September 22nd, 2007

And then there was one: the last Jew in Afghanistan

Zebulon Simentov has the dubious honor of being the very last Jew in Afghanistan. He tends the near-empty synagogue in Kabul, and slaughters his own kosher meat, and otherwise is indistinguishable from his neighbors, who seem uniformly friendly to him.

This may be because many of them claim Jewish origins themselves. Apparently, the Afghan royal family believes it is descended from the tribe of Benjamin; and the Pashtun, Durrani, Yussafzai, and Afridi tribes count themselves as descendants of Saul and call themselves “Bani-Israel.”

I could quote the old joke “funny, you don’t look Jewish”—except for the fact that I’ve always noticed that many of them sort of do. Of course, that’s true of most peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

The disappeared Jewish community of Afghanistan was an ancient one, fed partly from migrations from Iran (Persia), site of a much larger Jewish presence for millennia. Paralleling the history of much of Sephardic Jewry, most of the Jews of Afghanistan migrated in the middle of the twentieth century, primarily to Israel.

I’ve written before about how countries such as Germany and Poland have had a revival of interest in—and even nostalgia (“Jewstalgia”) for—their not-so-long-lost Jewish populations, now that they have so few Jews left. That development seems quite far off in the Muslim world, but it is certainly possible—some day.

11 Responses to “And then there was one: the last Jew in Afghanistan”

  1. Poland » Blog Archives » And then there was one: the last Jew in Afghanistan Says:

    [...] And then there was one: the last Jew in Afghanistan about how countries such as Germany and Poland have had a revival of interest in and even nostalgia [...]

  2. nyomythus Says:

    Interesting, I’m presently reading about the long history of the diaspora in Bat Ye’or’s, “Islam and Dhimmitude…”

  3. Donald Wolberg Says:

    One suspects that there are two dynamics at play. The first is the apparent success and prowess of a Israel, a miniscule Jewish stae reborn and able to stem the tide of the holocaust-bent, largely but not exclusively, Arab world. The second is the loss of so many of the intelligentsia in these nations with the neo-exodus of the home-grown Jews be it Afghanistan (non-Arabs), Iran (non-arabs) and even Libya and Iraq, bot once with significant and accomplished Jewish populations.

    Unfortunately I suspect it is doubful if tolerance for Jews will appear in population where there is so little teolerance for each other even with supposedly the same Islamic religion shared by all. I also doubt if a signifcant number of Jews, now in Israel or the West would risk a return to Iran, Yemen, Ethiopia, the Sudan, etc. Much the same return malaise is likely in the newly with-nostalgia for our long lost Jews nations such as Germany, Poland, or any of that European pnaorama of nations that so cooperatively gave up their Jews to Eichmann and his friends.

  4. Michael Adams Says:

    In much of the South, there’s really not much anti-semitism, because Jews are not enough of a presence to be an economic threat to any other group, because Jews make very good southerners, having a great appreciation for decorum and for preserving networks of family and friends. As a consequence, most of us are really a little vague as to what a Jew is actually supposed to “look like.” There are , of course, some Jews, and Greeks, Syrians, Lebanese, probably someone I have left out. When I remark on this situation to Jewish friends or even acquaintances, they always finish my sentence when I say, “Mediterranean just looks– Mediterranean.” Yeah, I realize that some urban centers, like Atlanta and New Orleans, have enough of a Jewish community to compete with someone. But, New Orleans was a shrinking part of the South long before Katrina. Atlanta has mostly been too busy to hate, since the 1850′s. And, there’s another thing. We are supposed to be the Bible Belt, and that is true, after a fashion. But what that translates into is that we have a plethora of different “weird religions.” For someone ignorant enough to be bigoted, Jewish, Branch Davidian, Jehovah’s Witness, nine different kinds of Baptists, all sort of blend together in the fog of a slow brain. I realize that you can someone, somewhere, who hates Wends, or Icelanders, or Jews, but this sort of thing, for reasons I have taken a stab at explaining, is not organized enough to be a major social force, al New York or New England.

