Rescuers: Last Jew of Kabul Making His Way to Israel

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
Zebulon Simentov, the last known Jew living in Afghanistan, sits in his Kabul home, in this 2009 photo. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

The man known as the last Jew of Kabul could soon be heading to Israel.

Zebulon Simentov, who fled Afghanistan last month after the Taliban takeover, landed Sunday in Turkey on what his rescuers say is a final stop before traveling to Israel, perhaps as soon as this week.

It caps a weekslong odyssey that included an escape from his homeland.

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, whose nonprofit group Tzedek Association funded the journey, said Simentov had spent the last few weeks living quietly in Pakistan, an Islamic country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

He said his group had looked into bringing Simentov to the U.S. but decided that Israel was a better destination both because of difficulties in arranging a U.S. entry visa and because Simentov has many relatives, including five siblings and two daughters, already in Israel.

“We are relieved we were successful in helping Zebulon Simentov escape from Afghanistan and now into safety in Turkey,” said Rabbi Margaretten, whose group has helped evacuate several dozen other people from Afghanistan. “Zebulon’s life was in danger in Afghanistan.”

Rabbi Mendy Chitrik, chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, greeted Simentov at the airport in Istanbul on Sunday.

He said he had an appointment to take Simentov to the Israeli consulate on Monday to arrange his entry to Israel. Under Israel’s “Law of Return,” any Jew is entitled to Israeli citizenship.

Rabbi Chitrik said he had been working with Rabbi Margaretten and other volunteers for several months to get Simentov out of Afghanistan. “I’m happy this issue is finally coming to rest,” he said.

How long that will take remains unclear. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was unaware of the request and Simentov could also be delayed by coronavirus protocols restricting entry to Israel.

Simentov, who lived in a dilapidated synagogue in Kabul, and kept kosher, endured decades of war as the country’s centuries-old Jewish community rapidly dwindled. But the Taliban takeover in August seems to have been the last straw.

Born in the western city of Herat in 1959, Simentov always insisted Afghanistan was home.

The Taliban, like other Islamic terror groups, are hostile to Israel but tolerated the country’s miniscule Jewish community during their previous reign.