The last known Jew in Afghanistan is leaving

The man who has been known as the last Jew in Afghanistan for well over a decade is leaving for Israel, fearing that the U.S. military’s promise to leave the country will leave a vacuum to be filled with radical groups such as the Taliban. “I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” Zabulon Simantov told. Simantov, 61, said he will leave after this year’s High Holidays season in the fall.

His wife, a Jew from Tajikistan, and their two daughters have lived in Israel since 1998. Simantov stayed behind to care for the last synagogue standing in the country, situated in Kabul, as Afghanistan was wracked with violence and instability. He stayed throughout the rule of the extremist Taliban movement and the ensuing invasion by the U.S. and its allies following the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. “I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here,” Simantov told. Speaking to Foreign Policy magazine in 2019, Simantov harshly criticized the Taliban, saying they “brought a lot of bloodshed and terrorized Kabul and many other parts of the country.”

Without him around, the synagogue will close, ending an era of Jewish life in the country that scholars believe began at least 2,000 years ago. “If the Taliban return, they are going to push us out with a slap in the face,” Simantov told Radio Free Europe last week for an article on the exodus of many of the country’s minority populations.