Dawa, Taliban style: this is the story of Zablon Simintov, the last Jew in Afghanistan, from “Afghan Jew Becomes Country’s One and Only” in the Washington Post, with thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist:
Moreover, the former carpet trader said he had spent years watching Afghanistan’s once vibrant Jewish populace shrink to virtually nothing. The community dated back 800 years and still numbered 5,000 in 1948, but most remaining families fled the violence and repression that followed the Soviet invasion of 1979….
The Taliban government, which was in power when Simintov returned to Kabul in 1998 after working for several years in Turkmenistan, did not look kindly on his faith. On many occasions, he said, Taliban officials carted him and Levin off to jail, where they were beaten with electric cables and rifle butts for days.
“The Taliban would shout at me, ‘Why don’t you convert to Islam?’ And I would say, ‘Not if you paid me one million dollars,’ ” Simintov recalled.
The Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001. The fact that both remaining Jews survived the Taliban’s five-year reign is something of a miracle. Taliban authorities, determined to stamp out practices they considered un-Islamic, outlawed music, whipped men who failed to grow long beards and demolished two enormous Buddha statues that were carved into a cliff 13 centuries ago.
Kabul’s synagogue, an unassuming, white-washed building that was erected around a small courtyard on Flower Street 40 years ago, may have escaped a similar fate because it was so modest, and also because it was deserted and in disrepair when the militia came to power after a four-year civil war that virtually destroyed Kabul.
Still, in 1998, after Levin and Simintov were released from their first detention, they found the Taliban had ransacked the synagogue for almost all items of value it still contained, including a silver pointer and four tiny silver bells. A few months later, a Taliban commander confiscated its last, most precious treasure: a handwritten Torah scroll that Simintov estimates was about 400 years old….
“I didn’t want anyone to finish the Jewish name in Afghanistan,” he said. So he stayed on, trading carpets and handicrafts to support the wife and two daughters he had sent to Israel. But in 2001, he said, Taliban customs officials robbed his warehouses of all his supplies.
“I have nothing. I live like a dog,” he complained. Now, having resisted leaving Afghanistan for so long, Simintov said he may consider joining his family in Israel. “This is the last house of the Jews,” he said.