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Kabul, Afghanistan

The Last Operating Synagogue in Afghanistan

The last operating synagogue in Afghanistan is run by Zablon Simintov, the last remaining Jew in Afghanistan. 

Jews have been living in Afghanistan for the last 1500 years, and their population in 1948 was over 5,000. That all changed in 1951, when the government of Afghanistan allowed all Afghani Jews to emigrate from the country without having to revoke citizenship, and in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Because of factors like these, by 1996 the population of Jews in Afghanistan had dwindled down from over 5,000 to a meager 10. By the 21st Century, there was only one running synagogue in all of Afghanistan.

In 2001 this synagogue, located on Flower Street in Kabul, was home to the last two remaining Jews in the entire country - Zablon Simintov and Ishaq Levin. They were famous for being arch-rivals, and repeatedly turned each other into the Taliban. This feud was the plotline for a New York City play entitled “The Last Two Jews of Kabul.”

In 2005, the feud ended when Levin died of natural causes, leaving Simintov as the only remaining Jew in all of Afghanistan. Despite living in complete religious isolation, Simintov has remained in the country for the sake of identity and employment, even though his wife and two daughters live without him in Israel.

The difficulties for Simintov’s day to day life are definitely prevalent. When it comes to food, for example, he has had to receive special permission from the nearest rabbi (who lives in Tashkent, Uzbekistan) to slaughter his own meat and call it kosher. Simintov’s Torah was stolen by the Taliban in the early 2000s. He has since focused his efforts towards tracing the stolen Torah to Guantanamo Bay, where he believes the thief is in US custody.

Despite the day-to-day cultural awkwardness of living there, he has not budged from his home - he gets funds and care packages from international Jews and sympathetic Afghani Muslims, keeps the synagogue intact, and runs a kebab restaurant with all-Muslim chefs. Recently, his restaurant has been failing, which he blames on the US military’s withdrawal from the area.