Saturday, May 12, 2007

Inertia: The last Jew in Afghanistan

http://israel-like-this-as-if.blogspot.com/2007/05/inertia-last-jew-in-afghanistan.html

It always amazes me, that so many Jews want to live anywhere but Israel. I can understand why someone might prefer to live in San Francisco, or Los Angeles or Paris or London or Florence, or in the beautiful countryside of Vermont, especially if they are famous, or rich or doing important work in science and academia.
 
It seems to make rational sense not to sacrifice a career, a secure future for your children, a language and culture you know, to go off to the unknown in the untamed wilds of Dizengoff center and the dangerous Ramat Gan jungle or to return to them. I can even sympathize with the tragic Vienna Jews, who would not give up the "safety" and "culture" of their Austrian homeland to be launched on dangerous adventures in Palestine.

 
Israelis go abroad too. Sometimes they stay many years: until the wife gets her degree, and then until they have enough money to buy a house in Israel, but then the children must finish university, and then  the grandchildren must finish university... My parents and paternal grandparents were Israelis (or rather Palestinians) of that sort.
 
But I have always suspected that there is something more to this reluctance to move than material comfort and familiarity. After all, the Jews of the Russian Pale lived in abject poverty, in miserable conditions, and yet many of them were not interested in coming to Palestine.
 
In Armenia and Iran, Jews persist, sometimes in the most miserable conditions, isolated from their communities or with no community, surrounded by Jew-hate Some might be rich, and some might be too old to move or have no contacts abroad.
 
Still, this phenomenon raises the suspicion that the real problem is some fundamental force of human or Jewish character, a force that is not rational in any way and that is beyond rational considerations. Here is a report that seems to bear out the suspicions. As I recall, Marcel Proust, who was a homosexual and a Jew, wrote that if the Sodomites ever establish their own homeland in Sodom, they would not want to live there. They might visit from time to time, or perhaps send money to relatives, but they had such fundamental self-contempt and insecurity, that they would not want to really live in their own homeland, among their own kind. That summarized the relation of many Jews to Palestine and Zionism 80 years ago.
 
The last Jew living in Aghanistan does not want to leave, even though his wife and family are in Holon. Holon is not the best place in Israel, but the worst place in Israel is arguably better than Kabul, especially now, especially if your wife and family are living in Holon. Nonetheless, he persists, the quintessential Diaspora Jew to the very end. 
 
Tzur Sheizaf reports:

"Shalom aleichem," I said. Hebrew in Afghanistan. "Shalom alaichem," he said... Zevulun Simantov is his name. He wore a white undershirt and looked to be a little over 60. He looked at me with suspicion; perhaps he was calculating what he would get out of me.

...I climbed the dark, broken stairs after him to the single room where he lives, in what was once the building of the Jewish school.

...

"What do you want?"

"To speak to you."

"And how much are you paying?"

"Paying?"

"You'll go to your country, write an article, and get money. I want money too."

...He wanted $500. I explained to him that I am a freelance journalist and that we are not funded by the authorities. He agreed to take less. A hundred dollars to sit with the last member of my tribe in Kabul.

After receiving the money (he held it up to the sunlight to make sure it was genuine), he went out and brought me what every Afghan serves his guests, even if they don't pay: a tray with sunflower seeds and pistachios and raisins and almonds. Local hospitality. On the wall were verses and photos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"I have family in Holon," he said, "a wife and children."

"And are you going to see them?"

"I went once."

"And why do you not go to see them?"

"I live here."

Clearly.

"Will you write in your newspaper that I need help from the government, from the Jews in America, England, and the whole world? That I need money?"

"I'll tell them."

"So come and I'll show you the synagogue."

Simantov has received a great deal of help, from even more generous Jews who have come to Kabul on various occasions. But the man will not give up his profession in his old age.
 
We went out to the balcony that surrounded the neglected inner courtyard. The building was in the process of falling apart. Simantov opened the synagogue's locked door. The hall was deserted. He pointed to the glass cabinets broken by the Taliban and the Torah scrolls that were taken. On the surrounding walls were notices in Hebrew thanking the person who donated a lamp.
 
This man has a career, you see, and a profession. He is doing important work that he cannot leave. He is the last Jew in Afghanistan - a full time job that keeps him abroad...
 
Ami Isseroff


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at http://israel-like-this-as-if.blogspot.com/2007/05/inertia-last-jew-in-afghanistan.html. Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.

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