The entire Jewish community of Afghanistan celebrated Rosh HaShanah this week in a small side room of the lone synagogue in Kabul, the country’s capital.
His name is Zebulon Simantov.
Simantov, 57, a one-time owner of a small jewelry-and-carpets store in Kabul, returned a decade ago to Afghanistan, his homeland, after spending time in Tajikistan and Israel.
“I’m the only Jew in Afghanistan,” he told a reporter from the Los Angeles Times last week on the eve of Rosh HaShanah. “It’s a big responsibility. Yes, I wish there was a larger community. But I keep kosher and maintain the tradition.”
As usual, he marked the holiday virtually alone, slaughtering his own chickens and sheep, eating his holiday meal on his well-worn Afghan carpet, above, and accepting the occasional help of a Muslim aide, Shir Gul Ameri.
In the days before the holiday, Simantov visited the graves of family members.
Jews are believed to have lived in Afghanistan for at least 2,000 years; the population in 1948, when the state of Israel was created, was about 5,000; most moved to Israel or the United States in subsequent years. The last rabbi left in 1987.
Earlier in this decade, two Jews remained in Afghanistan — Simantov and Isaac Levy, the synagogue’s longtime caretaker. The two hated each other, living at separate ends of the building, holding separate religious services, denouncing each other to the government and barely exchanging a civil word. Levy died in 2005, and their testy relationship became the subject of a play by Josh Greenfield, “The Last Two Jews of Kabul.”
For Rosh HaShanah, Simantov changed into a traditional shalwar kameez outfit and put on a black yarmulke.
He lit three candles, prayed from an old Machzor, inset, and ate a meal of mutton kebabs, chicken, squash, grapes and some matzah sent by a friend in the U.S.
Yom Kippur this week will be simpler. “I have everything I need for the 24 hours of praying and fasting,” he says.