Old Feud between Kabul’s last remaining Jews

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(6 Aug 2002)

1. Various of Ishaq Levin praying at the Jewish cemetery of Kabul.
2. SOUNDBITE: (Dari) Ishaq Levin: “I came here today to deliver my prayers. This is the old Jewish cemetery of
Kabul where more than 500 of my people, most of them my relatives in one way or the other are buried.”
3. Various of Afghan children watching Levin pray
4. Various of Levin praying
5. SOUNDBITE: (Dari) Ishaq Levin: There used to be 70-80 Jewish families living in Kabul alone plus some 150
families in the town of Herat in the West. But when the political turmoil started in Afghanistan some
twenty five years ago, all those revolutions and wars, almost everyone fled to Israel. So, for the last
twenty five years I’m totally alone alone here.”
6. Various of Zebulon Simentov praying at the Kabul synagogue
7. SOUNDBITE: (Dari) Zebulon Simentov: “Our elders in Israel wanted me to take the Torah and other holy
scrolls from Kabul synagogue to Israel. But Ishaq Levin did not want that to happen. He reported me to
the Taliban police as a thief and a dangerous subversive element. ”
7. Various dilapidated interiors of synagogue
8. Zebulon Simentov showing the writ issued by Taliban banning him from opening the cupboard containing
Jewish scrolls
9. Peeling synagogue walls
10. Stairs between the ground and the first floor of the synagogue with the Star of David as an ornament
11. Ishaq Levin praying in his room at the first floor of the synagogue
12. SOUNDBITE: (Dari) Ishaq Levin: “When he arrived I was hoping he would become my support and soulmate.
instead he reported me to the Taliban police who beat me”
13. Various exteriors of the Kabul synagogue
14. Zebulon Simentov praying in the synagogue’s main room
15. Ishaq Levin praying in his room

STORYLINE:

The Jewish community in Afghanistan was once a proud one, with 40-thousand people, flourishing businesses and a
distinctive Torah design.

But the population eroded through the last century, and recent decades have seen the Soviet invasion,
civil war and the rise of the radical Islamic Taliban movement to power.

After Israel came into being in 1948, most of the 5,000 Jews still in Afghanistan emigrated there, but Ishaq Levin stayed in Kabul. He was the synagogue’s shamash, or caretaker, before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, when most of the remaining Jews left.

Now in his late seventies – he says he does not know how old he is – Levin often visits the Jewish cemetery where some 500 Jews were buried in the last 150 years. Most of them are related to Levin in one way or another.

The cemetery stands totally abandoned in the outskirts of Kabul with not a single tomb stone remaining intact. It’s in an area that saw some of the most ferocious fighting of the war between Afghan mujahedin and Taliban for control over the Afghan capital.

Levin likes to say that he’s the only Jew remaining in Kabul. That is not exactly the case.

Zebulon Simentov, 43 is another Kabul Jew and a bitter enemy of Levin. Simentov re-emigrated from Israel some
five years ago. He wanted to start a carpet business and also to send the Kabul synagogue Torah to
where most of Afghan Jews now are – Israel. He has failed on both counts.

Today Afghanistan’s last two Jews, Ishaq Levin and Zebulon Simentov, live at separate ends of the same
decaying synagogue in the Afghan capital and are feuding, each claiming to be the rightful owner of the
synagogue and its paraphernalia.

The walls of the building are peeling. The windows are shattered and old prayer books are crumbling in
the holy ark.

running a brothel.

safekeeping.