source: The Los Angeles Times,0,1041843.story

It's not easy representing centuries of Jewish tradition single-handedly. Especially if you're in a war-torn Muslim country. But Zebulon Simantov, who claims to be the last Jew in Afghanistan, is doing his best. 

At the start of this weekend's Jewish New Year, he lighted three candles, changed into a traditional Afghan shalwarkameez outfit and donned a black yarmulke. He navigated around his Muslim helper, who was wrapping up his Ramadan prayers, and, for 45 minutes, swayed, bowed and intoned Rosh Hashanah prayers while an Indian game show blared from a corner TV.

"I'm the only Jew in Afghanistan," the 57-year-old said. "It's a big responsibility. Yes, I wish there was a larger community. But I keep kosher and maintain the tradition."

Simantov lives like the confirmed bachelor he is in a broken-down building that houses Kabul's last synagogue. His living area is lighted with a single fluorescent bulb, and well-worn Afghan carpets serve as his bed, floor covering and eating surface. A few feet away is his soot-blackened kitchen, from whose open window he periodically tosses waste water down onto a rubble-filled courtyard.