In Kabul’s only synagogue, Afghan merchants open up shop

June 1, 2011

(An Afghan woman clad in burqa and her daughter walks past a restaurant built inside part of the only synagogue building in Kabul, June 1, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

A lattice of corrugated iron Star of Davids marks Afghanistan’s only working synagogue, a white-washed, two-storey building tucked into a sidestreet in the centre of Kabul. Kebabs, carpets and flowers are served and sold on the ground floor of the synagogue, which has been transformed into businesses over the last 18 months by the country’s sole remaining Jew, who lives upstairs in a small pink room.

Cafe manager Sayed Ahmad is unfazed by his small cafe’s history, where Kabul’s hundreds-strong Jewish community once gathered for prayers. Most fled to Israel and the United States amid the Soviet invasion of 1979. “Some of my customers know this is the synagogue and know about the Jew upstairs, but they don’t care and neither do I,” Ahmad told Reuters in his cafe, where bearded men on purple cushions puff on water pipes and eat traditional Afghan food.

The firebrand anti-Semitism found in some other Muslim countries, often fuelled by anti-Israeli sentiment, seems noticeably absent among ordinary Afghans. “I pray my way and he prays his way. I see him as a friend, someone to spend time with,” Ahmad said of his landlord, sitting beside large black and silver wall-hangings depicting Mecca.

Zebulon Simentov, who chose to stay behind when his wife and children emigrated to Israel, has been known to conduct services in the upstairs of the synagogue for visiting Jews even though he is not a rabbi.

Now living alone in the synagogue, the 52 year-old says the building has become too hard to maintain. “This place is big and I need money,” he told Reuters as he adjusted his pyjama-like shalwar kameez, traditional clothing for men in the region.

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2 comments

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Who says Muslims are against minorities or Afghanistan as portrayed is a land of terrorists whose only aim is Annihilation of minorities. A common man’s jihad is food on the table of his family whether he his hindu, muslim , christain, or any other religion , stories like these really bring the little sparkles of life to forefront, being born in India makes it more special because of its behemoth diversity and i am sure the people living on the other side of Hindukush are just the same as us .Its for freedom which is of utmost importance to them and there should be freedom to all peoples of the world just like sudan including the freedoms for the people of PALESTINE.No power will remain powerful forever only Almighty remains absolute. The truth will remain is how you treated minorities and people of different views and history is the only changing constant.

Posted by Ismailtaimur | Report as abusive

“I pray my way and he prays his way.” If only every religious person in the world thought this way. Moderates would make this world a peaceful place.

Posted by jwab | Report as abusive