  5. Michael Adams Says:

    you can FIND someone

  6. Donald Wolberg Says:

    The history of Jews in the American South is complex and interesting and Jews played a significant role in the development of the South, from very early colonial days through the Civil War and into modern times. Indeed, Judah Benjamin of Louisiana was the first professing Jew to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1852 and later held a post in the was a Conferderate cabinet. His examole can be many times multiplied.

  7. camojack Says:

    Hey, as long as I can get lox and bagels…I’m there.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    nyomythus Says:

    Interesting, I’m presently reading about the long history of the diaspora in Bat Ye’or’s, “Islam and Dhimmitude…”

    Dhimmis were protected peoples mainly in conquored lands by Muslims and it was designed to afford them freedom of religion without persecution or harrassment which in the Christian world at the time was precious little of. That was Dar al-Islam which is now obsolete as Islam is an established religion and no longer imperialistic in the classical sense. Or perhaps you prefer the Christian method of burning heretics and non believers at the stake. Or how about the more modern Christian/western version of hanging local negros from trees.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    One suspects that there are two dynamics at play. The first is the apparent success and prowess of a Israel, a miniscule Jewish stae reborn and able to stem the tide of the holocaust-bent, largely but not exclusively, Arab world.

    Your observation is interesting. it is indeed an Arab world (obviously) , Israel is a miniscule state ‘reborn’ although I would call it inserted from Europe which is literally the truth, that aside, I question your assertion of some sort of holocaust-bent Arabs. I know I am an abnoxious literalist. But which party committed or wishes to commit holocaust seems to lie with the party that does not originate in a place against those who do? And when in doubt which party that is we can just ask any Israeli where their grandparents are buried? Then ask an Arab? Truth then stands clear from error. So when you mention Middle Eastern holocaust would you please name the correct holocaust-bent party? May we now conclude that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is absolutly correct on that score and also correct to pursue nuclear weapons or else demand the Middle East be made a nuclear-free zone? If Israel lives in a dangerous neighborhood, so does Iran, after all.

  10. Michael Adams Says:

    Nyomythus, I found your post a bit too terse to follow. I shall try for a little bit of linear thought. The numbers are these: Christian warrings and other “religious” violence acccount for about a million dead. Muslim, ten milliion. Communism, a hjndred milliion, although some schollars say many more for them.

    Lynchings killed a good many Back people, and a good many more whites, actually. The state that leads the nation in total lynchings is Indiana. Sadly, more Black people die every year in Blackl-on-Black violence than died, all told, in all the years of lynching. It sounds purely strange to us, today, but there was a kind of romance about lynching, defending or avengining someone’s life or honor. It’s one thing to read “Ivanhoe” or a lot of Shakespeare. People actually taking that sort of thing seriously, if it had not been so tragic, would be funny. Many people trace the beginning of the end of lynching to the formation in the later thirties of Southern Women Against Lynching. These ladies, the first biracial organization in the South, signed a statement that, in the event of their death or incpacitation, they did not want anyone to be lynched to avenge their honor.

    Oh, another useful tidbit, regarding burning heretics. The term “benefit of clergy” refers to the RIGHT to be tried by the Inquisition. The penalties meted out by these church courts of inquiriy were, generally, lighter than those assessed by the civil courts. Note that in England, in the time of Queen Mary Tudor, a good many Protestants got burned at the stake, sent there by Mary’s civil courts. “Protestant”, for Mary, meant a religious rebel, but, it also meant a traitor to her reign.

  11. bataween Says:

    You are misinformed – Israel is no more ‘an insertion from Europe’ than Arab states, which were artificial creations on the European model. As many Arabs as Jews immigrated into Palestine in the early 20th c. Over half the Jewish population of Israel came from elsewhere in the Middle East (including Iran) where their communities predated the Arabs and Islam by 1,000 years. The Palestinian leader the Mufti of Jerusalem was a staunch supporter of Hitler and had the Nazis been victorious would undoubtedly have abetted the Holocaust of Jews in the Middle East. (He even had plans for gas chambers near Nablus.) The Arabs were allied with the Nazis during the war and Egypt and Syria gave refuge to Nazi war criminals afterwards.

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