Monday, June 16, 2008

The Last Jew in Afghanistan

Martin Fletcher of NBC News has posted a disturbing account of his meeting with Zebulon Simantov, who is supposedly the last Jew remaining in Afghanistan. He lives in Kabul, in a room in the neglected and decaying synagogue, and is portrayed as an angry, bitter man who keeps demanding money and whiskey from Fletcher.
The unflattering portrayal is unfortunate, not because it's false (there's no reason to assume that Fletcher is not quoting the man accurately), but rather because it reinforces a number of classic anti-semitic stereotypes. I found the readers' comments to be particularly interesting. A number of readers maintain that Fletcher shouldn't have posted the story at all (I agree), either because it feeds into those stereotypes or because there really is no story here at all. One reader felt that Fletcher, as a Jew himself, has a particular responsibility to avoid publishing stories that may contribute to anti-semitism.
I think it's unfortunate that this Simantov is not the noble, idealistic Jew that Fletcher went looking for. I think it's even more unfortunate that we still have to be afraid that the negative portrayal of one Jew will reflect so badly upon us all.

6 comments:

Rafi G said...

I remember reading some articles about him a few years ago, when the US war against Afghanistan was begun. His story is very depressing...

Ilanadavita said...

The problem is that, as the last Jew of Afghanistan, we tend to see him as an embodiment of something that is bigger than him. As if he should be the epitome of Afghan Jewry.
The article is useless (and also damaging), its quality is quite poor (for instance the journalist's emphasis on alcohol is of poor taste and stupid). But I am not sure it should be censored, just greatly improved.

The Chief said...

This man is obviously very unhappy. It does not mean that all jews are like that. I could even understand why he is like that. All alone, in a horrible situation. The story doesn't tell us about all Jews. It tells us about a person in solitary state with limited means who happens to be Jewish. Bec he is the last Jew there he has to be superhuman?

SuperRaizy said...

rafi g-
I wonder why he doesn't just leave and join his family in Israel. I can't help thinking that he must be mentally ill in some way.

ilanadavita-
You're right, I don't think it should have been censored, either, but I do think that it could have been presented from a different angle.

chief-
Well, I think that Fletcher was looking for an extraordinary man and was disappointed to find an ordinary one.

Garnel Ironheart said...

A few years ago the story was that there were two Jews left in Kabul and that they were both miserable old men who refused to leave because each wanted to be the last Jew so he could blame the other for deserting the community.
They even fought over the last Torah scroll so much that the Taliban confiscated it so they'd stop making public disturbances with each other.
Clearly the second guy has, by now, either left or died and all this SImantov character has left is his hatred. I knew a guy like that in Toronto. He was alone and miserable. His family in Florida begged him to come and live there but he couldn't bring himself to do it. His misery defined him and to leave would mean giving it up.

Garnel Ironheart said...

A few years ago the story was that there were two Jews left in Kabul and that they were both miserable old men who refused to leave because each wanted to be the last Jew so he could blame the other for deserting the community.
They even fought over the last Torah scroll so much that the Taliban confiscated it so they'd stop making public disturbances with each other.
Clearly the second guy has, by now, either left or died and all this SImantov character has left is his hatred. I knew a guy like that in Toronto. He was alone and miserable. His family in Florida begged him to come and live there but he couldn't bring himself to do it. His misery defined him and to leave would mean giving it up.